BHM 13 – FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF SOUTH ORANGE 1895 – 2021

Black History Month Celebration #13 – 2021 The HISTORY OF FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF SOUTH ORANGE. This series will cover current and historical Black Figures, events, activities, plus and of course music related if possible. We should remember and not lose what we accomplished. Enjoy Black History Month

The History of First Baptist Church of South Orange: A Documentary

May 16, 2020120

A documentary that the tells the almost 130 year history and story of a small Baptist church in South Orange, New Jersey. The church has had a profound effect on it’s members, the local community as well as on the national and international stages. This production was created, in its entirety, by the students in the Advanced Field Production class at Seton Hall University during the Spring semester of 2020, in conjunction with Dr. Reverend Terry Richardson and Professor Wayne Vollweiler.

A HISTORY OF FRIST BAPTIST CHURCH OF SOUTH ORANGE 1895 – 2021 (present)

The following historical account was submitted by the Pastor’s Anniversary Committee. In 1895 a group of 35 people known as the “The Little Prayer Band” began meeting in the home of Mack Jackson on West South Orange Avenue, in the Village of South Orange for the purpose of lifting their voices in praises to God. From this humble beginning came the organization later to be known as the First Baptist Church of South Orange.

Those who played a part in this undertaking where Cato Dishman, who served as the leader and guiding light of the entire project.  Then there was Hannibal Kenney, Munther Jackson, J.McJones, Henrietta Randolph, Dennis Ford and Sarah Bynum.  The first Deacons of the ministry were Manning Dishman, J. McJones and Dennis Ford.  Will Ford was the first Sunday school Superintendent.

     As time passed and their numbers increased, they sought larger quarters.  Their next home was The Old Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Home located about the middle of the block between Valley and Sloan Street.  Now it was during this period that different Ministers were called in to expound the Gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper. 

     Services at this time were usually held at night because the bulk of the congregation were domestic workers and were only free at that time.

        It was sometime within this period that Rev. Albert Edward came to become the first established minister of this new group.  It was also within this period, 1989 that Mrs. Sarah Bynum suggested that the name of the Little Prayer Band be change to the First Baptist Church of South Orange, and in 1899, the church formally organized and became recognized as a body.      The history of the church up to the year 1899 is clouded with doubt.  The names of the pastors and their length of service and record of achievements are not well known.  The names of the earliest pastors are: Rev. Albert Edwards, Rev. Spruell and Rev. Davis and they served until around 1904.

     In 1905 the Rev. John Frank Tunston served as pastor for a period of one year, then he moved to Red Bank.  The year 1906 marked the coming to the pastorate of this church the Rev.

J.S. Bolden who led the church in the project of raising money to erect a structure on the site of the the present structure.  He obtained $25 for the purpose of getting a corner stone.      

     On July 13, 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Jordan Morgan, African-American citizens of South Orange, deeded to First Baptist Church for the sum of $1 the property at the site of Valley and Second streets expressly to build a church edifice.  The Jordans owned a prosperous business and several properties in South Orange.  

     The task of building church edifice, however, was not a simple matter and proved to be above the group’s means.  After many struggles and much effort, along with citizens of the community under the leadership of the South Orange Methodist Church, one Mr. Kinsley assisted the group.  In an arrangement, Mr. Kinsley dismissed the minister and became the sole leader.

     In 1913, the congregants of First Baptist Church decided to act on their own and called the Rev. J.D. (James Daniel) Cosby as minister.  Under his administration the building project came to a completion and the mortgage lifted.  First Baptist Church was dedicated on November 24, 1913.

     Those were the dark days and the help of the community was greatly appreciated.  The services of the Rev. Cosby to the church came to an end in 1927.

     In 1928 the Rev. John Askew was called and his services lasted until 1931.

     Research by staff of the South Orange Public Library for the church’s 100-year history, disclosed and validates the accuracy of this history along with other interesting information that dates back to 1895 including information regarding Rev. Sydney Smith and Rev. G.W. Long.  Information was documented by issues of the South Orange Bulletin in its columns devoted to church news.  Rev. Sydney Smith gave diligent leadership to the congregation in its fundraising efforts for the erection of a church.  Rev. G.W. Long was called to First Baptist at age 26.  He entered Hampton College at age 14.  After two years, he transferred to Howard University where after five years he graduated with an A.M.A. degree.  Rev. Long was well received in the community where he was a member of the South Orange Board of Education.  The South Orange Bulletin printed the text of an address, entitled “Education” that Rev. Long delivered to high school students at Columbia School.

  In the year 1931, the Rev. John Ellison, who was a student at Drew University Theological

Seminary, was called as the pastor of First Baptist Church.  He resigned from First Baptist in

1934 for a pastorate in Washington, D.C.  Subsequently, Rev. Ellison was named president of Virginia University in Richmond.  It was during his administration that Mrs. Sarah Bynum, through the aid of a girls lodge, bought new seats for the church, and the woman’s club bought the lights.  Rev. Ellerson left in 1934 to take a pastorate in Washington, D.C.

     In 1934 the church called on of its sons and local resident, the Rev. George Gunther, a man of great scholarship who demanded the attention and respect of those who know him.  He was widely known and respected for his high intellect and, in addition to his pastoral duties, Rev. Gunther tutored Ph.D. candidates.  Mr. Gunther’s pastorate ended in 1943 when he accepted a teaching post at the Lynchburg Seminary and College in Lynchburg, V.A.

     The period after the tenure of service of Rev. Gunther was on of great stress, for there was division of thought and purpose.  The congregation thought it best to secure the services of another local resident, the Rev. John Wesley Nance, who served as supply pastor.  It was under Rev. Nance’s leadership that the spirt and purpose was restored.  The church took on new life Nance’s leadership that moved into a direction she had not moved before.  Rev. Nance began the project to secure a parsonage and the site at 152 Academy Street was purchased.  So well did Rev. Nance labor that the church became of age and began moving by its own power.  Rev.

Nance departed in 1945.

     By September 1945, the church called the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, a young dynamic and fearless leader at age 23.  His youth and vitality attracted hundreds of people to its doors.  Rev. Sullivan was elected president of the National “March on Washington” movement – 1940s – and was involved in speeches and marches for civil rights throughout Harlem, New York.  For a period of time, he served as a supply minister of the Randall Presbyterian Church working with delinquent youths in street gangs.

Originally from West Virginia, Rev. Sullivan left New Abyssinia Baptist Church in York City under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powel, Jr. to pastor the First Baptist Church as his very first pastorate assignment.  He worked with the community for a solution to the many problems in the area.  Rev. Sullivan brought awareness of the housing problem for black citizens, the need for black youth employment opportunities, and he sought scholarships to give impetus to many young church members’ efforts to pursue higher education.  He was the first black president of the South Orange Council of Churches.  His interest in civic affairs gave new meaning and importance to the pulpit.  His labors are marked with great success.  He completed the payment on the parsonage and added the kitchen ad aroused the community to a sense of shame about the housing condition of its black citizens.   

Living Legend Deaconess Catherine Bond

     In 1950 he resigned to become the pastor of the Zion Baptist Church, Philadelphia.  He became one of the first Blacks to become director of General Motors.  Rev. Sullivan remained good friends with several South Orange residents, including Larry Branch and Mr. Tindell until his passing in 2001.  In 1997 he revisited the church and struck of a relationship with the current pastor, Rev. Dr. Terry Richardson whom he mentored for several years inviting him to work alongside of himself and Larry Branch on several national and world-wide campaigns.  During his pastorate of First Baptist Church, Rev. Sullivan was faithfully and fondly assisted by Rev. John Miles, father of sisters Maggie Coy and Omega Vaughan, from his arrival in September 1945 until Rev. Miles demise, October 23, 1948.

Living Legend Deaconess Catherine Bond – Part 2

     In 1951 a call was extended to the Rev. Edgar G. Thomas of Philadelphia.  Under the Rev. Thomas, a church constitution was written, a financial reporting system was introduced, a trustee board established, and a unified treasury instituted.  He encouraged members to donate the stained glass windows to beautify the sanctuary.  Rev. Thomas was a vital board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  He was a personal friend of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He served as president of the Orange and Maplewood branch of the NAACP, a member of the state board of the American Civil Liberties Union, a board member of the Essex County Urban League, vice president of the Citizens Party League of South Orange and a member of the South Orange Council of Churches.  He was a supporter and officer of many denominational organizations.  Throughout the years, Rev. Thomas received many awards for his outstanding services and dedication.  Among them were a 1981 village proclamation proclaiming “Reverend Edgar Garfield Thomas week;” a 1984 “Villager of the Month” award and a spiritual leader community service award, also in 1984.  Rev. Thomas died March 27, 1984.  On March 29, 1987, a library was dedicated in the lower auditorium of the church in his memory.  Though mourning the loss of Rev. Thomas, the church continued to move forward between 1984-1986 with the leadership of Deacon Neville Kidd, chairman, and the Board of Deacons, fine cooperation of the church governing body and membership and encouragement from sister churches.

  Rev. Northington was called to the pulpit on July 1, 1986.  During his tenure there were many accomplishments which enhanced worship and increased physical comfort, including the installation of an air-conditioning system and a state of the art sound system.  In 1991 Rev. Northington accepted a church in Red Bank.

     From 1991 through 1998, the several interim pastors served at First Baptist;   Rev. Ercel Webb followed by Rev. Earl Thurmond.

      Rev. Middleton was called February 15, 1994.  He resigned in February 1995 due to personal reasons.

     From 1995 through 1998, Rev. James Motle served as interim pastor.

February 1997  – present  In February 1997, the church called The Reverend Doctor Terry Richardson to serve as its next pastor.  Under his leadership, over 1,500 – 2,000 persons have joined the ministry at First Baptist Church.  In order to support the rapid growth of the church, Dr. Richardson added two additional Sunday worship services, the development of the church’s very first vision statement, created a number of support ministries, purchased several additional properties, and has led a capital campaign with the intent to erect a new church building.  With an unquenchable passion to make and develop disciple for Christ, Dr. Richardson has established a focus on community outreach and living out the gospel for others to see.  The conviction to Impact lives had given First Baptist a visible presence within South Orange and surrounding communities where its impact on international levels.  Under Dr. Richardson’s leadership, First Baptist has taken the lead in building and supplying needs water wells, primary schools and libraries in third world nations.  The church launched its first foreign evangelism and medical missionary trips in Ghana Africa where they adopted a village.  In addition, through new outreach initiatives, in the name of demonstrating God’s love for the hurting, Dr. Richardson insisted First Baptist lead the charge in suppling aid to tsunami victims in Asia, Africa, Hatti, and the Philippines.  The church has partnered with a number of local causes raging from homelessness, domestic violence prevention, Children’s Cancer Research, hunger, inequality, equity, housing, prison and criminal justice disparity among youth and adults, and many others.   First Baptist has come to understand the mission of the Church of Jesus is to “Go” and be the Light of the World and Salt of the Earth as Christ outlines for His disciples in Matthew 5.  

Under Dr. Richardson, our church has come to understand God is just as concerned about the salvation of society as He is of our individual souls.  Our effectiveness in community today is based on the power that worketh within us in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. 

Impacting Lives, Growing People has become imbedded in the fabric of our church under Dr. Richardson.


Very happy to produce this Black History Month Moment because The First Baptist Church of South Orange is the Black History of South Orange NJ. Reverend Doctor Terry Richardson keeps it going.

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