A Brief History of The Baptist General State Convention of Illinois, Inc.
To be sure, the same forces which coalesced to create the rise of Black Baptists in America were at work in the State of Illinois. Long before the Civil War, Blacks migrated from the South, crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, and settled in Illinois .
Many slaves and freedmen fled to this new “frontier” in search of favorable conditions for worship. As they arrived, they began to build churches throughout the state, but soon discovered a need to establish a single body to promote their mutual interests.
For this reason, a number of Black churches organized the Wood River Baptist District Association on April 27, 1838, in the home of Mr. Samuel Vinson. They held their first session in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Ridge 3, Prairie, Illinois, in Madison County, on September 13 of that same year.
In 1853 the Providence Baptist Association of Ohio, the Wood River Baptist Association and other churches of the “western” states decided to establish one entity. They organized the Western Colored Baptist Convention. The Convention movement was begun.
On September 24, 1895 in Atlanta, Georgia, the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America was formed from the union of the Foreign Mission Convention, the National Baptist Educational Convention, and the American National Baptist Convention. This consolidation of Black Baptists into one national body led to extensive growth. A special report issued in 1906 by the Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census on “Religious Bodies” noted that in 1890 there were 1,348,989 members in the continental United States and by 1906 that number had grown to 2,261,607.
The rapid growth in membership led to the need for a state convention within Illinois. On October 2, 1902, sixty-four years after the beginning of the Wood River Baptist Association, a group of Baptist met at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located at 9th and Carpenter Street in Springfield, Illinois and organized the Baptist General State Convention of Illinois . The Reverend J. F. Thomas, Minister of the Olivet Baptist Church, was elected as the first President of the Convention. He served in this capacity from 1902 to 1909.
During the Annual Session of 1909, held in Quincy, Illinois, at the First Baptist Church, Reverend F. J. Fisher was elected to succeed Dr. J. F. Thomas. Dr. Fisher was also a Pastor of Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago. The Reverend F. A. McCoo of Chicago followed Dr. Fisher as President of the Convention, being elected during the 1914 Annual Session held at the Rock Hill Baptist Church of Carbondale, Illinois. The Reverend S. J. Williams of Joliet succeeded Reverend McCoo and served through the 1917 Annual Session, held at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church of Cairo, Illinois.
It was during this Annual Session of the State Convention that another Pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago, ascended to the Presidency. Dr. L. K. Williams served as President until he was chosen as leader of the National Convention. In September of 1922, in the city of St. Louis, MO., Dr. L. K. Williams was elected President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc. Consequently, in January of 1923, Dr. Williams resigned the office of President of Baptist General State Convention of Illinois in order to devote more time to his national responsibilities.
The Vice President, Rev. J. J. Olive ascended to the Presidency of the State Convention, completing the year, and was elected to his own term in June of that same year. Dr. Olive served as President of Baptist General until the Master called him from labor to reward on September 2, 1937. Upon the death of Dr. Olive, Dr. William Bennett of Chicago, the Vice President, finished the unexpired term and was elected President in June of 1938, during the Annual Session held at the True Light Baptist Church of East St. Louis, Illinois. He served as President through the June Session of 1939, held with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Peoria, Illinois.
During the Peoria Session of 1939, Dr. J. L. Horace, Pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church of Chicago, was elected President, succeeding Dr. Bennett. Dr. Horace was an outstanding leader. He was recognized as having built one of the greatest programs ever witnessed in any state since slavery. During his administration, Dr. Horace unified the State; greatly increased missions, Christian education, church extension, evangelism and the L. K. Williams Memorial Scholarship Fund. He also led the Convention in the purchasing of a Headquarters, as well as establishing the General Baptist Advocate as the mouthpiece of the Convention. Dr. Horace served as President through the Annual Session of 1959, held at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Peoria.
At the 1959 Annual Session, Reverend J. A. Wilson was elected President of the State Convention. He held this office until 1967, when Dr. Owen D. Pelt, Pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church of Chicago, was elected President during the Annual Session held at the Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago. These were the turbulent ‘60’s and Dr. Pelt was elected with much enthusiasm and great hope for the Convention. The great expectations of the Pelt administration were short-lived. Dr. Pelt was called from labor to reward in 1968, and was succeeded by Reverend R. B. Lyles, Pastor of the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church of East St. Louis, Illinois.
Dr. Lyles served the Convention with distinction from 1968 to 1984. During the Annual Session of June 1984, Dr. Clayborn Salter was elected President of Baptist General State Convention.
Dr. Salter, Pastor of the New Zion Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois, brought revitalization to the State Convention as its President. He initiated a Unified Budget for the Convention, incorporating all of its Auxiliaries, as well as instituting a per capita basis for fair church representation. During the Salter administration, tenure was made a part of the Constitution, limiting all state officers to no more than two (2) three year terms in office. Dr. Clayborn Salter completed his term in office in 1990 having reinvigorated the work of the Convention.
The Annual Session of June 1990 was held at the Shiloh Baptist Church of Chicago. During the meeting, the Reverend Dr. Shelvin Jerome Hall was unanimously elected to serve as President of the Baptist General State Convention of Illinois. During Dr. Hall’s administration, giving to and through the State Convention dramatically increased. The Convention was in the best financial condition of its 92 year history, and was recognized nationwide as a leading Convention of Black Baptists.
On June 6, 1996, Reverend Lundy Savage, Pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church of Champaign, Illinois, was elected the 14th President of Baptist General State Convention in Peoria, Illinois at the 94th Annual Session hosted by New Morning Star Baptist Church, Reverend Cleveland Thomas, Pastor.
In June 2002, Baptist General State Convention of Illinois celebrated its centennial year. This celebration included the beginning of a new administration. The Reverend Dr. Alvin Love, Pastor of Lilydale First Baptist Church of Chicago, was elected the 15th President of the Convention.
Dr. Love immediately continued to build upon the foundation of his predecessors by aligning the Convention with the 21st Century order. He establish a website; updated the office equipment to meet the needs of the entire convention and its constituency; reinstituted an executive board; assigned the Vice Presidents to regions; established new commissions; created channels for networking with suburban, as well as denominational affiliates; and raised the attendance, finance, and excitement about the Convention.
In 2003, Baptist General made history in its Annual Session by conducting its first baptismal service. This was made possible by the efforts of the Evangelism Commission, which canvassed the Rockford, Illinois community. Several souls were baptized, and dispersed to the area churches.
Dr. Love’s position with the Trinity Christian College marked another opportunity for Baptist General State Convention. He negotiated the usage of its entire campus, along with its dormitory facility to house the youth, for the Congress of Christian Education 2003 Session.
June 2008 in Collinsville, Illinois, Rev. Louis E. Malone, Pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church, Rockford, Illinois was elected to lead Baptist General as its 16th President.
President Malone embarked on a journey toward Healthy Churches during his administration. Over the course of his tenure, President Malone “sailed” six ships – Leadership -2008-2009; Followship – 2009-2010; Discipleship 2010-2011; Stewardship – 2011-2012; Fellowship – 2012-2013; and Worship -2013-2014.
Also during his tenure, President Malone led the charge to amend the constitution of the Convention eliminating the election of auxiliary officers and making them appointments of the President. These changes also established the Moderators Department as the Board of Directors for the Convention. The Convention returned to Southern Illinois and reestablished the Carbondale and Cairo region as a vital part of Baptist General. In addition, he mandated that the Convention Board meetings begin rotating again to all regions of the state to introduce and reintroduce the entire constituency to our convention. Through financial support and the physical labor of the Layman’s Auxiliary, Baptist General was able to provide natural disaster relief to its member churches.
President Malone’s administration expanded the use of available technology with the commission of a website administrator responsible for redesigning the web page and managing the convention’s online presence. Email communication and News Flashes were sent regularly to keep the constituency informed and connected to the local, state, and national work.
President Malone gave his final address as President of the Convention during the Annual Session in June 2013.
June 2014 in Springfield, Illinois, Dr. William H. Foster, Jr., Pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois was elected to lead Baptist General State Convention as its 17th President.