This is an article from the March-April 2000 issue: The African American & Missions

The Passion of William W. Colley

The Passion of William W. Colley

Colley is recognized as the only African American Baptist to have served as an appointed missionary of both a white-administered missionary-sending agency and a black-administered missionary-sending agency. William W. Colley was appointed by the Foreign Mission Board, SBC in 1875 to serve in West Africa as the assistant to W. J. David, a white missionary from Mississippi. In November 1879, he returned to the United States with the conviction that more blacks should be involved in international missions, especially in Africa. As he traveled back and forth across the country, he urged black Baptists to take an independent course in mission work and form their own sending agency.1 Colley's effort is considered the primary force in the founding of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention (BFMC) on November 24, 1880. The BFMC became one of three conventions that merged in 1895 to form the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the first truly national convention of black Baptists in the United States.2

Colley was among the first missionaries appointed by the BFMC in 1883. He, along with his wife, Joseph and Hattie Presley, John J. Cole and Henderson McKinney, was sent to West Africa.

It has been said, speaking of missionaries in those days, that Africa was the white man's graveyard (referring to the many white missionaries who died as a result of disease contracted while serving in Africa). It may also be said that Africa was the black man's graveyard. Of the first dozen missionaries sent to Africa by the BFMC, 11 either died on the field or became so ill that they had to return to the United States. The popular notion (held by both whites and blacks) that African Americans could tolerate the conditions in Africa better than could whites was proven to be untrue.

The years during which the BFMC operated (1880-1895) were characterized by waxing and waning of both interest and support. During the early years, there was great excitement over the work being done in Africa. As the years passed and hardship and tragedy struck, causing one missionary after another to leave the field, interest seemed to decline. During the entire existence of the BFMC, those states which had missionaries on the field whom they could claim as their own seemed to give stronger support to the convention. There were other factors in the decreasing support.3 In the end, it was the founding of such agencies as the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. and the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign (and Home) Mission Convention that has continued to foster the international missions efforts of black Baptists in the United States.

  1. For a list of possible reasons with explanations, along with a more extensive discussion on W. W. Colley's missionary ministry, see Sandy D. Martin's book, Black Baptists and African Missions: The origins of a Movement 1880-1915 (Macon, GA.: Mercer University Press, 1989), pp. 49ff.

  2. The National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. was organized in Sept., 1895. It resulted from a merger of three smaller conventions: the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention (founded in 1880), the American National Baptist Convention (founded in 1886) and the Baptist National Educational Convention (founded in 1893). The resolution leading to the founding of this convention read, in part, "That there shall be one national organization of American Baptists. Under this, there shall be a Foreign Mission Board, with authority to plan and execute the Foreign Mission work, according to the spirit and purpose set forth by the Foreign Mission Convention of the United States." Stated another way, a major part of the work of the new convention was to be to carry on the foreign mission focus of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.

  3. As early as 1886, a decline in support for the BFMC could be seen. By 1888, the convention's work was severely impaired. By the early 1890's, the convention's work, for all practical purposes, did not exist.


There are no comments for this entry yet.

Leave A Comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.