James H. Devotie, leading the transformation and expansion of Baptists in Alabama and Georgia: 1830-1890
Southern Baptist pastor, James H. DeVotie, led Baptists to establish, expand, and entrench in Alabama and Georgia from the 1830s to the 1890s. He directed Baptists to become one of the most numerous and influential religious bodies in these states. DeVotie did so by orchestrating the development of Baptist denominational institutions, overcoming resistance from "Hardshell" Baptists, promoting the professional pastorate, providing wartime ministry for the battlefront and home-front, shepherding the suffering South amidst his own suffering, and overseeing dozens of domestic missionaries who launched numerous new churches. He pastored large, prominent congregations in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Marion, Alabama, as well as Columbus and Griffin, Georgia. Moreover, DeVotie poured himself into strengthening regional Baptist associations, propelling state conventions, serving as president of the Southern Baptist Domestic Mission Board, establishing Howard College, overseeing Judson College and Mercer University, launching the Alabama Baptist newspaper, developing the Alabama Baptist Bible Society, leading the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, supporting Sabbath schools, and starting a string of public schools. For the first three decades of his ministry he undertook these initiatives as a local pastor of interracial congregations, navigating between his proslavery perspective and his committed ministry to slaves. After the Civil War, he did not make any noticeable attempt to give newly freed slaves equal status among the white-controlled interracial Baptist churches. Yet as black Baptists rapidly left to form their own churches, he continued seeking financial and educational support for black church leaders even when other white Baptists withdrew.