African American Missions (USA)

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The first mission among the African Americans in the USA was begun in 1898 by the Lancaster Conference Mennonites (Mennonite Church) when they established the "Welsh Mountain Industrial Mission for Negroes" living in the wooded area at the junction of Lancaster, Chester, and Berks counties (Pennsylvania, USA) called the Welsh Mountain. Noah Mack was the superintendent of the mission until 1910. The first convert was baptized in 1917, but a permanent congregation was not established until later. In 1924 the industrial phase of the ministry was discontinued, but the work was continued as a mission program.

In 1899 a Krimmer Mennonite Brethren (KMB) evangelistic mission was opened at Elk Park, North Carolina, which was continued into the mid-20th century. A small number of converts were organized into several congregations with six African American ministers. The work was in charge of one or more white KMB couples. H. V. Wiebe was the first worker (1899-1907), assisted by J. M. Tschetter (1902-1912). P. H. Siemens spent over 25 years (from 1925 on) there. In 1955 there was an attendance of 180 at the Sunday morning services.

By the 1950s African American missions had extensive development only in the Mennonite Church (MC), which by then had at least 27 missions or congregations. In 1933 the Lancaster Colored Mission was established in Lancaster city. Additional missions among people of color were established by the Lancaster Conference as follows (with date of establishment), all in Pennsylvania unless otherwise indicated: Philadelphia in 1935; Reading 1938; Andrews Bridge 1938; Mt. Vernon in Oxford 1946; Newlinville near Coatesville 1946; Harrisburg 1951; Steelton 1952; Lincoln University 1954; York 1954; New York City, Harlem, New York 1954; Edgemont near Harrisburg 1955; West Chester 1955; Tampa, Florida, 1952; and Freemanville, Alabama, 1956. These missions were opened to minister to the spiritual needs of a predominantly African American population; a number of them were conducted on an interracial basis with membership of both races.

Additional missions have been established in other conference districts as follows: Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1935; Bethel in Chicago, Illinois, 1945; Youngstown, Ohio, 1947; Gladstone in Cleveland, Ohio, 1948; Ninth Street in Saginaw, Michigan, 1949; Buckeye near Phoenix, Arizona, 1951; Newport News, Virginia, 1952; St. Anne at Rehoboth, Illinois, 1953; East Side in Saginaw, Michigan, 1955; Madisonville, Louisiana, 1955; Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1955. At least five additional African American missions had been established by the mid-1950s, among them Los Angeles, California, 1940, and Rocky Ridge near Souderton, Pennsylvania, 1931. The Rocky Ridge Mennonite (MC) Church continued as an interracial church with a few African Americans among its 89 members in 1956. From this congregation came the first African American minister in the Mennonite Church, James Lark, who was ordained at Chicago in 1946, and made bishop there in 1954 (discontinued his bishop office in 1956). In 1957 he was the only ordained African American minister in the Mennonite Church (MC); although there was an elected deacon at the Ninth Street Church in Saginaw. The four rapidly growing young churches at Saginaw, Cleveland, Chicago, and Youngstown cooperated as a group in various ways with considerable sharing of ideas.

In 1951 there were 385 African American members in 29 different predominantly African American Mennonite (Mennonite Church) congregations. In 1957 the number was more than 500. The first record  of "Negro" members in  the Mennonite Church (MC) was in 1896 when Bishop Jacob N. Brubacher baptized a few people of color in Juniata County, PA, as the result of a revival movement in that area inaugurated by J. S. Coffman, M. S. Steiner, and A. D. Wenger. There is an earlier, as yet unverified, report of African American members in the small Lancaster Conference congregation at Marietta, PA, about 1800.

By the 1950s no regular missions among the African Americans had been established by any other Mennonite group in North America. However, the General Conference Board of Missions (GCM) on 1 January 1957 took over Camp Landon at Gulfport, Mississippi, as a Voluntary Service community project, which had been established in 1946 as a Civilian Public Service  project and administered by the Mennonite Central Committee until 1957. It worked exclusively with African Americans.

See also African American Mennonite Association


Bechler, Leroy. "Facts, Considerations, and Membership or Negroes in the Mennonite (MC) Church, 1955" Unpublished paper.

Miller, Vern L. "Negro Evangelism." Unpublished Seminar paper, Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN).

Stoltzfus, Robert. "Mennonite Mission Work Among the American Negro." 1953. Unpublished seminar paper, Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN).

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "African American Missions (USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 23 Apr 2019.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1957). African American Missions (USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 April 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 821-822. All rights reserved.

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