The Conflict In Lakeland

By the Late Dr. Ronald Mitchell

     (Editor’s Note: Those who know me know I am a history buff, especially Southern history and BMA history. That last topic is something Dr. Mitchell and I definitely had in common. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons why I enjoy looking back through the Baptist Trumpet archives at www.baptisttrumpet.com. This is just one gem that I found there by him. It was in the Feb. 4, 2009 issue. Dr. Mitchell’s legacy lives on, even after he is gone.)

     There are few people today still alive who were at the momentous meeting in Lakeland, Fla. in 1950. Many think that it was all a tempest in a teapot, but there were principles at stake that caused many hundreds to walk out of the Lakeland meeting to go home to form a new association. The dispute was more than two giants of the faith (Ben M. Bogard and D.N. Jackson) squaring off.

     It is not the purpose of this “Did You Know” column to hash out these events and principles. But one of the factors which eventuated into the split was the refusal of the associational body to allow letters of the churches who could not afford to send messengers so far away to be counted concerning who could represent a church as a messenger. When the letters were not allowed to be counted, some 500 plus met late to discuss what to do. T. Sharron Jackson, the son of D.N. Jackson described the moving scene:

     “By beautiful Lake Mirror in the heart of Lakeland, Fla., some 525 devoted Missionary Baptists met for one of the most important gatherings in the history of our people. It was about 11 p.m., the stars were bright, and the smooth lake reflected the lights of the city and of the twinkling stars high overhead. The date was April 19, 1950 — a time that will be long remembered.

     “No public announcement had been made of this meeting under the stars. It was too late to secure a hall large enough for the crowd that came. But by word-of-mouth, true association Baptists had been informed of the meeting. When 11 p.m. arrived, much to the surprise of all, some 525 (by actual count) came to the lakeside; and, sitting on concrete steps or on the soft grass or standing, we had one of the most momentous councils ever participated in by Missionary Baptists.” (The Lakeland Review)

     (Did you know that what took place was recorded by hand on a stenographer’s notebook? Only one copy of those minutes exists and it is housed in the Archives at Central Baptist College. It makes for fascinating reading.)

     It was decided that if the main body, meeting the next day, would not accept the vote of the absentee churches that many would walk out, never to return again. The forlorn Lakeside group formulated a resolution to present to the next day’s session and adjourned to face the inevitable: The resolution read that if the wishes of those in that late night meeting were not heard… “We recommend that mass meeting of the churches be called as soon as possible to consider the formation of a national association that will respect the voice of the churches themselves; and that a committee be named now for the purpose of working out details of a national mass meeting…” (The Lakeland Review)

     The next day came and when the resolution of those in that meeting was read and rejected, hundreds did get up and walk out. It was a heart-wrenching separation as churches were split, friendships were broken and even families torn apart. However, did you know that the sad occasion did have some humor in it? C.N. Glover, who stayed with the mother association recorded:

     “There was one instance that was a mixture of comedy and pathos. While the brethren were walking out, Bill Lee got a song book and began to sing, ‘Hold The Fort For We Are Coming.’ He had such a song sung to him while he walked out of the BMA of Texas the year before. He had told them then to, ‘Just wait, for I am going to sing to you later.’ When he ended his song, Bro. Lee walked over, sat down in a chair and leaned back against what he took to be a wall. However, it was a curtain. His chair went over backwards. He threw back his hands to catch himself from bumping the floor and injured both wrists. I told him that his injury was punishment for singing that song, in the spirit in which he had sung it.” (Glover and Powers, The History of The ABA)

     Did you know that the first name given to the new association was the “Pan-American Baptist Association”? Two days later the name was changed to the “North American Baptist Association,” and we were nicknamed the NABERs. In the 1980s, the name became the “Baptist Missionary Association of America.”

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