Participating in the Sept. 27 ribbon cutting for the new American Baptist Historical Society archives on Mercer University’s Atlanta campus were, left to right: Dr. Deborah Bingham Van Broekhoven, ABHS executive director; Dr. Lester Garner, former member of the ABHS board of managers; Rev. Z.Allen Abbott, representative of the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board; Dr. Wesley Roberts, vice president of the ABHS Board of Managers; Ruth Clark, vice president of the American Baptist Board of International Ministries; Dr. Richard V. Swindle, Mercer’s senior vice president for university advancement and Atlanta; Rev. Roy Medley, general secretary for American Baptist Churches USA; Dr. Trinette McCray, president of the ABHS board of managers; Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director, American Baptist Board of National Ministries; and Mercer President William D. Underwood.
ATLANTA – At dedication ceremonies for the American Baptist Samuel Colgate Historical Library and Archives on Mercer’s Atlanta campus Sept. 27, leaders praised the effort, collaboration, vision and commitment demonstrated in bringing the vast collections under one roof.
Previously housed at two locations – Valley Forge, Pa., and Rochester, N.Y. – the move of the archives required 17 tractor-trailers and untold hours of packing, loading, unloading and re-shelving. While some questioned relocating the library and archives to Atlanta, particularly with American Baptist Churches USA headquarters in Pennsylvania, President William D. Underwood said Atlanta was the perfect location, not only with the city’s civil rights history, but also with the personal history of university founder Jesse Mercer. The Georgia Baptist preacher whose financial contributions helped establish the university in 1833 also made a substantial gift to the American Baptist Publication Society that helped lead to establishment of the American Baptist Historical Society in 1853.
“This is a partnership between the leading Baptist research university and the largest Baptist historical resource in the nation,” Underwood said. “I felt from the beginning this partnership could help both institutions advance their missions.”
Dr. Albert Brinson, co-chair of the History Matters Campaign for the American Baptist Historical Society, said the move is appropriate. Brinson was ordained at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta by co-pastors Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. He said both men thought Atlanta was the Mecca for bringing people together, both in the south and the nation.
“Our relationship with American Baptists makes this a special moment that now, in 2008, we celebrate the opening of the largest center of Baptist history,” Brinson said. “We are a part of that Baptist history. Atlanta is a great place for bringing people together, and we are asking God to bless this place.”
Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said the dedication was momentous for those who treasure the nation’s rich Baptist heritage. “This is a significant day for those who have prayed for the unity of the church,” Medley said. “By joining with this storied institution rooted in Baptist life and in the south, it’s another way in which God is healing the divisions, the scars and the wounds of Baptists in the past.”
From a research perspective, proximity to other historical collections at Emory University and Vanderbilt University make the new site convenient for researchers, said Dr. Anthea Butler, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester and a participant in Saturday’s dedication. “It’s important for the archives to be in Atlanta because it puts it in great proximity to all the great Baptist research sites in the south, all within a 500-mile radius,” said Butler, the author of numerous articles and a book about Baptist history.
Dr. Trinette McCray, president of the American Baptist Historical Society, echoed that proximity is important. “To have our collections together under one roof makes it easy for researchers and history buffs to see our historical documents,” she said. “Atlanta is perfect because it is one flight from almost any city in the country, and researchers and students won’t have to search for documents in two locations.”
The archives hold tens of thousands of artifacts of Baptist history, some from as early as the 1500s from Dutch and German Baptists, according to Dr. Deborah Van Broekhoven, executive director of the American Baptist Historical Society. She called the new library and archives an exciting place where learning is still taking place.
“We’re always stumbling upon a wide variety of stories,” Van Broekhoven said. “People come from all over the world to use our collections because part of their history is in our archives. Probably the most exciting thing is they tell us more about the story, from different perspectives, because it’s a piece of their own history.”
Underwood said he believes the library and archives is the single best collection of Baptist historical materials in the world.
“The American Baptist Historical Society is an organization that is committed to preserving Baptist history and committed to education, high-level research and scholarship that preserves the principles for which Baptists have stood for nearly 400 years. Mercer University shares those principles, and I believe this partnership will help us both better serve Baptists around the world.”