Wednesday, August 12, 2009
From Navasota Orphan to American Apostle
Many of my readers are probably wondering, it seems like there is a strong bent in Russell’s mind towards music, history, and especially Black history. He must be a black guy…
It’s funny, I am white, but I do not really think about the cultural or racial identity of the blog, I just post what comes to me. I have done a mountain of research about Navasota and its people, and for a century, half of them were black. And that story went largely untold, so that is where most of the opportunities are to tell you something you probably did not already know.
I have really strived to keep the scales balanced, but the truth is, the struggle blacks went through in Navasota conditioned them to not only survive, but excel. I have scoured the Internet, trying to find a similar number of White people from Navasota, who rose above the crowd and made history in their trade or field of endeavors… they just haven’t surfaced. It takes a lot of living to forge a great entertainer, and the Jim Crow South was a boiling pot of talent. If you think about it, the lack of striving may explain why so few Whites emerged in the same fields, after all they had slaves or servants to serve and entertain them for so long, they had grown a little lazy. Sure there have been some outstanding White lawyers, politicians, preachers and business entrepreneurs. But you guys would quit reading this so fast if that’s all there was! Anyway I enter today a remarkable life, a White guy, who you need to meet.
Handsome and clean cut, George McDaniel was seventeen when he presented himself for baptism at First Baptist Church, Navasota. Orphaned just the year before, he was born in Grimes County in 1875 and educated in Navasota, where he excelled. This was a pivotal time in his life, when he decided to try to understand God, rather than blame Him for his sorrows. The photograph above was taken by Hillyer, probably right before he left Navasota to seek his fortune. It was given to me by a Taliaferro descendant, who wanted her veritable treasury of antique photgraphs from Navasota to have a Navasota home. Neither of us knew who he was until I happened to get lucky and figure it out. In the future I will be sharing many more of these photographs, from the 1890's that featured some of the most prominant citizens of Navasota, many young people, like Hood Boone and George McDaniel, who went on to do quite well.
George went to Hills Business College in Waco, and later the Male Academy at Belton and then finally Baylor University. In 1898, he married one of Baylor’s teachers, (scandal!) Martha Douglass Scarborough. He felt the call to become a preacher, and while they had two children, he worked his way through, and graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Waco.
Ordained in 1899, George started his pastoring career at the First Baptist Church in Waco. Like many Baptists preachers, he began a series of pastorates that took him up the ladder of church leadership. He served in Central City, Kentucky, Temple & Dallas, Texas, and Richmond, Virginia. It was while in Richmond that he was engaged to serve on the Virginia Baptist Board of Missions and Education. Which led to serving on the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and also as a trustee for both Richmond College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Ultimately the Navasota orphan ended up serving on the board of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, the Virginia Baptist Orphanage, and the Virginia Home and Industrial School for Girls. Finally, the Baptists of Virginia decided to elect a Texan to run their convention, and he was elected to the presidency of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. By now I’m sure the folks back home had lost track of him. And perhaps they might have never heard of him again, except he was elected to the most honored position in the Faith, as President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1926.
And here‘s the kicker. The struggles of his youth had prepared him for a lifetime of spiritual leadership, all over the South, at a time of great social change and questioning of Biblical teachings. George and his Baptists might not be so predictable as you might think. George McDaniel was known as a fierce protector of Baptist points of Faith, or doctrines. And one of them was the “Separation of Church and State.” It was this revered doctrine that caused many Baptists before him to be imprisoned, during times when some fledgling Americans wanted State sanctioned religion. Of course, they wanted the Anglican Church, and that is why many Baptists ended up in prison. We can thank men like McDaniel for making sure that the two institutions stayed independent of one another. Sticklers for this major point in American culture and government, McDaniel led his Virginian Baptists in a protest against the laws that would require the reading of the Bible in Virginia public schools. That’s a WOW. That’s intellectual honesty. That’s integrity when it hurts. That’s leadership.
A prolific writer, he authored over half a dozen books, including The Supernatural Jesus, and fought to the end that the Theory of Evolution was a farce. At his presidential address in 1926, he said, and was often quoted from that day on “This Convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was a special creation of God, and rejects every theory, Evolution or other, which teaches that man originated in, or came by way of, lower animal ancestry.”
Sounds like my kind of guy.
The Book of James says that our life is just a vapor. So true, but some of us leave a more visible vapor trail. George White McDaniel, the orphan from Navasota, and pillar of the Church, was certainly a comet in the American sky before he died, a year later at Richmond,Virginia in 1927. He was just fifty–two years old.