During the Reconstruction era, Baptist congregations serving African Americans quickly formed throughout rural South Carolina. Because Baptists historically emphasized the autonomy of local congregations and because the churches were widely scattered, there was little impetus to organize them into a separate denomination. Nor were Baptist churches affiliated with African American denominations that had roots in the North, as was the case with Methodist congregations that identified with the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the African Methodist Zion Church.
But growth brought with it a need to coordinate some activities, particularly in religious education in Sunday schools, missionary and evangelism activities, and training for clergy. In 1876 representatives from some of these independent African American Baptist congregations met in Sumter and organized the Colored Baptist Educational, Missionary, and Sunday School Convention to provide leadership. The name was later changed to the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention, and the body is known popularly as the “Baptist E & M.”
To provide more higher educational opportunities for African Americans, the convention founded Morris College in Sumter in 1908. In the early twenty-first century the convention continued to support Morris, as well as Benedict and Friendship colleges. The convention provided training opportunities for local church leaders who work in neighborhood evangelism, Sunday schools, and women’s auxiliaries. As with other African American churches and denominations, the convention has also been involved in social causes; from the outset, for example, Baptist E & M offered an insurance program to members.
By 1916 the convention had grown to some 225,000 members. Estimates in 2000 suggested that around 1,500 congregations with an aggregate membership approaching 450,000 had ties to the convention. The convention has its headquarters in Columbia and holds membership in the South Carolina Christian Action Council.
Lippy, Charles H., ed. Religion in South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.