The roots of Second African Baptist Church spread wide and deep. The pastors played a significant role in the growth and development of the church. We have included an abbreviated look at the twenty- one pastors who served this church from 1802 to the present. We will look at some of their personal achievements, highlights of their service to the church, as well as the length of their pastorates.
A Parade of Pastors
Rev. Henry Cunningham
(1802 – 1842)
Rev. Henry Cunningham was the first pastor of the Second Colored Baptist Church (now Second African Baptist Church). He was born a free man in McIntosh County, Georgia in 1759. Some of his descendants reportedly stated that he had been educated at Oxford University in England. He was a Cooper (a maker of wooden tubs and casks). Aside from this trade, he operated a conveyance service for Savannahians and tourists. His trade and business became very lucrative, thus making him a wealthy free person. He married Elizabeth or “Betsey” as she was called. She was a free person and a native of Savannah with fair skin. At the time of their marriage, he was thirty-three years old and she was fifty-two.
Little is known about the church activities during Rev. Cunningham’s pastorate due to loss or destruction of records. Some things are known by hearsay or from remnants of documents that are scattered in various places. However, it is known that Rev. Cunningham and a band of twenty-six persons organized the Second Colored Baptist Church on December 26, 1802. He was instrumental in getting the city to rescind the act of getting any more ground rent nor city payment from the church for Lot Number 19 in Green Ward, the location of the church. He took the lead in having the Savannah River Baptist Association dissolved and the founding of the Sunbury Association on November 7, 1818 in order to allow the black churches to have more input into the affairs of the association. During Rev. Cunningham’s pastorate, the name of the church was changed to Second African Baptist Church. Because of his close association with Rev. John Holcombe of the white Savannah Baptist Church (First Baptist Church), it is thought the church services and sermons were more on the order of that church.
Rev. Cunningham died on March 29, 1842. His burial spot is in Savannah’s Laurel Grove Cemetery. He served the church for approximately forty years.
Rev. Thomas Anderson
(1842 – 1848)
Rev. Anderson, the second pastor of Second African Baptist Church, was born a slave in Savannah, Georgia. He received his sir name, like all slaves, from his slaveholder. He was an elderly man when he married his wife who also was a slave. They reared a large family.
Rev. Anderson was one of the original founders of Second African Baptist Church. He was baptized by Rev. Andrew Bryan, the first pastor of the First African Baptist Church. He was a person of high intelligence with the ability to read the Bible well. With these abilities and his high morals and devotion to his religious belief, he was ordained as a deacon at Second African Baptist Church. Rev. Cunningham appointed him a licensed evangelist.
After the death of Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Anderson resigned as pastor of First Bryan Baptist Church and made a bid for the Second African Baptist Church. He won his bid and was called during the year 1842.
As the pastor of Second African Baptist Church, Rev. Anderson was known as the “family pastor”. He stressed the importance of the family and made visits to their homes very often. Through his loving and caring personality families felt highly honored when he accepted their invitation to Sunday dinners.
Rev. Anderson’s pastorate lasted for six years, from 1842 to 1848. He died in the year 1848.
Rev. John Cox
Rev. John Cox was the third pastor of Second African Baptist Church. In 1849, Second African Baptist Church began the search for a new pastor. They decided on Rev. John Cox. He served as pastor during the stormy years of the Civil War. Because of the lost of documentation, little is known about Rev. Cox and his pastorate. However, in 1854, the members of the Deacon Board hired Francis Blair, a master carpenter, to remodel the church and its premises at a cost of six hundred and fifty dollars.
In 1864, General William T. Sherman and Secretary of War Stanton held a meeting with free and emancipated blacks at Second African Baptist Church. During this time, the famous Field Order #15 granting forty acres and a mule was issued and the meeting explaining the order was held at Second African Baptist Church.
Rev. Cox served from 1849-1870, for a period of twenty-one years.
Rev. H. L. Simpson
Rev. H.L. Simpson was the fourth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. In 1871, he arrived at Second African Baptist Church from Ontario, Canada. He was born in New York City and received his Divinity Degree from Rochester Baptist Theological Seminary of that city. The members of the church affectionately called Rev. Simpson, “Father Simpson”.
Some highlights of his pastorate include a program to improve the appearance of the church with as many members as possible involved. Each member was asked to pay twenty-five cents each Sunday in order to raise $7,500.00 to buy insurance on the church, buy an organ, and install stained glass windows. He held church court trials for such activities as dancing, marrying without the consent of the church, or for not taking communion. He encouraged church members to raise funds for the Georgia Infirmary Hospital each fifth Sunday. Funds were used for the upkeep of the hospital. He held temperance meetings to encourage people not to drink alcoholic beverages. At one meeting, one hundred sixty members signed pledges not to drink any more.
On March 12, 1881, Father Simpson died at the age of 57. He had served the church for ten years.
Rev. Alexander Ellis
(1882 – 1890)
Rev. Alexander Ellis was the fifth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. Rev. Alexander Ellis was a native of the West Indies who came to Second African Baptist Church from the Ruggles Street Baptist Church in Boston. Massachusetts. He has been described by several sources as intellectual and cultured – in the Boston sense of the word. It has been said that he sought to bring Boston ethics to Second African Baptist Church. It showed itself in church programs, organizations and Sunday sermons.
Some highlights of his pastorate included participation in the establishment of a Relief Fund to assist persons who had been displaced during the disastrous city fire November 1, 1883. Rev. Alexander Harris of the First Bryan Church served as chairman and Rev. Alexander Ellis served as secretary. He established committees in the church to raise funds to remodel the church. This effort was two-fold. It served as a way to get everyone in the church working toward a common goal as well as raise the necessary money. The bid was set for $8,800.00 to do the remodeling.
The renovated church was said to have been quite attractive. The first floor consisted of a lecture room and meeting rooms for various organizations and the second floor was exclusively the sanctuary for worship.
On the wall above the pulpit in large Old English styled letters were the words: “Repent, Believe, and Be Baptized”. Rev. E. K. Love of the First African Baptist Church delivered the dedication sermon for the renovation and Rev. U. L. Houston of First Bryan Baptist Church gave the benediction.
Discord occurred between the pastor and the church in the latter part of 1890. As a result, the pastor was voted out and 350 members of 1,500 left with Rev. Ellis to organize a new Baptist church.
Rev. Ellis served from 1882 – 1890.
Rev. Dr. Jacob Javan Durham
(1891 – 1904)
Rev. Dr. Jacob Javan Durham was the sixth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. In June 1891, Second African Baptist Church extended a call to Rev. J. J. Durham of Columbia, South Carolina to become its next pastor. He was a man who was born a slave on April 13, 1849 to James White and Dorcas Durham in Spartanburg, South Carolina. After the Civil War, he was old enough to enter the blacksmith trade. In an effort to better his condition, he enrolled in a Senior Preparatory Class of South Carolina University. He enrolled in Meharry Medical College and graduated valedictorian four years later.
He became a Doctor of Medicine and Divinity, a Blacksmith, Scholar, Lecturer, Botanist, and Preacher.
During Rev. Durham’s pastorate at Second African Baptist Church, a record number of converts were made as a result of the revivals at Second African Baptist Church. The church had a busy program that included Sunday School, various auxiliaries, organizations and committees. Excursions during the summer were among the regular entertainment.
There were financial problems stemming from the remodeling debt from the previous administration. Consequently, there was difficulty in meeting the church’s payroll. There was a continuation of monthly “trials”of church members who were accused of breaking church laws.
In December 1902, the Second African Baptist Church celebrated its 100th Anniversary. During this time, Second African Baptist was a well-attended church. There was a large average attendance at each Sunday worship, a large, active Sunday School with nineteen officers and teachers and 167 pupils with an average attendance of 186 persons. In addition, the church had an active BYPU, which met each Sunday afternoon.
Dr. Durham submitted his resignation to the church on February 11, 1904 at the communion service. He served from 1891 – 1904, a period of approximately thirteen years.
Rev. Hosea Maxwell
Rev. Hosea Maxwell was the seventh pastor of Second African Baptist Church. Immediately after the departure of Dr. J. J. Durham, the Rev. Hosea Maxwell, a member of the Deacon Board was elected to serve as a supply pastor. He held this position for three months. During this short tenure, there was an attempt to turn back the clock as far as voting rights for women were concerned. During Dr. Durham’s tenure, he had convinced the church that by not allowing women members in good standing to vote, the church was not following the New Testament example. This forward-looking action was brought up for repeal while Dea. Maxwell was pastor. He was returned to his former status as a deacon and the voting question was tabled.
Rev. Hosea Maxwell served as pastor for a period of three months.
Rev. S. H. Smith
Rev. S. H. Smith was the eighth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. He was a Texas minister who came to Savannah for a vacation and became acquainted with some of the members of the church. He decided to remain in Savannah and while here was offered the position of supply pastor. He accepted the offer.
During Rev. Smith’s pastorate and even after, the church was heavily in debt. A committee of the members sponsored many concerts to raise money.
The Rev. Smith was an impressive minister. Unfortunately after having been at Second African Baptist only six months, he had a stroke while in the pulpit and died.
Rev. J. H. May
(1906 – 1910)
Rev. J. H. May was the ninth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. He was a native of Nashville, Tennessee and accepted the call to Second African Baptist Church while Pastoring the Corinthian Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. This profound minister had a reputation of being a great humanitarian. He led many discussions about the City Councils’ “Jim Crow” practice.
He was very progressive in church matters. He arranged to discontinue the publication of church collections and other personal transactions. He believed in unity among the various churches, and so associated with the pastors of St. James A.M.E. church, Beth-Eden Baptist Church, and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church.
Under his pastorate, the church sponsored a “Great Fair” which raised $104.16. Rev. May was credited for reorganizing the Missionary Department. He served the church for four years.
Rev. Dr. D. Augustine Reid
(1910 – 1914)
Rev. Dr. D. Augustine Reid, the tenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church, was a native of the West Indies. He came highly recommended by the pastor and deacons of Cherry Street Memorial Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he had formerly pastored. He was also the father of Dr. Ira D. Reid, a former distinguished professor of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
During his tenure, Rev. Reid revised the church regulations, revitalized organizations and made plans to renovate the church. A pipe organ was installed in memory of the late Mrs. Matilda Monroe. Her husband, A. M. Monroe, donated it.
During the 112th church anniversary, a marker was placed on the back wall of the edifice as a lasting dedication “To the memories of all her faithful and deceased members and Sunday School Workers who bequeathed to us this heritage by this church in this her 112th anniversary”. Dr. Reid terminated his pastorate in 1914, having served for a period of six years.
Rev. W. Boliva Davis
(1915 – 1917)
Rev. W. Boliva Davis was the eleventh pastor of Second African Baptist Church who came to the church from Dublin, Georgia. He was known as a “singing evangelist” and described as a very “forceful” preacher of the gospel and practical in his application of the scriptures.
His baptismal ceremonies were very unusual in that he was an amputee with only one arm. That, however, did not prevent him from doing his duty. He improvised a method of submersion by having the candidates wear robes made of heavy cloth so that he could pull them up by the robe’s neckline. After having pastored for three years, he resigned to enter other fields of endeavor.
Rev. P. W. Wrenn
(1919 – 1921)
Rev. P. W. Wrenn was the twelfth pastor of Second African Baptist Church and a native of Mississippi. Although he appeared to be a plain gentleman, he was an impressive pastor.
One of Rev. Wrenn’s greatest contributions to the church was to have gas radiators installed in the church. Another achievement was that he baptized a great number of young persons who later became leading church officers and members of the church. This number included Rev. John Q. Adams, a son of Second African Baptist Church. He became pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia and pastored there for sixty years. Rev. Wrenn left Second African Baptist Church after having served for two years.
Rev. Solomon Davis Ross
(1923 – 1929)
Rev. Solomon Davis Ross was the thirteenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church and a graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts and Divinity Degree. His first assignment was a teaching assignment at American Institute in Americus, Georgia.
Rev. Ross reorganized the church operations. His most notable act of reorganization was to divide the church program into five different departments.
During his pastorate, the church caught on fire, thus the church had to be repaired. During this time, the wooden structure was changed into pressed, brick veneer. The stained windows were replaced with translucent white panels. The ceiling lights were lowered, thus improving the lighting conditions. During this administration, some members were honored for their untiring services in helping to relieve the church of debt.
Rev. Ross served during the period of the Great Depression; the church’s financial plight became so bad, he resigned April 29, 1929 after having served for six years.
Rev. M. A. Hunter
(1929 – 1931)
Rev. M.A. Hunter was the fourteenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. He came to Second African Baptist Church from a church in Ohio. He accepted the pastorate on September 15, 1929 after a special meeting with the Deacon Board.
He was impressed with the seemingly dutiful deacons during this era. During this period, the church published a bulletin, “The Golden Rule” that was issued once a month.
A summary of Rev. Hunter’s pastorate, according to Dea. Roundfield’s writings were “this administration was not noteworthy of any remarkable results and he was terminated mutually”.
Rev. Hunter served for two years.
Rev. Clifton N. Perry
(1932 – 1935)
Rev. Clifton N. Perry was the fifteenth pastor of Second African Baptist. He came to the church from Atlanta, Georgia. He had conducted a revival for the church in May 1931 and returned to Savannah two weeks later to baptize the converts. The deacons were favorably impressed with him. From a field of four pastors, Rev. Perry was asked to consider the call, which he did in 1932.
Rev. Perry had a good singing voice, which electrified the congregation every Sunday morning. This singing added to his good forceful gospel preaching which converted many sinners to God.
According to Dea. Roundfield’s writings, Rev. Perry was well qualified to do service for the Master, but sadly, he was very indiscreet and for the good of all, the relationship was dissolved. Rev. Perry served for three years.
Rev. Ivory W. Collins
(1936 – 1938)
Rev. Ivory W. Collins was the sixteenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. At the time he became pastor, he was a waiter at Savannah’s Desoto Hotel. He was an ordained minister who had been asked by the Deacons to serve occasionally as supply pastor. He was asked so often to serve that the church finally decided to call him as a regular pastor.
Rev. Collins was a man who believed in educating the masses. He rented a large house on Love Street and attempted to begin a small school in West Savannah. This effort caused the Board of Education to build the West Savannah School for the citizens in that area. He was unsuccessful in getting the church to sponsor a college scholarship for a worthy student at that time because of the church’s financial strain. He remained with the church long enough to help reduce the mortgage.
He resigned his position in 1938 to further his own studies in the ministry. He served the church for two years.
Rev. C. Nathaniel Hawk
(1938 – 1941)
Rev. C. Nathaniel Hawk was the seventeenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church who came to the Second African Baptist Church from Loyal Baptist Church in Danville, Virginia where he had served as pastor. After conducting the spring revival for Second African Baptist Church in 1938, he was called back as pastor. Rev. Hawk and his family moved into the late J. A. Monroe’s home on East Park Avenue because the church did not have a parsonage at the time.
Pastor Hawk recommended a very ambitious church program in 1939. Many of these recommendations included Women’s and Men’s Day, introduction of visitors, Vacation Bible School with courses in Bible, Music, continuation of the Patterson Penny Project, the Walker Flower Project, more solo singing in the choir, meditative music prior to the choir’s entrance in the edifice, consultation of deacons in the Pastor’s study after Sunday School and a Junior Church once a month.
Rev. Hawk and his family left Second African Baptist Church in 1941 when he accepted a call to a church in Evanston, Illinois. He served the church for two years.
Rev. Lewis Lewellyn Scott
(1943 – 1947)
Rev. Lewis Lewellyn Scott was the eighteenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. He came to Savannah from pasturing the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Tennessee. Originally, he came from Scottsville, Texas where he began preaching at the age of nine and had been called a “child minister”. Rev. Scott held the Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Bachelor of Law Degree and was a member of the Bar in both Kentucky and Tennessee. After he became pastor, he was able to handle legal work for the church.
During L. L. Scott’s pastorate, more women took on leadership roles. There were a number of women who were ordained as Deaconesses.
Rev. Scott became so involved in his law pursuits that he began to neglect his church duties. Because of this, he was asked to resign and did so in 1947 and became a member of the United States Court of Appeals in Savannah, Georgia. He served as pastor for four years.
Rev. Edgar Perry Quarterman
(1949 – 1984)
Rev. Edgar Perry Quarterman was the nineteenth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. The church, needing a pastor with sincere commitment called Rev. Edgar P. Quarterman, a son of the church to the pastorate in 1947. Rev. Quarterman was born in Savannah, Georgia. He was the grandson of a Union soldier who came to Savannah with General Sherman’s army during the Civil War. He was educated in the public schools of Savannah. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Georgia State College (now Savannah State University). He held a Bachelor of Divinity and Masters Degrees from Howard University and received continuing education credits from Princeton University.
Rev. Quarterman served as a playground director and Boy Scout Master for Chatham County. He was a schoolteacher in Wadley, Georgia and also served as the Dean and instructor of ministers in the Savannah Division of the Interdenominational Theological Center of Atlanta, Georgia.
He was a dedicated religious and civic leader and associated himself with many organizations.
Many accomplishments were made during Rev. Quarterman’s pastorate, which included an increase in membership of the Deacon and Deaconess Boards, organization of new church auxiliaries, remodeling and decorating of the church’s interior, the purchase of a new organ and pianos for the upper sanctuary and Sunday School room, the installation of a wall mural, the installation a new baptismal pool and air conditioning units, placing of thirty-six stained glass windows and cushioned seats in the upper sanctuary, the erection of a memorial in Greene Square in recognition of General Sherman and Secretary Stanton issuance of the “forty acres and a mule’ proclamation at the church.
Sister Wilhelmina Benyard Quarterman was a wonderful helpmate for her husband, Rev. E. P. Quarterman. She was very active in many of the groups of the church. These included the E. P. Q. Bible Reading Circle, Deaconess Board, Adult Bible Sunday School Class, Trojans Club, and the Missionary Circle. She also supervised the Acteens, a junior missionary group. She was an inspiration to everyone in the church as she supported all endeavors for the upbuilding of the church’s program. She labored long and hard for the good of others and for the advancement of God’s word.
Rev. “Q”, as Pastor Quarterman was fondly called, retired on March 3, 1984. He became the church’s first pastor to have conferred upon him the title “Pastor Emeritus”. He served the church as pastor for thirty-eight years.
Rev. James Haven Cantrell
(1985 – 1997)
Rev. James H. Cantrell was the twentieth pastor of Second African Baptist Church. In 1985, the church called Rev. James H. Cantrell of Chattanooga, Tennessee as its pastor. Prior to coming to Second African Baptist Church, Rev. Cantrell had served as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Savannah, Georgia.
Under the guidance of Rev. Cantrell, the church reinstated the Trustee Board, carpet was laid over the entire church and the Archive Room was furnished. The membership increased and a reclamation process for former members was established. Prayer breakfasts and annual planning conferences were initiated. An Adult Vacation Bible School class was initiated. The church’s name was reversed back to Second African Baptist Church, a church manual was published, and a new organ was purchased. During this time, several cultural events were started in the form of art exhibits during Black History Month in partnership with local artists and Savannah College of Art and Design. In 1994, a renovation fund was established for renovation and to update the sanctuary.
Rev. Cantrell resigned as pastor on September 1, 1997. He served the church as pastor for twelve years.
Rev. C. MeGill Brown
(1998 - Present)
Rev. C. MeGill Brown, a native of Savannah, became the twenty-first pastor of Second African Baptist Church in November of 1998. Before Pastor Brown came to Second African, he served as Pastor of the First African Baptist Church of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and Minister of Music of the Historic First African Baptist Church of Savannah where Rev. Thurmond N. Tillman serves as Senior Pastor.
On the eve of one of the largest renovation projects, in the church’s history, Pastor Brown came in and served as project manager, working daily with contractors and architects during this period. This renovation project included the installation of an elevator, a new public address system, (PA), refurbished the lower auditorium, cross, outside sign, and restoration of the main sanctuary and exterior of the church.
The following Ministries have been added under Pastor Brown’s tenure: SASSY (Second African Soul Saving Youth) Youth Department, Church Nursery, Seniors’ Ministry, Voices of Hope & Voices of Praise Music Ministry, Video/Tape Ministry, $ and Saints Investment Club, Aerobics Class, and the Women’s Ministry.
In 2007, we entered into Phase II of our church renovations. A new commerical gas stove was purchase and a ventalation system was installed in the rear of the church. The kitchen was remodeled and a new air condition and heating system was installed. Pastor Brown celebrates his tenth year of service in 2009.