Introducing Anthony Binga Jr
Anthony Binga Jr. (1843-1919) was born in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, where his parents (Anthony Sr. and Rhoda) had found refuge from slavery in the U.S. For over forty years, he served as pastor of the first distinctly black congregation in Richmond, Virginia–First Baptist Church of South Richmond. William Cathcart called him “A good preacher, a judicious conselor, a warm friend of higher education”.
In 1865, as a young man, Anthony left Canada to be a teacher in Kansas. He fell ill and returned to Canada, and was converted and baptized “in a river” in 1867, probably the Detroit River. Eight months later he was ordained and called to be a preacher and principal in Ohio. It is not entirely surprising that Binga should go into the ministry, his father was also a minister, the first pastor of First Baptist Church in Amherstburg, Ontario.
In 1869 Anthony married Rebecca Bush. By 1871, due to the way his position as principal interfered with his preaching, he quit his job at the school. He then returned to Canada, though he didn’t stay in Canada long. The next year he was welcomed to Richmond, VA by former Amherstburg resident William Troy. He then took up a call to what is now known as First Baptist Church of South Richmond.
First Baptist Church of South Richmond
During his time in Richmond, Anthony became the first black teacher in the Manchester, VA public school system. He would serve as principal as well. One account says he was “a stern disciplinarian, but his students…always expressed respect and affection for him”.
In 1874 Anthony became the recording secretary of the Virginia Baptist State Convention. He was also the first chairman of the Foreign Mission Board of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention and was appointed a trustee of Richmond Theological Seminary. Not only did Binga participate in state-wide endeavors and lead his congregation spiritually, he also seemed to be a bit of an amateur architect. When his congregation built a new building he also drafted the initial designs on a chalkboard.
During his time at First Baptist Church of South Richmond, Anthony baptized over 1,000 people. There was plenty of controversy in the black church at the time. For instance, one significant controversy of his time was the question of the role of women in the church. Though Anthony firmly stood on the traditional position–that the Scriptures disallowed female pastors, he was quite supportive of making women more involved in the life of the church–having them actively involved in teaching Sunday school, voting on church matters, and participating in prayer meetings.
His Printed Sermons
In 1889, a book of Binga’s sermons was published, Sermons on Several Occasions. Here is a short excerpt from God’s Matchless Gift to Man, a sermon on Isaiah 9:6:
“Thus we understand that Christ is born to regal dignity; born to rule. The government of the physical and spiritual world is upon His shoulder. The laws which keep the sun in his burning course, and hold each planet in its orbit; that give wings to the flying clouds which are led about as moving reservoirs to subdue the raging fires of earth; that restrain the mighty floods from breaking by their ancient boundaries, and all other laws governing our earth, find their origin in Christ. Likewise the government of His Church is upon His shoulders. Her constitution, government, and ordinances are dictated by Him.“
In the preface to the collection of Anthony’s sermons, J. E. Jones noted that “It is not too much to claim for Rev. Binga that he has endeavored, as much as in him is, to benefit his fellows by his rich endowments. He has been untiring in his efforts to elevate the race in manners, morals, and religion…He is a man of unsullied character, and his word or endorsement is as good as any other citizen of his community…He has a large, unselfish, sympathetic and responsive heart.” Even the Confederate officer and Alabama congressman Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry had high praise for these sermons, saying that he will “treasure this volume of sermons”.
The respect which Anthony commanded is not isolated and Carter Woodson, in his history of the black church, regards him as a figure worth noting and calls him “a churchman of scholarly bearing, who wrote important dissertations of a theological nature”
His Later Life
In 1907, Anthony’s wife Rebecca died and he married Mary Young in 1909. As late as 1914, Binga was described as “now a man of some years, but his vigor of intellect seems unabated and his excellent character has won for him the universal esteem of the sound thinking people of Richmond. His influence is positively for good and this State would be fortunate to have more such reliable men as leaders of the Negro race.”
At some point, Binga had received an honorary doctorate from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He died in 1919 due to arteriosclerosis and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
- William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopaedia, 1295.
- James K. Lewis, Religious life of fugitive slaves and rise of coloured Baptist churches,1820-1865, in what is now known as Ontario, 56
- Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, 154.
- John W. Cromwell, The First Negro Churches in the District of Columbia.
- Joseph B. Earnest, The religious development of the Negro in Virginia, 162.
- Carter Godwin Woodson, The History of the Negro Church
- Jumpin’ Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights, 42.
- A.W. Pegues, Our Baptist Ministers and Schools, 61.
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