A Rich History

Since 1924, American Baptist College has been a Christian College dedicated to educating and developing students for worldwide leadership and service.


The idea of a seminary for the training of Black Baptist ministers grew out of conversation between National Baptist leaders and Dr. O.L. Hailey, one of the founding fathers of the College. At its annual meeting in 1913, the National Baptist Convention appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of establishing a seminary for the education of its ministers. In a resolution presented by Dr. E.Y. Mullin and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in that same year, the convention pledged itscooperation and appointed a similar committee. The committees of the two conventions met together and the following year recommended to their respective bodies that the college be established in Memphis, Tennessee. It was later decided to establish the College in Nashville.

The First Building

The present site of 53 acres was purchased with the help of the National Baptists in 1921, and a plan calling for the management of the seminary by a holding board and a governing board representative of the two conventions was adopted. The first building, Griggs Hall, was erected in 1923 and housed dormitory rooms, dining hall, library, and classrooms.

The Grand Opening

American Baptist College formally opened its doors for the training of Christian workers under the name of the American Baptist Theological Seminary on September 14, 1924.

Sharing the College

In 1937, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed to share 50/50 with the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. in the operation of the College. The unprecedented cooperation between the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. and the Southern Baptist Convention created a unique educational opportunity for African American clergy to gain higher biblical and theological education for over five decades. Due to this partnership, the Southern Baptist Convention helped prepare students and a broad spectrum of church leaders who were ready to meet the challenges of the Civil Rights movement led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Providing scholarships and fiscal support of the operations of American Baptist College, the Southern Baptist Convention made a significant contribution to the education of men and women for Christian service in the world. In order to support the future growth and flourishing of the College, the Southern Baptist Convention continued in that partnership until a joint decision to turn over the assets to the Board of Trustees of American Baptist College in 1996.

Civil Rights Champions

The College has educated Civil Rights champions, national leaders and outstanding Christian ministers. The school’s history during the 1960’s and 1970’s was lively with cultivating civil rights champions, national leaders and outstanding Christian ministers. Students from American Baptist College, such as Julius Scruggs, Bernard Lafayette, Jim Bevels, William Barbee and John Lewis served on the front line of the Nashville Student Sit-In movement for justice and change. Under the tutelage of then Professor J.F. Grimmett, the late the Rev. Kelly Miller Smith, and Rev Dr. C.T. Vivian, many of our students dared to sit down at lunch counters dramatically altering the quality of life for Americans living in the South. They sat, marched, and persevered through arrests and beatings before they were victorious in pursuit of justice and human rights. The campus itself was a popular command post for organizing and training students for social justice causes throughout the city at the time. American Baptist College can boast that a number of its students from that period have gone on to become major names in civil rights history and American politics (e.g., Congressman John Lewis, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Dr. Julius Scruggs).

Present Day

To this day American Baptist College continues in the tradition of scripture which admonishes us, “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.” The school continues its commitment to educate students to become leaders in whatever profession of their choosing, instilling in them a passion to advance God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation. The horizon is bright and the College is forging a path of excellence as it strives to continue in the legacy it has inherited: living up to the mission of training men and women for Christian leadership.