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Who Was the ‘Black Spurgeon’?

I was five years into my study of the African American theological tradition, nearly finished with my dissertation, when I first learned about the man affectionately known as the “Black Spurgeon.” Though he isn’t well known today, he was one of his generation’s greatest preachers and his story testifies to God’s faithfulness.

From slavery to his vocational calling, Charles T. Walker’s life was filled with hardship. In June 1873, at age 15, he professed hope in Christ. Shortly after, Walker surrendered himself to church ministry. He was at prayer meetings, Sunday school, and church gatherings whenever the doors were open. God worked in his heart through the church to call him into gospel ministry like those who’d gone before him.

According to his biographer, Silas Floyd, Walker “had not been long converted before he was deeply impressed with the thought that he was called of God to preach the Gospel.” In one sense, this wasn’t surprising—Walker was descended from a long line of preachers.

In 1874, Walker enrolled in the Augusta Institute, Georgia, convicted he needed an education before formally entering ministry. However, he struggled to pay for school. Walker was on the verge of withdrawing to work when his fellow students united to help fund his studies. The entire black community benefited from the community’s investment in Walker’s theological education.

Sadly, like many others from his class, Walker never graduated from the Augusta Institute, now known as Morehouse College. Nevertheless, he’s known as one of Morehouse’s most influential preachers.

Local and Regional Ministry

Walker was licensed to preach in September 1876 while still a student. Despite his youth, he was called to serve as pastor of his home church, Franklin Covenant Baptist Church, and was ordained into gospel ministry on the first Sunday of May in 1877. By 1879, when he reached his 21st birthday, Walker pastored four churches simultaneously. Walker also preached at revival meetings throughout Georgia, including one where more than 700 people professed faith in Christ.

In 1883, Walker was called to Central Baptist Church in Augusta, but the congregation experienced a painful church split, which bogged the church down with public court battles. Walker remained with a group that assumed a donated church building, starting Beulah Baptist Church (later renamed Tabernacle Baptist Church).

Walker pastored Tabernacle Baptist Church for 14 years. The church’s ministry was vibrant and Walker became known as “a pulpit orator, a sound theologian, a soul-winning evangelist, and a resourceful pastor.” During those years, God used Walker mightily. Church records highlight more than 2,000 souls saved, with more than 1,400 baptized and welcomed into fellowship at Tabernacle.

Walker sought to bring his theological convictions into every area of life. In addition to leading a thriving church ministry, he was the business manager for the Augusta Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper. It offered him a platform to publish accounts of his trip to Europe and the Holy Land, which would later be collected and republished as A Colored Man Abroad.

Walker sought to bring his theological convictions into every area of life.

While in London, Walker described Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle as “the greatest church on earth,” offering a detailed account of the generous welcome he met there. He was thoroughly impressed by the scope of Spurgeon’s ministry, which included “a Baptist college, perfect in its every appointment” in addition to “a missionary society, a tract society, a place for the poor, an orphan home,” and more.

National Ministry

Walker’s influence expanded beyond Augusta and into Baptist life in Georgia. He served as a board member of the Walker Baptist Institute and Atlanta Baptist College, and he spoke widely at Baptist association meetings, Baptist schools, and within the newly formed National Baptist Convention (NBC).

His leadership in the NBC left him with a reputation as “a strong man in a crisis.” Based on his persuasive call for racial reconciliation at the 1889 NBC in Indianapolis, Walker was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity from the State University of Kentucky.

With a growing reputation came more opportunities to preach throughout the country. Walker preached in New York on multiple occasions, until he was called in 1899 to the pastorate of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in New York City. Walker’s preaching drew the attention of the major New York papers, who publicly labeled him the “Black Spurgeon.”

He conducted revival services at Antioch Baptist Church and St. Mark’s M. E. Church in New York City. He preached at large-scale revival meetings in Houston, Kansas City, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, Louisville, and Atlanta. In some cities, like Atlanta, Walker preached to racially integrated crowds where thousands of people had to be turned away because so many wanted to hear his preaching. Walker was considered by many to be the most popular black preacher of his day.

Walker’s stay in New York City was short-lived; he returned to Augusta in 1901. However, in the two years of his ministry in New York, the church grew by 1,400 members and Walker baptized 700 people. Longing for home, he returned and finished his ministry and life in Augusta, expanding his earlier work in the community.

Walker’s Enduring Significance

His ministry reminds young pastors that God can use people from any background, but that preparation is important. Walker demonstrated commitment to theological education in preparation for ministry, despite his financial uncertainty. Although Walker’s ministry training didn’t follow a straight line, God used him significantly to influence Georgia and the United States because he’d studied well.

Walker preached to racially integrated crowds where thousands of people had to be turned away because so many wanted to hear his preaching.

Walker exemplifies faithful pastoral ministry through public gospel proclamation and action to meet his community’s social needs. The former slave, soldier, and chaplain fulfilled his ministry by integrating his theological convictions into all of life. He served beyond the church’s walls, reaching into the community to establish a YMCA, work at a newspaper, and invest in primary and secondary education institutions.

Walker’s ministry illustrates the value of investing in the preaching craft. His fidelity to the Bible still encourages pastors to rightly handle Scripture while eloquently applying it to our audiences. He was a forerunner to John Stott’s vision of preaching as done with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The world needs more men like the “Black Spurgeon,” whose legacy lives on to the present.

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