The young black man, still a teenager, looked down on the city of Richmond, Virginia. Clad in the blue of the Union Army, with his drum in hand, the young man looked on as camps were set up all around the city to lay siege to the capital of the Confederacy. His emotions must have been running high as he realized that, finally, the fate of his family was about to change forever.
While he started as a Union Army drummer, Preston Taylor (1849-1931) went on to become what we might call a "bugle blower," because the clear advances he made on behalf of African-Americans caused the sounds of new freedoms to be heard all across the United States.
In many ways, Taylor's life began in 1884, the year he moved to Nashville, Tennessee. It was from this "Athens of the South" that Taylor launched successful business ventures and enthusiastic Christian ministries, all with the members of the Black community in mind. Whether it was the purchase of a large tract of land to build a cemetery (Greenwood Cemetery), locating the funds to establish a funeral home, or working with civic leaders to form a school, Taylor could declare a victory for almost everything he put his hand to. Perhaps nothing compared in spectacle to his annual "State Colored Fair," that attracted tens of thousands each year to the beautiful park Taylor had built for the recreation of African-Americans in the early twentieth century.
The driving force of all this creativity was Taylor's commitment to Christ, and his service to the Christian Church locally and nationally. He served as minister of the Gay Street Christian Church in Nashville (which started life as a mission of Vine Street Christian Church), and went on to co-found what is now the New Covenant Christian (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville. However, it was his work on the national stage which truly made his efforts remarkable. In 1917 Taylor led in founding the National Christian Missionary Convention (NCMC) to give a united voice to black Disciples. Under his guidance, the NCMC partnered with the United Christian Missionary Society to further the efforts of a whole church where every person stood on equal ground before Christ. The spirit of the NCMC lives on today in the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
When we think of the great African-American leaders our country has produced in science, the arts, education, politics, civil rights, business, and ministry, we can place Preston Taylor among those who have made major contributions for the betterment of society at large. And as we celebrate this great leader, maybe we could be forgiven a little pride, because with all of his achievements, Preston Taylor was, at his core, a Disciple.
By Glenn Thomas Carson
Disciples of Christ Historical Society
This article was provided by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and used here by permission.
To learn more about your faith story, please visit the Disciples of Christ Historical Society's website at: www.discipleshistory.org
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