The infamous conflict between Joseph Harrison Jackson, longtime president of the National Baptist Convention, Inc. (NBC), and Martin Luther King, Jr., has attracted considerable scholarly attention. For nearly a decade, the two Baptist clerics fought for control of the largest African American religious organization in the country as King sought to use it as the "institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement." Treated as a simple confrontation between the "radicalism" of King and the"conservatism" of Jackson, however, the conflict has been misinterpreted and, therefore, undervalued by scholars. It was not a struggle between conservative and progressive forces within the NBC, and Jackson and King were not ideological polar opposites. Their conflict was essentially religious in nature and was predicated on questions regarding what constituted church work among black Baptists. In retaining control of the NBC, Jackson wanted to make sure that the answers to those questions would reflect what he perceived to be the "vital center" of American culture. He was convinced that his commitment to "correct" the social ills of society through national and religious unity would achieve that which was right while conquering that which was wrong. Faced also with the challenges of an increasingly global context within which black religious leaders were compelled to operate, Jackson envisioned the NBC as an organization involved with efforts to bring peace and economic parity around the world. In Jackson's view, King's aim to use the NBC as the "institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement" was both "anti-American" and limited in scope. Jackson's "gradual" stance on civil rights and his confidence in the democratic process to bring about social change reveal one of the many options employed in post -WWII African American religious and political culture.
- ©© 2006 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture