03 January 2007

John Jasper - Christian Hero

In addition to General Lee’s 200th birthday and the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, there are a number of other worthy historical events making 2007 a remarkable year, especially for Virginia. I will be blogging a number of those events during the month of January. One of these is the 140th anniversary of the founding of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, which will be officially celebrated next month. This historic church was originally founded by the Reverend John Jasper in 1867. Beginning in an abandoned Confederate horse stable on Brown’s Island in the James River at Richmond with just 9 members, Jasper went on to build that church into the largest African-American church in the post-war South – and the first African-American church founded in post-war Richmond. At his death in 1901, the church could boast over 1000 members. The church remains a center of Richmond culture and Christian outreach today. I had the honor of “bringing greetings” to the congregation of Sixth Mount Zion when they celebrated their 135th anniversary 5 years ago. I had republished Richard Ellsworth Day’s wonderful biography of Jasper, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Jasper’s death in 2001 and dedicated it to the members of Sixth Mount Zion for their efforts in preserving Jasper’s inspiring legacy.

A year later, the church historian, Benjamin Ross, and I worked together in writing the text for the Virginia Historical Highway Marker pictured here. Pictured to my immediate right is the Revered John Johnson, who was Pastor of Sixth Mount Zion at that time. Next to Pastor Johnson is Mr. Ross. The marker is located in Fluvanna County near “Carysbrook”, Jasper’s birthplace. Jasper is a worthy hero to emulate and I wish there was more emphasis on his story, especially for Virginia school children. Jasper overcame slavery, cruelty, prejudice, and illiteracy and did so without rancor or bitterness towards those who had held him in bondage. The love of Christ enabled him to do this.

For a complete history of the church and Jasper’s ministry, I highly recommend the biography by W. E. Hatcher (Jasper’s mentor-more on him later) and the one by Richard Day. The Virginia Commonwealth University Library also maintains a wonderful website with a lot of details on Jasper’s ministry and the history of the church.


Lawrence Underwood said...

How is it that the wonderful grace of God shone in this great man's life has gone unsung? Thank you for this post. It is very encouraging. We would do well to teach these things to our children.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Jasper does not fit well into moderninty's pigeon holes. He was converted to Christ in a tobacco warehouse where he worked for his Christian master, Samuel Hardgrove. (Jasper was very fond of tobacco, even after his conversion.) These two men, by Jasper's own testimony, came to love each other deeply, despite the curse of slavery. He was a loyal Republican, but wasn't real fond of yankees, and poked fun at them from his pulpit at every opportunity. He did not get along well with many of the other African-American theologians of his day because of his view of science. His church was often filled with the members of white churches whose pastors were, shall we say, not quite as passionate as Brother Jasper. He is indeed, a fascinating character, and his story, in my opinion, is one of the most inspiring in American history.