1902 National Baptist Convention

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The 1902 National Baptist Convention was held from September 1719, 1902 in Birmingham. It was the 22nd annual convention for the National Baptist Convention, made up of predominantly-Black congregations. Primary meetings took place in the 3,000-seat Shiloh Baptist Church on while other meetings were hosted at 6th Avenue Baptist Church.

On the final evening an address by Booker T. Washington attracted an over-capacity audience which filled the aisles and entranceways. In his remarks, Washington preached that "no race ever lifted itself up by practicing or by learning to hate, or attempting to degrade another race," and called for ministers of good character to encourage practical education among youth and thrift and idealism among adults in their flocks.

A few minutes after 9:00 p.m., after Washington's remarks, while jostling crowds still packed the entranceways, a disagreement at the rostrum between a choir member and a visiting delegate prompted cries of "fight!" which were misheard as "fire!", triggering a panicked confusion which resulted in the deaths of 120 people by trampling or suffocation. Those killed were initially laid in an adjacent lot to be identified by relatives while rescuers tended to survivors. It took until 1:00 a.m. to move all the bodies to undertakers. The two black undertakers in the city had to use their carriage houses to store the bodies. The tragedy was called "the most awful thing that ever happened in Birmingham's history" by Shiloh's pastor, Thomas Walker.

References

  • "More Than One Hundred Negroes Crushed to Death as a Result of a Panic Following a Cry of 'Fire.'" (September 20, 1902). The Birmingham News. Pages 1, 7.
  • Walker, Robert Henry Jr (1902) Trumpet Blast. Washington D. C.: self-published - accessed from Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections (link)
  • Baggett, James (Winter 2010) "'Keep Still': Booker T. Washington and the Shiloh Church tragedy." Alabama Heritage. No. 95, pp. 20-5