Charles Octavius Boothe Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College traces its origin to 1904, when two African American ministers, William Pettiford and Charles Octavius Boothe, began offering classes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Jefferson County. Their students were African American ministers from the state’s rural Black Belt region who were moving to the city to establish churches. Many of these individuals needed instruction because most possessed no formal biblical or theological training and many could neither read nor write. Led by Pettiford and Boothe, the leaders of Birmingham’s black Baptist churches came together to decide that they should establish a training school.
William Reuben Pettiford In 1912, the local Mt. Pilgrim Association, Bethlehem Blount Springs Association, and Jefferson County Association agreed to form the Colored Baptist Educational Association of the Birmingham District. The Mt. Pilgrim Association had established Mt. Pilgrim Academy in 1888, which for much of its existence taught basic elementary school courses and some industrial arts, including sewing, at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. By 1909, the Bethlehem Blount Springs Association was operating the Oakridge Normal, Industrial, and Technological Institute in the Woodlawn area of Birmingham, providing courses in liberal arts, music, sewing, and Bible studies. In addition, the Jefferson County Association had been holding similar classes at one of its local churches. These organizations combined to form the Birmingham Baptist College.
Later in 1912, the Peace Baptist Association joined the other three associations, and together they formed the Colored Baptist Educational Association. This organization registered a charter with the state of Alabama giving it ownership of the college, officially named the Birmingham Baptist College. The charter authorized the educational association to elect a board of trustees that would manage the school’s affairs and would report to the association at its annual meeting.
The board then set about finding land and erecting a building for the school. John W. Goodgame Sr., chair of the board of trustees and pastor of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, led a delegation to the college’s current site, a nine-acre parcel in Powderly in southwest Birmingham. To raise the purchase cost of $25,000 and funds for construction, each church was asked to contribute, and the trustees appointed a group of women to canvas the community, soliciting individuals to contribute as little as a penny for the new college. Shortly after purchasing the site, Goodgame and the trustees hired Windham Brothers Contractors to construct the first building on the campus, a three-story structure that housed boarding students, faculty offices, a chapel, classrooms, and a cafeteria.
Birmingham Baptist Bible College Administration Building Between 1917 to 1930, the school’s first three presidents—James H. Eason, F. L. Sanders, and W. A. Davis—oversaw the addition and operation of both an elementary school and a theological department. In 1930, however, as the Great Depression gripped the nation, the institution was forced to close as operating funds dried up and debt mounted. The school’s board responded by renting its buildings to the Jefferson County Board of Education, which operated Powderly High School on the site, and by moving Bible and theology classes to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In 1937, the Birmingham Baptist College reopened and until 1970 operated under the presidencies of Jessie Wrenn (1939-1946) and Talmadge Dewitt Bussey (1947-1970) as a school of religion. During Bussey’s presidency, he oversaw the addition of a library and night classes, which greatly increased enrollment. In 1970, however, the school’s administration building was destroyed by fire, creating a profound crisis for the institution; there was no money to rebuild the school, and President Bussey resigned.
Wilson Fallin Jr., a minister and professor of theology, was appointed president in 1971. During his tenure three more buildings were constructed—an administration facility, a credit union, and an office complex—completing the building program started by T. D. Bussey. The name of the school was changed to Birmingham Baptist Bible College in 1977 to reflect the mission of the institution: training persons for Christian vocations. It was also under Fallin’s presidency that the institution merged with Easonian Baptist Seminary to become Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College.
Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College Faculty The Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College currently maintains an enrollment of approximately 250 students, the largest number of Black students in any institution in Alabama being trained for the Christian ministry. It offers a certificate in Bible studies, a diploma in Bible studies, a bachelor of arts degree in Bible studies, and a fifth-year bachelor of theology degree. Students who attend the institution come primarily from the Birmingham area and north Alabama. Foreign students, primarily from East Africa, began attending in 1975. In 2000, Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College entered into a partnership with the Kenya Baptist Convention to serve as a training agency for many of its ministers, and by 2006, 20 African students were enrolled.
Catalogs of Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College, 1994-2006.
Fallin, Wilson Jr. History of Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College 1904-2004: One Hundred Years of Christian Education in Birmingham’s Black Community. Birmingham: EBSCO Printing Company, 2004.
———. The African American Church in Birmingham: A Shelter in the Storm. New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1997.