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In the decade before the Great Depression, Missionary Baptist College opened its doors in Sheridan (Grant County). This small denominational educational institution brought the advantages of higher education to what was then a rural area, and though it operated only briefly, it exerted profound influence upon Missionary Baptist education in the state.
The churches of the State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches of Arkansas, organized in 1902, have long maintained a commitment to Christian education, especially the training of student ministers. Three years after its founding, the association took over the operation of Buckner College at Witcherville (Sebastian County) in western Arkansas. However, its location far from the center of the Landmark Baptist movement in the state hindered its support, and, by 1909, the association began making plans to establish a new Missionary Baptist college in central Arkansas. Sheridan, because of the strong Landmark stance of its people, was often mentioned as a possible location. However, it was not until fall 1917 that the association voted to “locate, build, and maintain a Baptist College of the first order.” The next year, after the First Baptist Church of Sheridan offered a possible campus site, temporary use of its church facilities, and a cash incentive, Missionary Baptist College was officially founded. It opened its doors in fall 1919. In 1921, the college purchased an eleven-acre tract northwest of downtown Sheridan and began construction of a two-story brick college building. It eventually contained twenty classrooms, a study hall, a library, and a large auditorium.
Growth of the college was slow but steady. The enrollment in 1919 was twenty-six. Ten years later, enrollment stood at 186. By the 1927–28 school year, it employed eleven faculty members. However, by 1931, student enrollment had dropped to 115. Although founded as an institution for both the training of young ministers and the education of lay students in the liberal arts, as the years passed, more and more emphasis was placed upon the liberal arts curriculum. In 1931, sixteen graduates received teaching certifications.
Despite continued contributions from supporting churches and individuals, Missionary Baptist College was never able to meet its financial obligations adequately. During the early 1930s, the economic disruptions of the Great Depression brought on a critical financial crisis from which the college could not recover, and its board of directors was forced to close its doors after the spring semester in 1934. In order to pay at least some of the school’s debts, the college building and other assets were sold to the Sheridan School District. In 1956, the old college building was destroyed by fire.
The closing of the college in 1934 led directly to the establishment of the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the fall of the same year. Its more central location and its concentration upon the education of ministers and Christian workers quickly gained it a much more dependable support base, and it still exists as of 2010.
For additional information:Ashcraft, Robert. History of the Pine Bluff Missionary Baptist Association. Mabelvale, AR: Ashcraft Publications, 1995.
Ashcraft, Robert, et al. Pioneer Faith: The History of Missionary Baptist Associations and Churches in Arkansas from 1818 to 1920. Malvern, AR: State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches in Arkansas, 1994.
History and Archives Committee, American Baptist Association. History of the American Baptist Association. Mabelvale, AR: Ashcraft Publications, 2000.
Russell P. BakerMabelvale, Arkansas
Last Updated 7/23/2010
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