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Griffin, SWBTS’s first black grad, dies at 90

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Marvin C. Griffin, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s first African American graduate, a longtime pastor and trailblazing civic leader, died Dec. 25 at age 90.

SWBTS President Paige Patterson remembered Griffin with mixed emotions of appreciation for the pastor’s storied career and sadness for the seminary’s segregated past.

“The home-going of pastor Marvin Griffin brings mixed emotions to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Patterson said. “On the one hand, heaven’s value continues to rise and the heavenly reunion must have been something to see. On the other hand, Brother Griffin was our oldest living African American graduate, and that is a loss for us.

“Remembering with shame when African Americans were not welcome as students at Southwestern, Brother Griffin stood as a triumph of love over prejudice,” Patterson said.

Griffin and L.F. Hardee became the first two African American graduates from Southwestern in 1955, paving the way for hundreds more in the decades to follow.

Griffin held his longest pastorate at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, where he served from 1969 until 2011, when he retired from the pastorate at age 88.

In 1988, Griffin led the church to create the East Austin Economic Development Corporation to provide affordable housing, care for senior adults, a child-development center and other services in its neighborhood. In addition, Griffin expanded Ebenezer’s outreach ministry through radio and television, established a tape ministry for members incapable of attending services, and housed at Ebenezer the first “Meals on Wheels” program in East Austin.

Ebenezer Baptist Church posted a tribute to Griffin on its website.

“Pastor Griffin was on the ‘Battlefield for the Lord’ shepherding God’s people for over 59 years. We, the members of Ebenezer Baptist Church, believe that ‘The spirit of The Lord God is upon him,'” the church said, invoking Isaiah 61:1. “We thank Our Lord and Master for allowing Rev. Griffin to render his faithful and devoted service to Ebenezer. And we salute Dr. Griffin for his vision, his persistence and his willingness to give his all in the service of the Master.”

From 1951 to 1969, Griffin served as pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. There, amid the tumultuous period of the civil rights movement, Griffin led marches and picketing for restaurants to open to African Americans.

During his pastoral ministry, he served a two-year term as the first black president of the Austin Independent School District Board of Directors. Beginning in 1978, he was a stabilizing leader for the district during the tense period of school desegregation.

Griffin also was appointed by Gov. John Connally to Texas Southern University’s board of regents and was elected first vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1996. Over the years, Griffin also worked as a lecturer, author, historian and Southwestern adjunct professor.

In 2007, the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network presented Griffin with the Kennedy-Boyce Award, named after the pastors of the first two African-American churches to join the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1953.

Born in Wichita, Kan., Griffin moved to Texas at age 5. His grandfather was a preacher at a small church in Dallas, and his parents were active church members. By age 7, Griffin already felt God’s call to preach, and he did so on Sunday evenings under the streetlights, preaching to anyone who would listen.

Griffin obtained his bachelor’s degree from Bishop College and master of divinity from the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology before coming to Southwestern, where he earned a master of religious education degree. He later obtained a doctorate of ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Griffin was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Lois King Griffin, and a daughter, Gaynelle Griffin Jones. He is survived by two daughters, Ria Griffin and Marva Lois Carter.
Alex Sibley is a news writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Alex Sibley