Marvin Griffin, Southwestern’s first African-American graduate, dies at age 90

Marvin Griffin, Southwestern’s first African-American graduate, dies at age 90

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Marvin C. Griffin, Southwestern’s first African-American graduate and long-time pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, died Dec. 25 at the age of 90.

“The home going of Pastor Marvin Griffin brings mixed emotions to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary,” said Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson.

“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.”

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.

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. He later obtained his Doctorate of Ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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

In July 1969, Griffin began his tenure as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, where he served for 42 years. 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 broadcasting, established the Tape Ministry for members incapable of attending services, and it was during his time as pastor that Ebenezer housed the first "Meals on Wheels" program in East Austin. Griffin retired from the pastorate in 2011 at the age of 88.

In addition to his role as pastor, Griffin served a two-year term as the first black president of the Austin Independent School District Board of Directors. Beginning in 1978, Griffin served as a stabilizing leader for the district during the tense period of desegregation of schools.

Griffin was also appointed by Gov. John Connally to the Texas Southern University board of regents, and he 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 adjunct professor at Southwestern.

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

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.

  • First African-American Graduates
    Marvin Griffin (left) and Leon Hardee (right) became the first African-American graduates from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1955. (SWBTS Archives)

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