In September of 1915, at the annual session of the National Baptist Convention, United States of America, held in Chicago, Illinois, the convention split over issues concerning the ownership and direction of the National Baptist Publishing Board, of which Dr. Robert H. Boyd was secretary.
With this chasm the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention United States of America Incorporated (SSPB, NBC, USA, Inc.), came into existence. The administrators of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated, under the leadership of the Reverend Elias Camp Morris, established the SSPB in Nashville.
It was housed at 409 Gay Street and, for the first five years of operation, was under the direction of attorney Solomon P. Harris and the Reverend William Haynes. During their tenure in office, Harris and Haynes set about the task of fashioning the NBC USA, Inc's publishing board. They instituted The Baptist Voice, which was prepared for publication and edited by the Reverend J. D. Crenshaw of Nashville.
Under the joint leadership of Harris and Haynes, the infant publishing board endeavored to meet the needs of the NBC USA, Inc. However, it was with the calling in 1920 of the Reverend Dr. Arthur Melvin Townsend as secretary that the Sunday School Publishing Board moved into a phase of productive growth. [br][br]
In 1920, the Reverend Dr. A. M. Townsend was called by the NBC USA Inc. to take over the leadership of its Sunday School Publishing Board. A graduate of Roger Williams University and Meharry Medical College, Dr. Townsend practiced medicine in Nashville and served on the faculty of Meharry Medical College until 1913.
It was during 1913 that he began his five-year tenure as president of Roger Williams University. In 1918, Dr. Townsend resigned as president of the university to accept the pastorate of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He held this position for two years, before becoming secretary of the Sunday School Publishing Board.
Within a year after Dr. Townsend assumed leadership of the Sunday School Publishing Board, there were more than thirty employees and modern printing equipment was installed. The Sunday School Publishing Board was in need of new facilities. Convention President, Dr. Lacey Kirk Williams, assigned this task to a committee of three, headed by Dr. Townsend, and authorized purchase or construction of a building for the Publishing Board.
Dr. Townsend recruited persons to traverse the country, raising funds from the Convention's various churches, associations, and individuals. With funds raised from 300 donors who each contributed $100, he purchased the Commercial Hotel on Fourth Avenue and Charlotte, where during antebellum days slave traders gathered to discuss the buying and selling of slaves, along with other goods and merchandise.
The Commercial Hotel was demolished, and Townsend hired the black architectural firm of McKissack and McKissack to design the new building. The construction contract for the new headquarters of the Sunday School Publishing Board was awarded to T. C. Windham, who also was of African descent. On May 18, 1924, the cornerstone of the building was laid.
A year and a half later, the building opened on October 19, 1925. Sixty years after the ending of slavery, descendants of former slaves built and equipped a building valued at more than $800,000. It was completely furnished and was among the most modern and best-equipped publishing houses of its kind in America.
At the recommendation of President Lacey K. Williams, the building was named the Morris Memorial Building, in honor of Dr. Elias Camp Morris,who served the NBC USA Inc. as president for more than a quarter of a century (1894-1922). Five years after the erection of its new building, the Sunday School Publishing Board published Louis G. Jordan's National Baptist History, U.S.A., 1750-l930.
In less than twenty years, the mortgage on the Morris Memorial Building was paid off. On November 10, 1942, Dr. D. V. Jeminson, then president of the Convention, conducted the formal mortgage-burning ceremony. The "lamp lighter," as Dr. A. M. Townsend was known, continued to lead the Sunday School Publishing Board in a progressive fashion until his death on April 29, 1959.
Following his demise, the Reverend Charles L. Dinkins, who was assistant secretary of the publishing board, served as acting secretary until the Convention met in annual session the following September. At that meeting, the NBC USA Inc. passed the torch to Dr. D. C. Washington. He served as executive director of the Sunday School Publishing Board for the next fifteen years.
Upon the death of Dr. Washington in September of 1974, Cecelia Nabrit Adkins served as interim executive director. Adkins had many firsts to her credit as an employee of the Sunday School Publishing Board. She was the first woman to serve as chief accountant, fiscal agent, and personnel director of the denominational publishing board.