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Bishop Wesley John Gaines: A Leader Among Leaders

To God and Truth: The Life and Legacy of Bishop Wesley John Gaines is the latest documentary production from Historic Oakland Foundation, in partnership with Morris Brown College. To celebrate the release of the film, we are sharing content and resources about Morris Brown College, Black history in Atlanta, and the impressive legacy of Oakland resident Bishop Wesley John Gaines.

Bishop Wesley John Gaines left an indelible mark upon the city of Atlanta, serving as a founder and early leader of several major landmark Atlanta institutions, most notably Big Bethel A.M.E. and Morris Brown College. He is buried in the historic African American burial grounds of Oakland Cemetery, lying in eternal rest next to his wife, Julia A. Camper, and their daughter, Mary Louisa.

Bishop Gaines was born into slavery in 1840 in Wilkes County, Georgia. Gaines followed in his brother’s footsteps by becoming a preacher, and he was ordained an elder in the A.M.E. Church in 1867. He served at several pastorates in Georgia before he arrived at Big Bethel A.M.E in Atlanta to become their second pastor. He grew the church into the largest Black congregation in the south, with a membership of over 2,000 people.

Big Bethel rapidly became a center of the Black community as well as a focal point for social action. Bishop Gaines taught himself to read as a small child, and his passion for education led to the founding of Morris Brown College in the basement of the church.

Morris Brown College is making history as the first HBCU to be reaccredited after losing its accreditation. The path to reaccreditation has been blazed by Morris Brown College President, Dr. Kevin James, whose vision and drive have brought the College into its next chapter. What Morris Brown has accomplished under Dr. James’ leadership has made and continues to make history, and it marks the perfect moment to explore the impact of Bishop Gaines, as well as the impact of those who were served by his institutions.

To learn more about Bishop Gaines, check out the trailer for the documentary To God and Truth: The Life and Legacy of Bishop Wesley John Gaines below, or click here to access the full film.

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