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November 2017: ". . . From the Gang to the Gospel"

Poster promoting Tom Skinner's nightly evangelistic meetings at the Coliseum in Chicago from April 19 - 26, 1970. The sketch at the top of the poster highlights Skinner's connection to Harlem, NY, where he was raised and became involved in gang violence until his conversion to Christianity.The poster above was recently transferred from the Billy Graham Center Museum to the BGC Archives and is now housed in Collection 430 Papers of Tom Skinner.

This November, the BGC Archives highlights the ministry of Tom Skinner, Christian evangelist, social reformer, and persistent critic of racial divisions within American culture. Born in Harlem in 1942 to a Baptist minister father and devout mother, Tom recalls an early emphasis on education and self-improvement, inherited from his father who was deeply influenced by W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Despite his Christian upbringing, Skinner's adolescence introduce a competing attraction—Black nationalism and gang violence prevalent in Harlem in the 1950s and '60s. Skinner eventually rose to leadership in the notorious gang, the Harlem Lords, before a dramatic conversion experience in October 1956 prompted him to abandon a life of street violence for one of Christian ministry. Skinner began giving evangelistic messages soon after, eventually meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958, obtaining seminary education at Manhattan Bible Institute, and forming the Harlem Evangelistic Association, which launched its first evangelistic rally at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem in the summer of 1962. Skinner went on to participate in the National Association of Black Evangelicals; found Tom Skinner Associates, which focused on evangelism, leadership training, and community development; and serve as chaplain of the Washington Redskins in the 1970s and '80s.

In addition to his many evangelistic rallies and speaking engagements, Skinner also authored multiple books, several of which are held in the Evangelism and Missions Collection of Buswell Library at Wheaton College, including Black and Free (1968), How Black is the Gospel? (1970), Words of Revolution (1970), and If Christ is the Answer, What Are the Questions? (1977).

Across four decades of ministry, Tom Skinner's message was marked by a consistent focus on the cross of Jesus Christ, a prophetic call for racial unity among Christians across social, denominational, and political divides, and conviction that American evangelicals must both preach the gospel and address the social ills of their communities.

To learn more about Tom Skinner's life and ministry, consult the online descriptive guide to his papers. Collection 430 Papers of Tom Skinner in the BGC Archives contains oral history interviews, correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, and other evangelistic materials.

Other materials relating Skinner's ministry are scattered throughout the BGC Archives' collections. In particular, the audio recording of Skinner's message at the 1970 Urbana Missionary Convention, "US Racial Crisis and World Evangelism," is held in Collection 300 Records of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

Collection 538 Records of the National Summits on Black Church Development contains multiple video recordings of Skinner's talks during the 1986 Summit, and Collection 548 Records of the Atlanta '88 Congress on Evangelizing Black America contains audio and video recordings of Skinner messages.

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Last Revised: 11/01/17
Expiration: indefinite

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