Black Salvationists rise to leadership

by Captain Daniel N. Diakanwa (R)

This Black History Month, we remember some heroes of the faith who have served in high office around The Salvation Army world as they continue to fulfill the Army’s mission statement to “meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

Lt. Colonel B. Barton McIntyre

From 1955 to 1968, the then-Brigadier B. Barton McIntyre introduced a theme called “Watch Us Grow.” He oversaw the expansion of the Harlem, N.Y. (Temple) Corps and worked to address race relations and incidents of discrimination in the Army.

In 1969, McIntyre became the highest-ranking Black officer in The Salvation Army world when he was appointed lieutenant colonel. He helped form a committee to discuss issues pertaining to the Black community and the inclusion of Blacks as Army officers. The outcome was the creation of a multicultural department in the Eastern Territory. He then brought together then-Major Abraham Johnson and then-Captain Israel L. Gaither to organize a meeting of Black officers, which encouraged new ideas and policies, including a 12-point plan of racial inclusion in the Army.

Commissioner Israel L. Gaither (R)

In 1977, the then-Captain Gaither served as vice-chair on the Black Ministries Committee, which made recommendations about inclusive programs, literature, and music, among other important topics. In 1988, Major Gaither attended a committee meeting called the Black Ministry Consultation to address issues specific to Black Salvationists. The Eastern Territory Committee for Salvationists of African Descent played a significant role in promoting Black officers to leadership positions within the organization. It was a testament to the progress they were making toward equal representation.

Gaither was the USA Eastern Territory’s first Black territorial commander. He was also the territory’s first Black divisional commander, in charge of Western Pennsylvania and the Southern New England divisions. He’d also served as commander of the Southern Africa Territory. During the 2006 High Council, which elects the General of The Salvation Army, Gaither was among five commissioners who were nominated as candidates.

On May 12, 2006, at the age of 61, Commissioner Gaither was formally installed as the national commander of The Salvation Army in the United States—the first African American to serve in that capacity. General Shaw Clifton selected Gaither for the position.

Commissioner Joshua Ngugi

The Army also promoted Blacks to top leadership on the African continent. In the Kenya Territory, Commissioner Joshua Ngugi became the first Black in the world to be promoted to the rank of commissioner in 1975. He served for seven years as territorial commander and was the first Black to be admitted to the Order of the Founder in 1996 as well as the first Black to serve on the High Council.

 Commissioner Mbakanu Diakanwa

On July 30, 1976, Commissioner Mbakanu Diakanwa, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, became the second Black Salvation Army commissioner in the world. He served for an unprecedented 14 years as territorial commander.

Commissioner David Edwards

Commissioner David Edwards became the first Caribbean commissioner. He began his officership in Jamaica and Trinidad and was assigned to the Eastern Territory. Then, he was appointed to The Salvation Army International Headquarters in London, England, as the undersecretary for the Americas and the Caribbean and the zonal secretary with the rank of commissioner. He served as the territorial commander of both the Caribbean and the USA Western territories.

Lt. Colonel Raphael L. Jackson

Today, and for the first time, the Greater New York Division has a Black leader with the appointment of Lt. Colonel Raphael L. Jackson as divisional commander. His appointment represents other positive changes taking place in the USA Salvation Army, especially in the Eastern Territory, which has created a department of diversity, equity, and inclusion that will help ensure that all Salvationists are included in Army leadership.

Lt. Colonels David and Margaret Davis

The then-Majors David and Margaret Davis were the first Blacks to hold the position of divisional commander and president of Women’s Ministries in the Eastern Territory’s Massachusetts Division. Today, they are serving at The Salvation Army’s National Headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Lt. Colonel David Davis is the national social services & public policy liaison and special representative to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and Lt. Colonel Margaret Davis is the national secretary for social services & public policy.

Black History Month is an ongoing call to action rather than just an annual celebration. We must strive to create a Salvation Army in which love has no boundaries and justice flows like a river. As followers of Jesus, we have an obligation to actively participate as advocates for racial justice. Together, we can build a world in which all people are seen as equal and treated with love.

Captain Daniel N. Diakanwa (retired) is a former Multicultural Ministries Bureau director and African heritage consultant for the USA Eastern Territory.