Groundbreaking Texas pastor Marvin Griffin dies

The first black president of the Austin school board and a pastor for 42 years at the city’s landmark Ebenezer Baptist Church died Dec. 25.

By Bob Allen

Marvin Griffin, a Baptist pastor and denominational statesman known for his efforts to improve economic and educational opportunities for African-Americans in Austin, Texas, died Christmas Day 2013 at age 90.

marvin griffinGriffin, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin for 42 years, was elected first black president of the Austin Independent School District board of directors in 1978, a tumultuous time when the board was working to integrate public schools.

Under his leadership Ebenezer Baptist Church formed the East Austin Economic Development Corporation in 1988 to provide affordable housing, care for senior adults, a child-development center and other services in its neighborhood. The building that houses the ministry was named the Marvin C. Griffin Building in his honor on his 33rd anniversary as pastor in 2002.

Griffin served as historian of the National Baptist Convention of America Inc., corresponding secretary of the Missionary Baptist General Convention of Texas and director of the Christian education enrichment program at the National Baptist Fellowship of Churches.

Griffin was the first African-American to graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned the master in religious education degree to go along with the master of divinity degree he received from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology.

His church was one of the first predominantly black congregations to affiliate with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He was the first African-American to be elected to the BGCT Christian Life Commission in 1970. He ran for the office of BGCT first vice president and won in 1996, after being endorsed by the moderate group Texas Baptists Committed. He served as a trustee at Hardin-Simmons University from 1991 until 1999.

Griffin served as an instructor at Ridgecrest, N.C., teaching “Pastoral Ministry in the Black Church.” The Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network honored him in 2007 by presenting him the Kennedy-Boyce Award, named after the first two African-American churches to join the Southern Baptist Convention in 1953.

He voted in his first federal election in 1944, paying the required $1.75 poll tax to cast a ballot for Franklin Roosevelt. He was a delegate at the 1968 National Democratic Convention in Chicago, remembered for riots broken up by Chicago police and the nomination of Vice President Hubert Humphrey after President Johnson declined to seek a second term. Texas Gov. John Connally appointed Griffin to the board of Texas Southern University in 1963.

Griffin was pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, for 16 years before he went to Ebenezer Baptist in 1969. He retired from the pastorate in 2011, donating the Marvin C. Griffin Papers to The Texas Collection at Baylor University.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Lois King Griffin, and a daughter, Gaynelle Griffin Jones, whom President Bill Clinton appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. Jones was the first African-American woman to hold that post and the first black woman to serve on the First Court of Appeals in Texas. He is survived by two daughters, Ria Griffin and Marva Lois Carter.

-- With reporting by Ken Camp from the Baptist Standard.