Black Churches in America
Photo courtesy of Robert Schellhammer/Window by Lyn Horey Studio.
Like his predecessor Absalom Jones, John Melville Burgess served the Episcopal Church with tireless devotion. In 1962 he became the first black priest to be popularly elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts within the regular order of the Episcopal Church, and in 1969 was promoted to diocesan bishop. Although African Americans had served as bishops within the church before, their ministry had hitherto been restricted to black parishes. As bishop, Burgess devoted himself to revitalizing urban ministry, confronting racism in public education, advocating prison reform, fighting the restoration of the death penalty, and providing crucial leadership during the Boston school desegregation crisis. By working to build bridges between black and white communities, Burgess's popular leadership heralded a new era of integration and cooperation within the Episcopal Church. He appears here (right) in the Burgess Window at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, with Absalom Jones.