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Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.

Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. was born on September 6, 1935 in Burgaw, North Carolina to James A. Forbes, Sr. and Mabel Clemons Forbes. Forbes was raised as one of eight children in Raleigh, North Carolina. He received his B.S. degree in chemistry from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1957. At Union Theological Seminary in the New York City, Forbes wrote his master’s thesis on Pentecostalism and the Renewal of the Church, and obtained his M.Div. degree in 1962. Forbes earned his clinical pastoral education certificate from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond in 1968. Forbes earned his D.Min. degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 1975.

Following his graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary, Forbes returned to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked briefly in his father’s church, Providence United Holy Church. In 1962, Forbes became a student intern at Olin Binkly Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and went on to pastor Holy Trinity Church in Wilmington, North Carolina; St. Paul’s Holy Church in Roxboro, North Carolina; and St. John’s United Holy Church of America in Richmond, Virginia. After earning his Clinical Pastoral Education Certificate from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Forbes worked as campus minister for Virginia Union University in Richmond. In 1973, Forbes became a director of education for Interfaith Metropolitan Theological Education Inc. in Washington, D.C. In 1976, Forbes joined the faculty at Union Theological Seminary as its Brown and Sockman Associate Professor of Preaching. Forbes became the Union Theological Seminary’s first Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching in 1985. In 1986, Forbes gave the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University, informing his 1989 publication, The Holy Spirit & Preaching. Union Theological Seminary named Forbes the first Harry Emerson Fosdick Adjunct Professor of Preaching in 1989, the same year he was installed as fifth senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City. His installment rendered him the first African American senior minister of one of the largest multicultural and interdenominational congregations in the United States. Following his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, Forbes led an interfaith rally and demonstration at Riverside Church as part of the Church’s Mobilization 2004 campaign. In 2007, he formed the Healing of the Nations Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit, national ministry of healing and spiritual revitalization. That same year, Forbes retired as senior minister emeritus of Riverside Church. He authored Whose Gospel?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism in 2009.

Forbes was the recipient of fourteen honorary degrees, including D.D. degrees from Princeton University, Trinity College, Colgate University, and University of Richmond. In 1996, Newsweek recognized Forbes as one of the twelve “most effective preachers” in the English-speaking world.

Forbes and his wife, Bettye Forbes, have one son, James A. Forbes III.

Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 21, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.046

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/21/2016

Last Name

Forbes

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Schools

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

Union Theological Seminary

Washington High School

Virginia Commonwealth University

School of Medicine

Howard University

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Burgaw

HM ID

FOR15

Favorite Season

Autumn

State

North Carolina

Favorite Quote

All Things Work Together For Good.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/6/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes (1935 - ) served as the fifth senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City from 1989 to 2007, making him the first African American Senior Minister of one of the largest multicultural and interdenominational churches in the United States.

Employment

Kittrell College

Olin T. Binkly Memorial Baptist Church

St. John’s United Holy Church

Virginia Union University

Union Theological Seminary

Riverside Church

Drum Major Institute

Favorite Color

Brown

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes Stokes, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers harvesting tobacco, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers harvesting tobacco, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his maternal grandfather's house

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about his paternal grandfather's disappearance

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his father's education and occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about his paternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his siblings, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his parents' emphasis on education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his siblings, pt. 3

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers segregation in North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls eating at an integrated lunch counter

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers his response to racism

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his arrival at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his activities at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his call to ministry

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his approach to Pentecostalism

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his early interdenominational work

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his father's approach to religion

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls pastoring at Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers the social climate of Richmond, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his civic involvement in Richmond, Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about making a living as a minister

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about black theology

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls working at Interfaith Metropolitan Education, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about the founding of the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls writing 'The Holy Spirit and Preaching'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes the history of Riverside Church in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls becoming a senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. remembers Nelson Mandela's visit at Riverside Church

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes the Riverside Church's history of inclusion

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his experiences at Riverside Church, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his experiences at Riverside Church, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about founding Space for Grace

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls joining the Drum Major Institute

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his book, 'Whose Gospel?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about his spirituality

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. shares his advice for aspiring ministers

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. talks about his family and shares advice for mankind

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. narrates his photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$5

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. describes his father's education and occupations
Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. recalls his experiences at Riverside Church, pt. 1
Transcript
At a certain age he [Forbes' father, James A. Forbes, Sr.] decided he was gonna be a preacher. So he accepted the call to ministry, and became a preacher, quite a popular preacher in North Carolina. Big problem was that he was a preacher, but if you recall the term bootleg preacher, he didn't have any education. You know, dropped out at sixth grade.$$So that's what bootleg preacher means?$$The jackleg, jackleg--$$Yeah.$$--jackleg, bootleg preacher--$$Right.$$--basically it tended to suggest that they had not been thoroughly trained for the vocation. So one of the churches said, "We really like your preaching, but if you're gonna be our preacher, you're gonna have to get some education." So, having dropped out at the sixth grade, he enrolled in high school with a correspondence course called the American School [American School of Correspondence, Lansing, Illinois], in Chicago [sic.]. And actually, I remember as a little boy, taking his lessons that he prepared at the dining room table and posting them in the mail box and also picking up his, the letters when he got his grades back. He completed high school with only having gone to sixth grade through correspondence. But he was sufficiently bright that in finishing high school by correspondents he enrolled in college at Shaw University [Raleigh, North Carolina]. At Shaw University he became, he graduated the head of his class and also decided to go further to get his, what they called then B.D. degree, bachelor of divinity, which is now called M.Div. degree, master of divinity, but he, you know, graduated at the head of the class (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Do you know what time this was?$$My father might have gotten his degree from Shaw University around about 1949.$$Okay. And what work was he doing as he was preparing for the ministry?$$As he was preparing for the ministry in North Carolina, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, he had a job working at the W.T. Grants department store [sic. W.T. Grant]. He was a porter and had the responsibility, and candy salesman. This is a, this is a very important thing. My father always viewed himself as being not just a worker for somebody, so although he's a porter, and a candy salesman in a W.T. Grants department store, when the head of the store, whose name at the time was Mr. Parsons [ph.], when he announced to the staff that he had just had a little baby girl, my father made a table with four chairs, for the little baby. Now how do I know this? Because later on, years later, I'm preaching at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, and they put the name of the preacher over the street, kind of build it up, it's gonna be a big occasion, and a person named Mrs. Parsons came with her children and she said she heard James Forbes, she just wanted to know if I'm the James Forbes because she was the daughter for whom the table and the chairs had been made by a James Forbes and that wherever her family went they could leave anything behind, but they could never leave behind the table that James Forbes had made for her. Here's a black man to show his sense of care for his employer, a white man. He's not a worker, he's a servant of God to show love to whomever he could, but that was a fascinating thing to, to live long enough to have that circle completed.$And how did the congregation [at Riverside Church, New York, New York] accept this?$$Well, I would say the greatest issue of acceptance it seems to me was to accept the authenticity of my being who I was even if it wasn't what they had been used to. I mean, so, it was a glorious occasion for me to be inaugurated in that place, but a couple of months later, people woke up, "Oh my god, he really is black, and he is different."$$And so did you have challenges as a result of that?$$Are you kidding me? I mean it became so clear to me that in a moment of strength or weakness, people were glad that they had lived into the liberalism that they were known for, but how do you adjust to the rearrangement of the social and cultural patterns that make what's been excluded now the center, or to say it another way, they loved me every year I came. I was wonderful dessert, but what happens when dessert becomes the main course. That's a problem. I mean I was a real challenge for these people and some of them let me know that in no uncertain terms. I mean I remember one night, which was the most painful night in ministry in my life, where less than a year, there was a group got together and decided that they had had enough of Jim Forbes [HistoryMaker Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.]. They called this meeting together and everybody knew that this was going to be a kangaroo court and that that was going to be the end of a nice little experiment in democratic leadership. At that meeting that night, it was intense that I'm sitting there and I actually really, if you can believe it, if I had had a button that I could push where I could take myself out of that situation, I would have done so. But let me tell you what happened. Earlier that day I had gone to Calvary ba- Calvary Hospital [Bronx, New York] where, visiting an old lady and when I got there I asked her daughter to ask your mother what would she like me to read. Her mother said, "Psalm 27." So I read Psalm 27. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell," all (unclear). Well when I got out of her room, the spirit said, "You got a big meeting tonight, and I needed to remind you that that's the text I gave you the night you accepted the call to ministry at Howard [Howard University, Washington, D.C.]. And the reason I told you that night to learn it by heart, you said 'I don't know it,' but I made you quote it," and I thought that because I was given the ability to learn it so quickly that it meant that I was gonna be blessed with phenomenal memory, and so the Lord said, "That wasn't it at all. There are situations where you're gonna need these words where you can't afford to stoop down or look down or turn around, but it's in there now, so you be aware." That night when things got so hot, the words came to my mind, it is for this reason that you learned that Psalm, now recite it. So, I'm sitting there, "(unclear) on the speaker, the previous vote," da da da da, oh, they was, it was just awful. I sat there and people who were my friends who were there says all of a sudden my countenance changed, instead of fear, they noticed that a sort of gentle assurance came across my face because what I was doing is inside myself I was quoting, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, who shall I fear. The lord is the strength of my life, (mumbling), wait on the Lord and be of good courage, he shall strengthen." That in the quoting of that God given passage in 1956, here it is 1990, yeah maybe 1990, that gave me strength. They said when my countenance changed, the tenor of the meeting changed. All of a sudden it got sane in there. In fact, at the end of the meeting, that next week I received a letter from a woman whose name was Elaine, her name Elise Higgenbottom [sic.]. She said, "I came to this meeting because I heard they were getting ready to try to oust you." She said, "But I listened to what you said about how your ministry was gonna go and I liked very much what you said. I want to support your ministry. Please find enclosed a check for fifty thousand dollars just to help you get this program moving that you talked about." Her name was not, her name was Elise Goldman. I went to her funeral a few years ago when I was preaching at Duke University [Durham, North Carolina] I heard she had died. I just went by to say, "You all don't know the encouragement from your mother helped saved a preacher's life." Again, don't count people out. She's a white woman. But again--$$And you served as senior pastor for how many years?$$Eighteen years. They thought I, they thought I was gonna be gone in one, in one year and a half, for eighteen years.