John Burgess (bishop) - Wikiwand
For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for John Burgess (bishop).

John Burgess (bishop)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Right Reverend

John Melville Burgess

Bishop of Massachusetts
ChurchEpiscopal Church
In office1970-1975
PredecessorAnson Phelps Stokes Jr.
SuccessorJohn Bowen Coburn
OrdinationJanuary 25, 1935
by John N. McCormick
ConsecrationJune 7, 1962
by Arthur C. Lichtenberger
Personal details
BornMarch 11, 1909
Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States
DiedAugust 24, 2003 (aged 94)
Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, United States
ParentsTheodore Thomas Burgess & Ethel Inez Beverly
SpouseEsther J. Taylor
Previous post(s)Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts (1962-1969)
Coadjutor Bishop of Massachusetts (1969-1970)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan

John Melville Burgess (March 11, 1909 – August 24, 2003) was the twelfth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts in Boston, Massachusetts from 1970 to 1975 and the first African American to head an Episcopal diocese.[1]


Burgess was the son of Theodore Thomas (a dining car waiter on the Pere Marquette Railway) and Ethel Inez Beverly (a kindergarten teacher) Burgess. He attended Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received a B.A. in 1930 and an M.A. in 1931 from the University of Michigan. Burgess then earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1934, of which he was one of the first black graduates.[2]

After beginning his ministry in his home parish of St. Philip's Episcopal; a Colored Episcopal Mission in Grand Rapids and then Cincinnati, Ohio, Burgess became the Episcopal chaplain at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1946. In 1951, he became the first African American to serve as canon at Washington National Cathedral. In 1956, Burgess moved to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts as an archdeacon of Boston's parishes and missions and superintendent of what became named the Episcopal City Mission. He was the first black archdeacon in New England.[3]

In 1962, Burgess was elected as a suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, becoming the first African American to serve the Episcopal Church as spiritual leader in a predominantly white diocese.[4] When Burgess was installed as diocesan bishop in 1970, he became the first African American to head an Episcopal diocese.

Burgess was known for his efforts to revitalize urban ministry, confront racism in public schools, support prison reform, build bridges between black and white communities, and improve the efficiency of the diocese. He was an important ecumenical leader in maintaining peace during the Boston school desegregation crisis.[2] His wife, Esther Burgess, was also active as a peaceful demonstrator against segregation.

Following his retirement in 1975, Burgess taught pastoral theology at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and Yale Divinity School. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, Boston College, Assumption College, the University of Massachusetts, Trinity College, Northeastern University, and St. Augustine's College.[5]

Selected works

  • Burgess, John M. (1982). Black Gospel/White Church. New York, NY: Seabury Press. ISBN 0-8164-0511-5.



  1. ^ "History of the Diocese". Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b Rodman, Edward W. (2004). "John Melville Burgess". In Gates Jr., Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (eds.). African American Lives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 127. ISBN 0-19-516024-X.
  3. ^ Driscoll Jr., Edgar J. (August 27, 2003). "Bishop John Burgess, 94; broke color barrier in Mass". Boston Globe. Boston, MA: Globe Newspaper Company. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Religion: Boston's Negro Bishop". Time Magazine. December 21, 1962. Archived from the original on March 8, 2008. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  5. ^ Brennan, Carol (2005). "John M. Burgess,1909-2003". Contemporary Black Biography. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
Episcopal Church (USA) titles Preceded byAnson Phelps Stokes Jr. Bishop of Massachusetts 1970–1975 Succeeded byJohn Bowen Coburn

{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
John Burgess (bishop)
Listen to this article