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Black Billy Sunday Baptising at Fall Creek, Indianapolis

Date August 3, 1919
Location Fall Creek Indiana United States
Dimensions Paper: 9 15/16 x 50 in. (25.2 x 127 cm)
Print medium Photo-Gelatin silver

African American photographer James Calvin Patton (1882-1958) operated Patton's Studio in Indianapolis in the 1910s and early 1920s. In the mid- to late 1920s, Patton relocated the studio to Chicago, making panoramic portraits of groups, including the 35th Annual NAACP conference and the Greater St. John Baptist Church Gospel Choir, through the mid-1950s.
The popular and charismatic evangelical preacher Rev. Alexander Willbanks was born in Mississippi, and preached in that state as well as Texas before finishing his theological degree at Howard University. Based in Washington, D.C., Willbanks organized a twenty-one day campaign in Indianapolis that began on July 22, 1919; this mass baptism at Fall Creek occurred at the end of the second week. Willbanks was one of several preachers nicknamed "Black Billy Sunday" after the preacher Billy Sunday, who was known for his dramatic sermons. Like many other successful evangelists of the period, Willbanks was a Southern preacher who traveled across the country, converting thousands of people, usually migrants, with a unique blend of showmanship, emotional preaching, and a focus on individual salvation.

Credit line

Gift of Janna Rosenkranz and Jim Linderman, 2007

Feedback Accession No. 2007.107.1