John Burgess (bishop)

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The Right Reverend
John Melville Burgess
Bishop of Massachusetts
John M. Burgess,.jpg
Church Episcopal Church (United States)
See Massachusetts
In office 1970—1975
Predecessor Anson Phelps Stokes Jr.
Successor John Bowen Coburn
Ordination 1935
Consecration 1970
Personal details
Born March 11, 1909
Grand Rapids, MI
Died August 24, 2003
Vineyard Haven, MA
Previous post Suffragan Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
Alma mater University 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 installed 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 consecrated 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]

Following his retirement in 1975, Burgess taught pastoral theology at the 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[edit]

  • 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. 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. 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 by
Anson Phelps Stokes Jr.
Bishop of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
John Bowen Coburn