In its 150 years as a South Carolina Baptist publication, The Baptist Courier has been led by 10 previous editors.
Founding editor Tilman R. Gaines had the shortest tenure, only three years. A graduate of Furman University, he was serving as pastor of First Baptist Church of Yorkville, founded in 1866, when, at age 35, he made a second attempt to establish a denominational publication “for and about South Carolina Baptists.” He named it The Working Christian.
Gaines moved the paper to Charleston a year later, but in late 1872 he sold his holdings to Charles M. McJunkin. The name was later changed to The Baptist Courier. For the next 39 years, editorial duties would be shared by various printing partners. McJunkin, a native of Barnwell, moved the paper to Columbia, where he and Abner W. Lamar edited it together. Much of the writing was done by contributors who were ministers and members of the Furman University faculty.
After James Alfred Hoyt purchased McJunkin’s interest in the Baptist paper in 1878, Lamar was listed as editor for two years. From 1880 until 1891, Hoyt and his business partners served as co-editors. A native of Anderson, Hoyt at one time had owned and edited the Anderson Intelligencer but sold it to become editor of the Daily Register in Columbia. He moved The Baptist Courier to Greenville in 1879. Hoyt later served as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention nine years, 1885-93.
Andrew Jackson Spears Thomas purchased interest in The Baptist Courier from Hoyt in 1891. At the time, Thomas was pastor of First Baptist Church, Orangeburg. A native of the Bennettsville area, he had studied at Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Thomas left the printing and business to his partner, W.W. Keys, devoting his time to editing and denominational interests. He served as president of the South Carolina convention in 1908-09.
At Thomas’ death in 1911, Zechariah Thornton Cody, pastor of First Baptist Church, Greenville, became editor and continued to serve after the South Carolina Baptist Convention purchased the publication in 1920 for $24,000. The convention granted The Courier institutional status and elected a board of trustees. Born in Alabama, Cody studied at Mercer University and Carson Newman College, and graduated from Southern Seminary. He was president of the state convention in 1913-15.
Elected editor in 1935, William Cox Allen served for five years. A native of Dillon County, he was a scholar and experienced journalist who applied his skill to a carefully edited publication. He was a graduate of Furman University and Southern Seminary and received a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. Allen taught at Carolina and Furman, and he served as the SCBC’s recording secretary 18 years.
Jesse M. Burnett, who was elected editor in 1940, was a native of Tennessee and a former president of Carson Newman College. A graduate of the University of Richmond and Southern Seminary, he had been pastor of First Baptist Church, Belton, for 22 years. Burnett continued as editor until his death in 1947. During his short tenure, the paper grew rapidly, increasing in circulation from 7,000 subscribers to 61,000.
Samuel Hovey Jones was editor almost 18 years, 1948-1966. A native of Pickens County, Jones was a graduate of Furman University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He had been a pastor in Alabama and Mississippi and had taught religion at Judson College. When he was elected editor, he was president of Southwest Baptist College (University) in Missouri. He served as SCBC president in 1955. Circulation continued to climb under Jones, peaking at 92,000 in 1957, before gradually declining to 78,000 when he retired in 1966.
John E. Roberts, editor from 1966-1996, holds the longest tenure. A native of Shelby, N.C., Roberts was a graduate of Furman University and Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Previously, he had served as director of public relations and editor of “Charity and Children” for the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. During his 30-year tenure, land was purchased and The Courier’s current office building was erected in downtown Greenville. He also served as SCBC president in 1980. Circulation reached a high mark of 125,000 subscribers by 1986, making it the third largest paper in the Southern Baptist Convention at the time.
In 1996, Donald M. Kirkland, who had served on The Courier’s editorial staff for 21 years — the first half as assistant, the second as associate editor — was named as the news journal’s 10th editor. Kirkland had earlier served on the staff of The Lancaster News, and attended Anderson College and the University of South Carolina, before later completing a master’s degree at Erskine Seminary. The Courier significantly expanded its news platforms beyond print under Kirkland’s leadership, gaining a wider audience by publishing its stories through both an internet website and social media. He retired in 2012.
James Rudy Gray is the current editor. He previously was pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca. Gray is a graduate of Anderson University, Southern Wesleyan University and Luther Rice Seminary. He also holds a master’s degree in counseling from Liberty University. A former, three-term trustee of The Courier, Gray served as the SCBC president in 2009. During his tenure, The Courier has launched Courier Publishing, a book publishing arm that has produced nearly 60 books to date.