IMB building named for black missions advocate

RICHMOND, Va.—The W.W. Colley House at IMB’s International Learning Center in Rockville, Va., is named in honor of William W. Colley, a Southern Baptist missionary to Nigeria instrumental in black Baptist churches organizing to reach West Africa for Christ in the late 1800s.

Colley served as a Southern Baptist foreign missionary in West Africa from 1875-1879 and with a black foreign mission board headquartered in the U.S.


Colley was born in Prince Edward County, Va., in 1847. He attended Richmond Institute and was ordained as a minister in Alexandria, Va., in 1873.

Appointed as a Southern Baptist missionary in 1874, he served in Nigeria with fellow missionary W.J. David.

Colley is quoted several times in Southern Baptist Convention reports on missions progress in Africa during his time there, including in an appeal in 1876 for an additional missionary in Lagos, Nigeria, where Colley and David had reorganized a Baptist church.

“Brother Colley says: ‘I hope the colored brethren will begin their work in Africa this year, either by sending a man or supporting one in the field. This is their field of labor. I ask when will they obey their Saviour’s commission? Now is the time for the churches to offer their centennial sacrifice to God, by sending the Bread of Life to the heathen of Africa.’”

In a section of the report about African missions, titled Longing for and Longing in the Interior, Colley wrote: “We have just this moment talked with members from Abbeokuta who have information from places beyond. They want to know when are we coming to their town to preach Christ? Such cries come with almost every man and woman who comes from the interior.”

In the 1877 SBC report David also appealed for more missionaries: “The work is too great for brother Colley and myself; but we dare not abandon a single place. We will struggle on, hoping and praying that help will soon come. Our motto is, ‘Go forward.’”

In 1878, the SBC annual noted that amid outbreaks of intertribal war and small pox, Colley continued to teach and preach in Lagos, taking on additional tasks when David became ill.


Illness associated with living in the tropics forced Colley to return to the U.S. in 1879, according to the 1880 SBC annual. Stopping in Monrovia, Liberia, on the return trip, Colley continued to evangelize and baptized 29 people in a river — 25 of the new believers were from the far interior of the country he had been working to reach. Colley said 70 converts were the beginnings of a congregation forming in one of the interior’s larger towns.

After resigning from missionary service to Africa Nov. 17, 1879, Colley began to travel and write to encourage black Baptist churches in the U.S. to organize a foreign missions effort.
In 1880, a group of black Baptist churches from 11 states formed the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention of the United States of America.

For the next two years, Colley served as its corresponding secretary. By 1883 the new convention had raised enough funds to support its first missionaries, including Colley and his wife, who went to Liberia.

Despite disease and hardships, that group of missionaries established a mission station at Bendoo, Liberia. Colley served two years before illness apparently again forced him to return to the U.S.

The Baptist Foreign Mission Convention served for a time as the mission arm of the American National Baptist Convention, organized in 1886.


  • Today, African Americans are stepping up to join God on mission, not just in Africa, but in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

    Learn more about how your church can play a key role in reaching the world:


  • That greater numbers of African Americans will respond to God’s call to serve Him internationally through IMB.
  • That more African-American churches will seek to become involved in international missions.
  • For Southern Baptist Convention leadership as they seek greater ethnic representation in all facets of SBC life.
  • That the SBC will reflect the diversity of God’s people and in the strength of that diversity will become a people “who turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).