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Melvin Banks (1934–2021), founder of Christian publishing house Urban Ministries, Inc.

by Linnea Crowther

Melvin Banks was the founder of Urban Ministries, Inc., the largest Black Christian publishing house in the U.S.

Urban Ministries, Inc.

Banks founded Urban Ministries, Inc. in 1970, fulfilling a longtime dream. The publishing house got its start in Banks’ Chicago basement, and it grew to serve tens of thousands of congregations, focusing on Sunday School curricula and Bible study materials for Black churches. Banks created a brand new – and sometimes controversial – product when he began publishing Christian study materials depicting Biblical figures as both Black and white, reflecting the reality of the Bible’s setting in the Middle East and North Africa. Banks was criticized for directing his materials toward a Black audience, but he maintained that he was simply helping Black Christians understand the Bible from a relatable perspective. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute – and one of only a handful of Black students there in the 1950s – Banks was named the school’s Alumnus of the Year in 2008.

Notable quote

“When I grew up, all the Sunday school literature was produced by white people and all the writing was done from a white perspective. All the biblical characters were portrayed as white people. It dawned on me that the material as published did not connect.” —as quoted by Christianity Today

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Tributes to Melvin Banks

Full obituary: Christianity Today

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