Founded in Washington, DC in 1822 by legendary Baptist leader Luther Rice
The Christian Index is the nation’s oldest continuously published religious newspaper. Known briefly as The Columbian Star, the publication was a national effort to encourage support for the early missions endeavors of Rice’s friends like Adoniram and Ann Judson, and to promote the newly established Columbian College (now George Washington University).
Student James Knowles served as first editor of the newspaper published at 925 E Street, just around the corner of what is now Ford’s Theater. The paper found a good audience much to the credit of Rice who often traveled to the South to promote its readership. Among those most supportive was Rice’s good friend, Jesse Mercer of Georgia.
W. T. Brantly, a highly respected minister in Augusta, became editor in 1827 after accepting the pastorate of Philadelphia’s First Baptist Church. The newspaper’s name was briefly changed to The Columbian Star and Christian Index to better communicate its intent. Then, beginning with the Jan. 1, 1831 issue, the masthead was shortened to the name the newspaper has carried for most of its long and rich history, The Christian Index.
Brantly edited the newspaper from Philadelphia until 1833, at which time it was moved to Washington, Ga., and into the hands of Jesse Mercer. It would gradually become focused more on the state where it has been housed since that time. The publishing offices moved to Penfield (1840) and Macon (1856) before coming to Atlanta (1865). Ownership changed several times before permanently becoming the official publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Many prominent Baptist leaders have sat in the editor’s chair. Henry H. Tucker, for example, left the Index to become president of the University of Georgia before returning to the newspaper. Among those with long tenures were B. J. W. Graham, Louie D. Newton, O. P. Gilbert, John J. Hurt and Jack U. Harwell. In January 2001 the publication moved into its own home in historic Pinebloom, a beautiful Tudor mansion in the Druid Hills area of Atlanta. It was originally the home of The Radio Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In the third year of the new century the Index updated its content with a stronger “Georgia-centric” format. This approach provides more aggressive coverage of Georgia Baptist news and features.