Wheaton College Commemorates Juneteenth, Recognizes Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr. (1934-2021)

June 17, 2022

Commemorating Juneteenth, Recognizing Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr. (1934-2021)

Melvin Banks HeadshotOn this day of remembrance, the College recognizes Banks for his significant contributions to Wheaton College, the church, the Christian publishing world, and communities of color.

(Wheaton, IL) Wheaton College wishes everyone a good Juneteenth and hopes they pause to commemorate the end of legalized slavery in the United States. On this occasion we recognize one of our African American alumni who faithfully served with exceptional vision and commitment for Christ and His Kingdom.

Rev. Melvin E. Banks, Sr. ’55, M.A. ’59, LITTD 93, died on February 13, 2021, after a lifetime of serving the church and society through founding Urban Ministries, Inc., the world’s largest African American-owned publishing house for Christian literature. As part of his work, Dr. Banks pioneered publications and teaching resources contextualized for African American audiences. During Dr. Banks’s lifetime, Urban Ministries, INC. served more than 50,000 churches with books, curriculum, bible studies, and more. In 2017 he received the Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.  

You can view this 2017 interview for Christianity Today with Dr. Banks about his vision for UMI conducted by Wheaton College Associate Professor of Communication Theon Hill 2017. 

“We continue to be blessed by our long-standing relationship with DR. Melvin Banks,” said Wheaton President Philip Ryken. “He was an extraordinary exemplar of Christ’s Great Commission to proclaim the Word to all ages and all nations. Wheaton College is pleased to recognize Melvin Banks on this important day of remembrance.” 

Dr. Banks earned his Bachelor’s degree in archeology and Near Eastern studies and his Master’s in New Testament from Wheaton College. In 1993, Wheaton awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters for his pioneering work in African American Christian publishing. He served as a Wheaton College Trustee for 16 years, from 1993 to 2009. In the mid-1990s, he assisted former President Duane Litfin to establish friendships with alumni in urban ministry.

During his pastoral career, Dr. Banks also established multiple churches in Chicago and around the Midwest that are still in fellowship. He helped to create the campground and conference center, Circle Y Ranch, for urban youth, and helped to develop the Urban Outreach to support pastors, lay leaders, and Christian educators. He wrote several books and Bible studies and launched a daily two-minute podcast, Daily Direction, that continues to air on Moody Radio.

Last year, the Wheaton College Board of Trustees approved naming the College’s Welcome Center for the late Dr. Banks. The Board also approved a display in the Welcome Center’s Great Hall with imagery of Dr. Banks, featuring a tribute drawn from audio and visual resources communicating his life and ministry. Link here to download photos of Dr. Banks and the Welcome Center. Wheaton is currently pursuing a historical display of Dr. Banks’s contributions to the Church which will be housed in the Welcome Center.