Rev. Preston Taylor was a Disciples of Christ pastor, educator, and entrepreneur who was one of the most influential leaders of the black community in Middle Tennessee and of black Disciples nationwide in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He was one of the founders of the National Christian Missionary Convention, the precursor of the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
In 1909, he helped establish Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial State Normal College, a state-sponsored college for African Americans, which later became Tennessee State University, one of the largest university systems in the state.
In 1888, he created Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville on dairy land he purchased in 1887, one of two cemeteries in the region that would bury black bodies, and founded the Taylor Funeral Company. In 1905, he built a recreational park on that land to serve African American residents who were not allowed admittance to “whites only” parks in the region. In 1905 he developed Greenwood Park, the first recreational park for Nashville's African American residents who at that time were not allowed to utilize public parks. The park hosted the annual state fair for Tennessee’s black residents and remained open until 1949.
Born into slavery in Shreveport, Louisiana on November 7, 1849, to enslaved parents, Taylor, at the age of four, after hearing a sermon in Lexington, Kentucky, told his mother that he wanted to be a preacher. In 1864, during the Civil War, he enlisted in the 116th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops as a drummer. He was present at the fall of Richmond and surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865 that effectively ended the Civil War. Later, he was mustered out of military service as a freed person. He became a marble engraver and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. When whites refused to work with him, he found work as a porter for the Louisville & Chattanooga Railroad. After leaving the railroad and traveling in the North, he was called as pastor of the Disciples church in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and later founded High Street Christian Church. He organized the Kentucky Christian Missionary Convention for black Disciples churches in 1872. A strong advocate for education of African Americans, he bought college property in New Castle, Kentucky, and founded the Christian Bible College of New Castle.
He was unanimously elected general evangelist for black Disciples in the US and edited a section that focused on African American Disciples in the Christian Standard.
He was awarded a contract to build sections of a railroad track from Mt. Sterling to Richmond, Virginia. His work on that project was highly regarded, particularly by the president of the railroad company, and established Taylor as business leader.
In 1884, Taylor moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he met and married Georgia Gordon, a member of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, one of the nation’s most significant historically black universities. After the group returned from a US and European tour in 1872-1873, Preston and Georgia married. She continued singing until her death in 1913. After her death, he married Ida D. Mallory.
He was appointed minister of the Gay Street Christian Church, an African American congregation in Nashville. In 1891, he and several others left Gay Street and established another congregation that completed its own church building on Lea Avenue. He pastored that church 40 years until his death in 1931.
In 1917, Taylor took the lead in creating the National Christian Missionary Convention (NCMC), a nationwide organization of African American Disciples churches, which he served as president from its founding until his death. In 1969, NCMC approved a formal Merger Agreement that the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) had approved several months earlier in 1968 as part of Disciples process of denominational “restructure.” NCMC became the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Taylor became wealthy through his various business enterprises and was considered one of the most powerful and influential African American businessmen in Nashville in the early years of the twentieth century. The first black bank in the city, One Cent (Citizen's) Savings and Trust Company, was organized with Taylor’s help.
Taylor bequeathed Greenwood Cemetery to the National Christian Missionary Convention of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and it remains a nonprofit organization.