Richard Hausber Bowling (24 October 1891–28 December 1961), Baptist minister, was born in Norfolk, the son of Richard Hausber Bowling (1864–1913) and his first wife, Eliza Howard Haynes Bowling. He attended Norfolk's public schools and completed high school at Virginia Theological Seminary and College in Lynchburg. In 1910 Bowling entered Bucknell University as the only African American in his class. After winning a junior oratorical contest and a prize for Greek studies, he graduated summa cum laude in 1913 and received a gold watch for the best commencement oration. On 30 June 1915 Bowling married Rebecca Lucinda Pride in Lynchburg. They had three daughters.

Bowling succeeded his father as pastor of Norfolk's First Baptist Church on 1 July 1914, even though some members believed that he was too young and inexperienced for so large a church. During summers he studied at New York's Union Theological Seminary, and he received an honorary D.D. from Howard University in 1936. Bowling became widely known for his ministry at First Baptist. Building on the work that the church had done during his father's pastorate, he established an institutional program of social services to Norfolk's African American community in 1919. The church soon had a paid staff of seven, a drum and bugle corps, an employment agency, a home for elderly people and unwed mothers, an information service, a library, a milk dispensary, a mothers' clinic, a nursery, a kindergarten, a playground, a retirement program for the church's full-time employees, a thrift club, and gospel teams for evangelism at the city jail and in neglected parts of the city. Even during the financially difficult years of the Great Depression, the church maintained its services to the community.

Bowling was very active in civic affairs and education. A founder of Norfolk's Community Hospital, he served on its board of trustees from 1932 to 1950, part of that time as chairman. In honor of his several years on the advisory committee of Norfolk's Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Bowling Park Housing Development was named for him. Bowling also worked with the Boy and the Girl Scouts of America, Child and Family Services, City Social Service Bureau, Colored United Charities, Community Chest, March of Dimes, Municipal Auditorium Commission, Municipal Beach for Colored People, Norfolk Committee on Negro Affairs, Red Cross, United Service Organizations, Welfare Board, Young Men's Christian Association, and other community agencies. Deeply devoted to the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, he served on its board of trustees for many years, and in recognition of his support for public and collegiate education in Norfolk the Bowling Park Elementary School was named for him. Bowling also joined a number of fraternal and service organizations.

Widely known as a speaker and leader among Baptists and in ecumenical affairs, Bowling was a member of Norfolk's Baptist and Interdenominational Ministers Alliances and vice president of the Virginia Council of Churches. In November 1925, long before the birth of the modern civil rights movement, he protested that Norfolk's residential segregation ordinance "hems the black brother in and keeps his death and sick rate high, his economic status low, his living conditions crowded and a disgrace to any modern city." Bowling continued to speak out with a regular column, "The Guide Post," that appeared more than 550 times in the Norfolk Journal and Guide between January 1926 and December 1937. In October 1950 he broke a longstanding precedent by becoming the first African American minister to lead the opening prayer at a session of Norfolk's city council.

For reasons of health Bowling retired from the active ministry and became pastor emeritus in 1953. After several years of illness, Richard Hausber Bowling died in Norfolk on 28 December 1961 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in that city.


Sources Consulted:
Annie Bowling Givens, "Norfolk's Favorite Son: A Biography of the Reverend Richard H. Bowling, Jr." (master's thesis, Hampton Institute, 1963), cites family Bible records for date of birth; Norfolk City Birth Register gives variant birth date of 10 Oct. 1891; Marriage Register, Lynchburg, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Margaret L. Gordon, ed., A Documented History of the First Baptist Church, Bute Street, Norfolk, Virginia, 1800–1988 (1988), 20–26, 131–136, 145–149, 197 (portrait); Stephen Graham, The Soul of John Brown (1920), 35–48; Ernest N. Hall, "A Negro Institutional Church," Southern Workman 50 (1921): 113–118; Richard H. Bowling, "Keeping an Old Church Alive," Southern Workman 61 (1932): 200–208; Norfolk Journal and Guide, 3 July 1915, 21 Nov. 1925 (quotation), home ed. 1 July 1950, home ed. 26 Feb. 1955; Richmond Afro-American, 14 Oct. 1950; obituaries in Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, both 29 Dec. 1961; obituary and account of funeral in Norfolk Journal and Guide, 6 Jan. 1962.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Ralph E. Luker.

How to cite this page:
Ralph E. Luker, "Richard Hausber Bowling (1891–1961)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Bowling_Richard_Hausber_1891-1961, accessed [today's date]).


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