Making History: Our First African American National Commander

In commemoration of African-American History Month, we are spotlighting African-Americans who have played, and still play a key role in our programs and services.

This week, we proudly spotlight  Israel Gaither, The Salvation Army’s first African-American National Commander.

On May 12, 2006, at the age of 61, Commissioner Israel L. Gaither was formally installed as the National Commander of the Salvation Army in the United States, the first African-American to ever serve in that capacity. 

Prior to becoming Commander in the United States, Gaither was Chief of the Staff, the second-ranking officer at The Salvation Army world headquarters in London. He had held that office since November 2002. He had also been the First African-American to be appointed Divisional Commander in the United States, with responsibility for southern New England and western Pennsylvania, and the First African-American appointed Territorial Commander, responsible for the Eastern states. He had been commander of the Southern Africa territory as well.

Gaither was raised a Baptist preacher’s son in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He was the only son among five children born to the Rev. Israel L. Gaither, Sr. and Lillian Gaither. He attended The Salvation Army College for Officers Training in New York, and has led Salvation Army programs throughout Pennsylvania and New York.

Gaither married wife Eva in 1967, breaking ground as the first interracial marriage between The Salvation Army officers in the United States at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in many states. They have two children, Michele Gaither Sparks and Mark Gaither, and four grandchildren, Isaiah, Matthew, Virginia and Andrew.

Gaither is the subject of a biography by Henry Gariepy, entitled “Man  With A Mission”,  released in late 2006.

The Gaithers were officially retired from their national positions on October 22, 2010.

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