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James H. Costen collection

Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0071

Scope and contents

This collection contains personal materials of James H. Costen, including correspondence, writings and speeches by himself and others, collected programs, photographs, and audio recordings of Costen interviewing administration and members of the Presbyterian Church.

A bulk of the materials lie in the ITC administration files. These files were transferred to the archives after Costen retired, and not only contain correspondence and administration and development materials based on projects and initiatives by the ITC during his administration, but also trails back to the early administration of Harry V. Richardson (1959-1968). Other ITC presidents that can be found within this series are: Oswald P. Bronson (1968-1975), Grant S. Shockley (1976-1979), and James Deotis Roberts, (1980-1983).

Other materials relate to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its earlier organizations, the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, who merged in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A devout Presbyterian, this collection shows that Costen was not only active in his church, but also interested in religion across denominations and faiths. The collection demonstrates this through his correspondence, committee participations, and conference attendance in a wide variety of community, religious, and political organizations.


  • Creation: 1950-1997

Rights statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright and/or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical note

James Hutten Costen (b. 1931, d. 2003), a prominent Presbyterian educator and church leader, was president of Atlanta's Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) from 1983-1998.

Costen was born in Omaha, NE, on Oct. 5, 1931. He was a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, where he was awarded his bachelor's and divinity degrees. He earned a Masters in Theology in religious education at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

After serving pastorates in Rocky Mount, NC, and Atlanta, GA, Costen stepped to the forefront of a national movement to prevent the closure of Johnson C. Smith when it was threatened with closure because of declining enrollment and financial problems. The seminary survived, but was moved to Atlanta and made part of ITC. Costen then served as its dean. In 1983, he was elected president of ITC, a position he held until his retirement in 1998.

Under his leadership, ITC's enrollment grew from 175 students to about 400, and its annual budget shot up from about $1.7 million to almost $6 million. The school benefited from a series of capital improvements, including an endowed education center named the James H. Costen Lifelong Education Center.

Costen was the moderator of the 194th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA (UPCUSA), the northern church, in 1982, when it merged with the southern branch, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Costen was a member of the National Conference of Black Churchmen; the Consulting Committee on Ethnic Minority Ministries of the United Presbyterian Vocation Agency; the Task Force on Reunion with the Presbyterian Church in the United States; and the Joint UPCUSA/PCUS Task Force on a More Effective Placement System.

He served as chairman of the board and chairman of the Development Committee of the Boggs Academy in Keysville, GA; was a founder and chairman of the board of the Harbison Development Corporation, a planned HUD Title VII town near Columbia, SC; and was a member of Leadership Atlanta.

After his retirement from ITC, Costen served as a volunteer development officer for a school operated by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) near Nairobi, Kenya. He also worked as a fund-raiser for PCEA while serving as a PC(USA) mission volunteer, having raised $750,000 to build the housing complex and a library in Kikuyu. He died in 2003 after complications from surgery at the age of 71.


70.63 Linear feet (Collection is comprised of 113 Hollinger boxes, 13 Paige boxes, and 9 oversized boxes.)

Language of Materials



Collection is arranged in seven series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, ITC Administration Files, Presbyterian Church (USA), Printed and Published Materials, Schools, and Audiovisual Materials.

Related archival collections

Costen, James Hutten, et al. The Costen Legacy. ITC Press, 1997.

Book: Parker, Inez Moore, and Helen Vassy Callison. The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story. Charlotte Pub, 1975.

Separated Materials

Oversized materials have been separated to appropriate housing.

Processing Information

The Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library acknowledges the generous support of the National Endowment for Humanities - Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Implementation Project Grant in supporting the processing and digitization of a number of its major archival collections as part of the project: Spreading the Word: Expanding Access to African American Religious Archival Collections at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library

James H. Costen collection, 1950-1997
Finding aid prepared by Jessica Leming, April, 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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