was a time we must never forgetby
soon we forget the terrorism of the 1950s and 1960s. The cross-burnings, obscene
telephone calls, character assassination and political intrigue on those who believed
in and fought for human rights and dignity, and against bigotry, hate and indifference.
I was reminded of those years when I read of the passing of a man who
stood for equality for all races. Charles Wellborn, a native of Alto,
Texas, with degrees from Baylor University and Duke University, Southwest
Baptist Theological Seminary and until his retirement in 1992, the director of
Florida State University London Study Center, London, England.
wife, described Wellborn as one of the best preachers she ever heard and the clearest
voice of conscience among that generation of Baptists. Dr. John Wood, long-time
pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco,
was mentored in high school by then seminary student Wellborn. (Wellborn's roommate
at seminary was Howard E. Butt, Jr., one of this generation's best laymen preachers
and founder of Laity Lodge.)
Charles Wellborn, 86, was buried October
14, just a few blocks from the church he pastor after leaving Baylor University,
the Seventh and James Baptist Church.
It was during his ten-year pastorate
at Waco's Seventh and James Baptist Church, adjacent to the Baylor campus, that
the church opened its membership to people of all "races and colors." It was 1958
and Waco still
had the stain of hanging Jessie Washington before a huge white crowd in 1916.
(It was one of 500 lynchings recorded in Texas from 1880 to 1930.
after the news that the church welcomed any and all, Wellborn began to receive
threatening phone calls. Then a cross was burned on the lawn of the parsonage.
It was fast becoming one of the darkest days in America's church history. It was
a time when the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan revived. Other civil rights
villains became more bold.
It was a time when local blacks were turned
away from church doors by self-righteous and self-deluded ushers and deacons.
Some preached a Gospel left over from slavery days. Popular Bible interpretations
endorsed white supremacy. There were those who simply "did not want to get involved."
It was a time when many forgot what Jesus said to the Apostle John, "Behold, I
stand at the door: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in
to him" (Rev. 3:20).
It was a time we should never forget. Hard lessons
were learned during those days of turmoil. The experience, bad as it was, made
the nation and the churches stronger. But, there are still those who would like
to go back to those "good old days." With white Americans fast becoming a minority
like their ancestors were at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, there is a new uncertainty
out there. Keeping folks "in their place" is not as easy as once-upon-a-time.
No one likes to recall such disturbing events as took place in 1916 and 1958.
Others, like Wellborn, (Presbyterian Robert McNeill; Methodist Dallas Blanchard;
Episcopalian rector Duncan Gray; Catholic priest William Warthling; countless
Jewish Rabbis), stood their ground against congressmen, senators, governors, mayors
and even fellow clergy in a fight against the segregationist's attempts to keep
the "coloreds" under their storm-trooper-boots-mentality.
the city of Waco
officially apologized for the 1916 lynching, noting: "When you have a deep enough
infection and you just open it up a little bit and let air get to it to heal over,
it will come back. It will keep coming back until you open it up and you let it
heal from the inside out."
Charles Wellborn continues to speak through
his writing. He wrote seven books , two plays and more than 100 articles in scholarly
and popular journals. He was a frequent contributor to the independent journal
"Christian Ethics Today". His was a life of outspoken integrity and service for
others. He was a man for his times. We must not forget those men and their contribution
to our nation.
Copyright Britt Towery
the Way with Britt
December 2, 2009 Column
Britt Towery, author of "Along the Way," welcomes comments.