1960-63 – Racism in Ekron Baptist Church

As I have written previously, I began to serve as pastor of the Ekron Baptist Church in Meade County, Kentucky, on July 1, 1959. I was the pastor there for four years and three months, and it was a most valuable experience for me–and I would like to think that my ministry was good for the church.

One of several problems that I faced in Ekron was racism among the members and in the community. It is hard to remember the timing of them all, but the first encounter with racism was in December 1960.

At that time, June and I were mission volunteers. We thought we would probably seek appointment as missionaries to East Africa. Partly because of that, I was happy to become acquainted with a Samuel, who was from Kenya. We were both seminary students at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

As all Southern Baptist churches did back then, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions was an important emphasis during the first week of December each year. I invited Samuel to be our guest speaker on Dec. 4, 1960.

Following the Sunday morning worship services, Samuel and I were guests for dinner in the home of the wealthiest man in the church–and perhaps one of the most prejudiced against people of color. There was not much indication of his displeasure at that Sunday dinner, but I heard about it a few days later.

It was a custom at Ekron for the preacher to have Sunday dinner with church members, and a list of the hosts was prepared and posted weeks ahead. So the dinner of Dec. 4 was decided well in advance, and there was no question raised about our guest before that Sunday. It seems that the members in question thought our visiting speaker was going to be a missionary to Kenya, not a black man from Kenya.

After prayer meeting the following Wednesday, one of the deacons told me about the strong displeasure of our Sunday dinner hosts. It was mainly the man who was unhappy. The deacon heard that he said that if any of his friends had come to his home and had seen who was at his table, he would have “run the ni**er off.”

That was of considerable concern to the deacon(s), for the wealthy church member was being counted on for a generous gift to the building fund for the new church building being planned.

The following Sunday morning my sermon was titled “Chart and Compass,” and June wrote in the diary for Dec. 11 that I “preached on the Bible, mentioning race prejudice.”

During the Christmas break, June and I had Samuel and his wife Esther as house guests for three days and two nights–and I am happy to say that there were church members who invited us to bring them to their homes for a visit.

It was probably in 1961 that there were two other indications of racism that I remember. One was when I invited the choir from Zion Grove, an African-American church about four miles down the road, to sing one night at the “revival meeting” we were having.

Some members, though, did not like having the black Christians in our church–and likely it was the same wealthy member who objected most. He was reported to have said that if we keep having “ni**ers” come to our church the old building is good enough.

Then, as Baptist churches often did back then, I led the church/deacons to take a church census of the entire town of Ekron–which was not a big job as the town is quite small. The problem was that even though few African-Americans lived in our town, none of the deacons wanted to knock on their doors.

One deacon said that since they had their own church, we didn’t need any information about them. Well, I didn’t think that it was any more likely that all the black people in town were church members than it was that all of the white people were. So I took the census at the African-American homes.

The last incident I remember was probably in 1963. There was a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., that I included in one of my Sunday morning sermons. But I told the congregation that I was not going to tell them who said the words I was going to quote, for I wanted them to listen to the words and not be distracted by who said them.

After the sermon, Leo, the deacon who had told me about the displeasure of the wealthy church member in 1960, came up to me after the service and said he thought the quote I had used was really good–but he wanted to know who had said it. When I told him, he exclaimed, “It’s a good thing you didn’t use his name in your sermon!”

These are examples of the racism that I remember encountering in Ekron, Ky., back in the early 1960s.