Kin to Me
March 3, 2003
bowed our heads," wrote Anne Moody in her autobiography Coming
of Age in Mississippi, "and all hell broke loose. A
man rushed forward, threw Memphis from his seat, and slapped my
face. Then another man who worked in the store threw me against
an adjoining counter."
scene was a Woolworth's store in Jackson, Mississippi. On the
morning of May 28, 1963, a group of black students from Tougaloo
College had seated themselves at the all-white lunch counter and
asked to be served. When the white lunch crowd arrived, the
saw Memphis lying near the lunch counter with blood running out of
the corners of his mouth. As he tried to protect his face, the
man who'd thrown him down kept kicking him against the head. ...
was snatched from my stool by two high school students. I was
dragged about thirty feet toward the door by my hair when someone
made them turn me loose.
I was getting up off the floor, I saw Joan coming back inside.
We started back to the center of the counter to join Pearlena.
Lois Chaffee, a white Tougaloo faculty member, was now sitting next
to her. ...
were now four of us, two whites and two Negroes, all women.
The mob started smearing us with ketchup, mustard, sugar, pies, and
everything on the counter. Soon Joan and I were joined by John
Salter, but the moment he sat down he was hit on the jaw with what
appeared to be brass knuckles. Blood gushed from his face and
someone threw salt into the open wound. Ed King, Tougaloo's
chaplain, rushed to him."
was an integrated college ten miles north of Jackson. The
chaplain, Rev. Edward King, was white; most of the students were black.
target of the white Mississippi establishment, the college produced
a quarter of the state's black professionals. It was said to be
the only place in Mississippi where blacks and whites could sit down
together and have a serious conversation.
the Woolworth's sit-in, Anne Moody wrote, "all I could think of
was how sick Mississippi whites were. They believed so much in
the segregated Southern way of life, they would kill to preserve it."
weeks later, they did kill. Civil rights leader Medgar Evers
was assassinated outside his Jackson home.
King appealed to a network of friends in the north for help, and
soon the call reached the pastor of my church in the small,
almost-all-white farm town of Richwood, Ohio. Rev. John C.
Wagner related the details in the agenda for the First Methodist
Church's Official Board meeting of November 12, 1963.
are parts of that message, which I've edited together with parts of
a subsequent letter to the members of the church.
original documents are on display at the First United Methodist
Church in Richwood as part of the church's centennial observance.
week, I received a letter from a responsible friend in Kenton who is
pastor of the Epworth Methodist Church. He had received a
telephone call from a classmate of his in seminary who is now serving
with the Chicago Federation of Churches, Rev. Stanley Hallett.
Rev. Hallett told how he had received a call from Rev. Edward King at
Tougaloo Christian College in Jackson, Mississippi.
Negroes there are living in condition of almost unbelievable
repression. They feel that, as the situation stands now, there
is little hope for them in Mississippi.
King, who is a native
of Mississippi himself, believes that the only thing which can make
a helpful impact on the situation is a continuous stream of outsiders
coming in to see the situation and report it to their friends at
home. With little news coverage now, the Negroes there feel cut
off from the outside world.
weekend, ministers are going down to see the situation, to let the
Negroes know they do not stand alone, and to go to church on Sunday
morning with some Negro Christians at churches which up to this point
have been closed by law to Negroes (even though the church members
welcome Negroes as visitors).
friend in Kenton, Rev. Albert Tomer, has asked me to accompany him
and some others from the Ohio area who are planning to go to Jackson
on the 20th of this month for the weekend.
first I thought it would be no help for me to go. As far as
the white Mississippians are concerned, I would be considered an
"outsider" (although all integrationists are considered by
some segregationists as "outsiders"). I would
like to stay in my comfortable parish here in Richwood.
I do feel that I would certainly learn a good deal more about the
situation there by talking with some of the Negroes and the
segregationists involved in the struggle. I also feel that in
some small way I might add my support to the Negro Christians there.
problem is that there is some chance of my getting arrested.
four ministers from Chicago attended Sunday School at the Trinity
Methodist Church with two Negro students, they were arrested, as they
sat quietly in the church, for trespassing or disturbing public
worship by their very presence, despite the fact that they had been
invited by a church member and despite the pleas of the minister and
the District Superintendent that they not be arrested. They
were convicted and sentenced and appealed their case to a Federal
court. They are now free on bond, having spent six days in the
weeks ago, three Negro girls and a white girl were arrested in a
Methodist church for quietly taking part in the Lord's Supper on
World Wide Communion Sunday.
I go as a Methodist minister to worship in a Methodist Church in the
company of some Christians whose skin is darker than mine, I too
might be arrested. The only virtue in my risking arrest and
jail would be for me to indicate my protest against a law which would
prohibit a white and Negro Christian worshipping together in a church
which accepts people regardless of race, and to bring to the
attention of people the somewhat ironic situation of a person being
arrested for holding to his Christian conviction as set forth in the
Gospel and reflected in the hymns of the church:
Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North,
one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
hands then, brothers of the faith,
Whate'er your race may be.
serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.
in the Bible is there any indication of Christ's supporting
segregation as to race. The crucial thing for Him was whether a
man was willing to take up his cross and follow Him.
procedure would be to plead not guilty, on the grounds that the law
under which I was arrested was unconstitutional. The ministers
previously convicted have appealed and are free under bond. The
Chicago Federation of Churches has a fund for their legal
defense. I would not go unless I was assured of the provision
of similar legal defense.
of the reasons I bring this before the Board is that I will need to
be away on Sunday, November 24th, if I decide to go. Also,
there is some chance that I might be away longer if detained in the
am not asking that the Board say that it approves of my action or
that I represent this church, for I realize there are many that
differ with me on the matter of integration. I am simply asking
for the privilege of going, if the opportunity presents itself,
intelligently and prepared for the consequences.
realize that I have responsibilities here to the church, and the
community, and my family. I realize that there is much to be
done right here in Ohio in the way of improving race relations, and I
feel we must work on that too.
I do feel that if I can go, I should.
cannot preach that men must follow Christ no matter what the cost,
and yet refuse to do what I believe He would have me do because I
would prefer not to get involved or criticized.
would be leaving for Jackson on the 20th and return on Monday or
Tuesday of the following week, the 25th or 26th. Sunday the
24th will be Layman's Sunday in our church, with the service being
led by the laymen of our fellowship. Arrangements have been
made to fill the pulpit the following Sunday in the event of my being
delayed in Jackson.
invite your prayers and your concern that our visit be one of real
learning and intelligent decision in the Spirit of Christ.
C. Wagner, Pastor
Official Board granted its permission, although at least one of its
members my father, a native of Kentucky was opposed to
the idea of northerners interfering in southern affairs.
Wagner made his trip to Mississippi. Assuming that he followed
the planned schedule, he was in Jackson on Friday, November 22, 1963,
when the news came of President Kennedy's assassination in
Dallas. Of course, that event dominated everyone's thoughts
thereafter. When our pastor returned, he told us about his
experiences, but I don't recall anything that he said.
sometimes actions speak louder than words. John
Wagner was true to his Christian principles all his life,
which ended in 2015.