I am serving in my 37th year as pastor of Allison Memorial Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. It has been a joy to work with a dedicated congregation, with a physical location in the Dunbar area of Little Rock. While fewer than 100 in membership, Allison Memorial represents a very stable congregation. Over the last 80 years, the congregation has had only two pastors—Reverend Dr. J. Franklin Henderson and me.
I was installed as pastor of Allison Memorial in October of 1984. It is the first and only congregation where I have served as pastor. I came to Little Rock from Pine Bluff, where I had grown up in the era of Jim Crow segregation, attending all-black public schools there and developing an interest in civil rights. My mother would not permit me to join in the activities of the Pine Bluff Movement, which I think was aligned with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s, and which agitated for ending such apartheid practices as blacks having to ride at the back of the bus, use side entrances to enter and sit in the balcony at movie theaters, drink from “colored” water fountains at retail stores and use “colored” bathrooms in public places, sit in segregated spaces at medical and dental offices. African Americans could not patronize hotels and restaurants where white people were patrons, nor sit at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s, nor lawfully breach other customs,traditions and vestiges of white supremacy. I was almost 15 years old when Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the 1964 Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation in public accommodations. Years before that, I had watched television from our living room in Pine Bluff as events unfolded surrounding the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. I remember vividly an occasion when then-Governor Orval Faubus quoted from the Holy Bible in stating his basis for upholding the segregation laws of Arkansas: “ No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” My experiences with race relations—or the lack thereof—-growing up in Pine Bluff inform my sense of urgency on eradicating systemic racism as a Matthew 25 church.