Bob Ray Sanders

May 21, 2014

The role of black preachers in Fort Worth on exhibit

In addition to church duties, African-American pastors naturally became community leaders.

I don’t feel no ways tired,

I’ve come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy

I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.

— Negro Spiritual, by Curtis Burrell

Before 1964, when North Texas and the South were still in the grips of racial segregation, no black person had ever been elected to a city or countywide office in Tarrant County.

It is not surprising that the first to do so was a preacher, the Rev. Leonard L. Haynes, pastor of St. Andrews United Methodist Church, who was elected to the first board of directors of Tarrant County Junior College (which dropped “Junior” from its name in 1999).

He had gained the respect of the white leadership in the city because of his soft-spoken but determined stance in fighting for equal opportunity.

During the days of Jim Crow, the African-American church was the focal point of the community, not just for worship service but also for social and cultural functions, since many public places were closed to them.

The pastors of those churches naturally became community leaders. They were the ones who would confront the city councils, the Commissioners Court and police departments when any injustice was brought to their attention.

For the many black communities that often did not have paved streets or streetlights, it was the black preacher who took grievances to public officials.

A new exhibit sponsored by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society highlights the lives and contributions of five distinguished clergymen who were both church and community leaders: the Rev. Smith Cary of Rising Star Baptist Church, the Rev. W.G. Daniels of Pilgrim Valley Baptist, the Rev. C. A. Holiday of Greater St. James Baptist, the Rev. John Franklin Singleton (“The Howling Wolf”) of Paradise Baptist and the Rev. Albert E. Chew Jr. of Shiloh Baptist.

Chew, 88, is the only one on that list who is still alive — and he’s still preaching, though now he does it while seated.

A native of Bremond, a small town of fewer than 1,000 residents near College Station, he started preaching in 1946. Chew pastored churches in Houston, Hearne, Calvert and Abilene before coming to Shiloh in 1958.

There, he has not only made a mark in the church’s north-side neighborhood but has also left a lasting impression on the city as a whole.

He was a charter member of the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, which battled discriminatory practices in the city.

An avid golfer, he and former City Councilman Bert Williams worked to integrate Colonial Country Club, becoming two of its first five black members.

Chew is active with local and national church organizations, including serving as first vice president of the National Baptist Convention and heading the Black Ecumenical Leadership Alliance.

Although he now has dialysis three times a week and uses a walker, it hasn’t slowed down his preaching.

One day just a few weeks ago, he finished dialysis at 11:30 a.m. and was preaching the funeral of a devoted member at 1:30 p.m., said C. Donald Babers, chairman of the church deacon board.

And after 56 years of preaching at the same church, Chew still quotes with conviction one of his favorite songs: “I don’t feel noways tired.”

Chew’s story, along with the others, will be on exhibit at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum, 1020 E. Humbolt St., through June. For times and special appointments, call Brenda Sanders-Wise at 817-332-6049.

A special showing will be presented from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Church Education Building at Chew’s Shiloh Baptist Church, 2823 N. Houston St. The public is invited.

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