Mississippi Methodists honor anti-segregation ministers

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — The United Methodist Church in Mississippi has honored 28 white ministers who took a stand against segregation half a century ago.

Myrlie Evers, wife of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, was presenting the state conference’s Emma Elzy Award on Sunday to ministers Keith Tonkel and Maxie Dunnam on behalf of all 28 who signed the statement published in January 1963, a Mississippi Conference spokeswoman said.

The document said in part, “Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches that all men are brothers. He permits no discrimination because of race, color, or creed.”

It was written largely in response to riots after James Meredith was admitted to the University of Mississippi in autumn 1962, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported.

Fifteen of the ministers are still alive.

Within six months of the statement’s publication in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, at least 20 of the pastors who signed it had left Mississippi because of public and private threats and condemnation.

Dr. Joseph T. Reiff, a Mississippi Methodist and Emory and Henry College professor, is writing a book about what became known as the “Born of Conviction” statement.

“It was a bombshell in white Mississippi Methodism in January 1963,” he told the newspaper. “It was a crack in the wall of supposed unanimity among Mississippi whites.”

Dunnam, pastor emeritus of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, was pastor of a church in Gulfport when he and three other ministers met secretly at his river camp in southern Mississippi to work on the document.

“Maxie Dunnam was one of the early prophets in Mississippi in a time when most clergy remained silent in the face of racial inequality,” said Memphis Bishop William T. McAlilly, a Mississippi native. “He and his colleagues who were willing to speak truth to power gave courage to many.”

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com