“I knew I wanted to be a police officer, but that changed after the incident with my mom and a state trooper. His name was Sgt. Harden and he stopped my mom for speeding. He was nice and told her to put a seatbelt on. She pulled it on and he let her go with a warning. I got to work with Sgt. Harden after I became a state trooper. I think I wrote more warnings than I did anything else. Everybody sees the danger in jobs like this, but they don’t see the compassion and love that you have to have for mankind. Most citizens watch out for you. I was stationed in Greenville and would come home and find corn and potatoes on my porch. I didn’t know who put them there. I became a trooper in 1981 and worked with people who turned dogs and firehoses on people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. I learned how to work with everyone.
I grew up in a little town of Ryland that was southeast of Huntsville. We had a post office and two convenience stores. My neighborhood had six houses and there were four black families and two white. Everyone got along. We had a community garden and shared the food we had. I had a great childhood with my friends who were black and white. We climbed pine trees, thirty feet in the air, and rocked from tree to tree. We didn’t realize how dangerous that was. I had a great childhood with my friends. They integrated schools when I was in the second grade. There were a lot of fights and things I didn’t understand because I was just with my friends. My wife and I raised our children to know they are just as important as anyone else. My daughter is a professor with a doctorate in molecular genetics. My son is an occupational therapist and is a hand specialist. They knew they could do anything in the world.
When I was 15, I knew I was called to preach, but I did everything I could to avoid it. I had dreams of flying over a little white church. My mama said it meant I was going to pastor a church. I said no way. I started preaching when I was a state trooper and a pastor started calling me to preach every time he was away. Preaching to me then wasn’t that important. I made a deal with God if you let me retire from the state, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Later in my office, I heard a voice saying this is not where you’re supposed to be. It happened again the next morning. I went in and told them I was retiring.
February 4, 2006, Yorktown Baptist elected me to be its pastor. Being a pastor is the greatest honor anyone could have. I take the responsibility seriously. This is a poor community and God put me here to do all I can for them.
My first year as pastor, we had twenty funerals and more than 100 over the last fourteen years. Other churches have had just as many. Most of the people were dying from cancer. That is unheard of in a small community like this so we did a survey, hired lawyers, and started digging into it. We wanted to get our people some help. There are contaminants in the ground from International Paper. They did nothing to clean it up and said there was nothing we could prove. The community sued them. Just last week they came back saying there are normal contaminants in the ground like a household burning trash in their yard. They are now getting people to sign a release and are dividing up a $3 million settlement. I think International Paper left in 1980, and nothing was done until now. I keep praying and hoping good things will happen here. These companies should clean up the community and put up a medical facility so the people who were hurt can get help. It is devastating when an industry comes in and destroys a community and leaves without helping people get through it.
But there are also great things happening in our community and we are coming together. Environmental groups are rising up. The descendants of the Clotilda have realized how important they are and are passing their stories down. In August, they are going to start building a heritage house for the artifacts. I have hope for life getting better in Africatown.
I preached at Springhill Presbyterian Church a few weeks ago. The pastor, Buz Wilcoxen, is a friend and we talked about how to draw people back together. The simple solution is God. We need leadership standing up and saying this is enough. We are God’s children and we should treat each other like that. I have preached unity for the last four weeks. The most segregated hour is Sunday morning at church. The pastors have to start talking and work together to stop hatred. We can preach to love everybody, but until I hug the white person next to me, then I am not loving anyone. We have to unite in the church as well as the streets. If you ever want people to get along, feed them a nice meal. If they start to eat, sooner or later they are going to talk and that’s when the communication begins. I share this scripture all of the time, how can I see the splinter in my neighbor’s eye and not see the beam in mine. All of us have skeletons in our closets and some of our closets are full. All of us have faults and have done things we shouldn’t have done. We must have forgiving hearts.”