began pressuring Stallings to discontinue such openness. Ultimately,
in 1965, Stallings resigned and left Birmingham, moving to
First Baptist Church of Marietta, Ga., as pastor. He did so
with bitter feelings about his Birmingham experience.
Samford honored Stallings during commencement May 26, awarding
him an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. The doctoral
citation called Stallings "a dedicated minister in a
time of social and political change" and noted, "While
other preachers chose to remain silent on the issue of race,
this Southern Baptist prophet pursued truth rather than praise,
embraced love rather than prejudice." He believed "Christians-should
be in the forefront, working for racial conciliation and unity."
Stallings is 85 and retired from his last position, director
of Christian Social Ministries for Arizona Baptists. He lives
in Sun City West, Ariz. At first, he hesitated to return to
Birmingham to be honored, but changed his mind.
soon as my plane landed in Birmingham, I felt the bitterness
of 37 years begin to lift from my soul," the former pastor
wrote Bass after commencement. "The events that followed
Stallings shared the stage at commencement with another former
Civil Rights era pastor, John Porter, who received an honorary
doctor of divinity degree. While both men knew segregation
was wrong and must end, they witnessed the early ’60s struggle
from vastly differing perspectives.
Porter was pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, an African-American
church, and was a leader in the Birmingham civil rights movement.
His efforts and those of other local black pastors finally
reached fruition in the spring of 1963, when demonstrations
led by King brought an accord with Birmingham’s white business
leaders to work toward ending segregation.
It was about a month before the accord was signed that Stallings
welcomed black visitors to his church. Ironically,"he
was one of eight white Birmingham pastors assailed in the
national press for opposing King's tactic of street demonstrations
to effect social change. The eight wrote an open letter to
King asking for a halt in demonstrations, to give a new Birmingham
city government time to make changes. King wrote his famous
"Letter from Birmingham Jail" in answer to the
pastors, explaining why the demonstrations must go on.
In his letter, King mentions only one of the eight pastors
by name: Stallings. He commended the minister for allowing
black visitors to worship at his church on an unsegregated
interesting that although Porter and Stallings disagreed as
to the tactics of civil rights activism, they didn't seem
to disagree on ending injustice," said Bass, whose book
is a detailed examination of King’s letter and the eight pastors.
they both suffered at the hands of segregationists during
the time period. Porter, however, never had to fear losing
his pulpit because of his stand, something Stallings did."
Bass calls Porter-now a Samford trustee—the most representative
example of King-style civil rights activism in Birmingham
during the era.
like King, was middle class and well-educated," said
Bass. "In fact, King preached Porter’s installation service
at Sixth Avenue Baptist in 1962."
Porter and Stallings came to their Birmingham churches the
same year (1961), but, "Tragically, they didn’t really
know each other during that time," said Bass.
The two know and respect each other now. And when Stallings
came into the robing room before commencement, Porter-who
was forced to sit during most of the activities with bad knees-rose
from his chair.
"I'm going to stand up for this man," he said.