Summer 2001
Vol 18 No. 2

Celebrating 160 Years, and a Bright Future

Overcoming Years of Bitterness

New Arts & Sciences Dean

Kelly Jones Claims Miss Alabama

The Business of Jets

Picturing Samford's History

Choir Pleases Russian Audiences

Exciting Swiss Winter Escapade

A Conference for All Sports

Bulldogs To Spread Field, Rely on Defense

Other Stories

Samford Names Brad Creed to be Associate Provost

Samford Gets $100,000 FIPSE Grant for PBL Project with Maastricht

Faculty Compendium: Ross Article Cited in Microsoft Ruling; Bass Book Nominated for Pulitzer Prize

New Arts and Sciences Dean Samford ÔAnything But SleepyÕ: Chapman Davis

Davis Proudest of Hiring Strong Faculty

Teaching Aspect of Nursing Has Always Attracted New Dean

Baur Steps Down as Nursing Dean, Will Continue to Teach

John Carroll Brings Breadth of Legal Experience to Role as Cumberland Dean

Early Edmund D. Pellegrino Medal Honors Namesake, Secundy and Fletcher for Bioethics Contributions

Biology Students to Map Nature Conservancy Properties

Cumberland Professor Ware Writes the Book on Alternative Dispute Resolution

Samford ODK Celebrates 50th Year, Recognizes 50 Leaders with Impact

Samford hosts Alabama GovernorÕs School

Halbrooks Inaugurated as President of Colgate Rochester Crozer

Frank Stagg Library Adds Greatly to Samford Baptist Collection

Student Callers Raise More than $137,000 in Phonathon Effort

Issue Photo: SCIENCENTER

 

'I felt the bitterness of 37 years begin to lift from my soul'

When Samford historian Jonathan Bass first telephoned former Birmingham pastor Earl Stallings about an interview, Stallings practically hung up in his ear.

"That's none of your business," Stallings told Bass, who had questions about the pastor’s tenure in a Birmingham church during the Civil Rights era.

Over a period of months, however, Stallings modified his stance. He agreed to cooperate with Bass, and his story became a part of Bass' new book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, nominated recently by its publisher for a Pulitzer Prize.

Stallings was pastor of First Baptist Church during the early 1960s. During civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s Birmingham demonstrations against segregation in 1963, a group of blacks sought to worship at Stallings’ church. When the pastor refused to turn them away, segregationists in his congregation were dismayed.

Retired pastors Earl Stallings, left, and John Porter, right, spend time before commencement with Samford historian Jonathan Bass.

They 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.

"As 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 confirmed this."

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 basis.

"It's 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.

"Ironically, 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.

"Porter, 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.