Posted by William Nunnelley on 2006-02-16

The Rev. John T. Porter, a civil rights leader who served 38 years as pastor of Birmingham's Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, died Wednesday, Feb. 15. He was 74. The Rev. Porter had been a member of the Samford University Board of Trustees since 1991.

He was pastor of 5,000-member Sixth Avenue Baptist in his hometown from 1962 until 2000, when he retired and became pastor emeritus. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., preached Porter's installation service at Sixth Avenue Baptist in December of 1962.

"Dr. Porter was a man of deep compassion and love for people," said Samford President Thomas E. Corts. "In personal and public life he was a model of Christian character. As a trustee of Samford University, he was among the finest, especially respected by his peers, offering insight that was always carefully considered. When I sought his counsel, he was kindly direct and always affirming. The Birmingham community has lost a great champion, a guiding personality!"

Porter had a long career in religion and politics. He was a state representative from 1974 to 1977 and a member of the state Board of Pardons and Parole from 1977 to 1989.

When he was a student at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Porter met King, then the young pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King invited him to become his pulpit associate, and the two developed a lasting friendship.

In April and May of 1963, Porter helped lead pivotal civil rights demonstrations in downtown Birmingham. The statue of ministers kneeling in prayer in Kelly Ingram Park--site of the '63 demonstrations--is based on a photograph of Porter, the Rev. Nelson H. Smith Jr. and the Rev. A.D. King moments before they were arrested.

Before returning to Birmingham in 1962, Porter worked on a master of divinity degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta and served for three years under the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Porter then became pastor of First Institutional Baptist Church in Detroit, serving from 1958 until 1962 before returning to lead his home church.

Porter is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughter, Mia; son, Robert; and brother, Robert.