Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Pastors

BOND: And you also mentioned earlier on, you get to the American Baptist Theological Seminary and you meet James Bevel. What influence did he have?

LEWIS: Well, I met James Bevel. James Bevel, a young man who had been born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in a very large family, twelve or thirteen children, and at an early age, his family moved to Cleveland where he grew up. And later, as a young man, he'd go off to the Navy, and then he decided when he came back that he would go to school. And I met him at American Baptist. He was a very -- sort of flashy, talkative. He just talked all the time and make speeches and especially when he was in the shower, you could hear him from one end of the hall to the other, just preaching and talking as loud -- and he was saying, "You get an education, you become a minister and you go and get a church." He had a great deal of influence because he was very talkative.

I was very quiet. I didn't talk that much. I talked in the classroom. I responded when someone called on me, but I was not someone always just talking, talking. And Bevel just talked and he encouraged people to talk, and he would tease you. And later when the non-violent workshops started in Nashville, I started attending the non-violent workshops and I invited Bevel to come and Bevel got involved. So I think we influenced each other during that period of time.

BOND: And what about professors? John Lewis Powell, you mentioned.

LEWIS: Oh, John Lewis Powell was a wonderful teacher. He was -- you know, later he became Oprah Winfrey's pastor in Nashville. He would run around the classroom --

BOND: Really?

LEWIS: -- and making things so real and so simple. He wanted us all to be good, to do our best as young ministers, as leaders in the community. He was very daring. He was very courageous. And he didn't hold back.

BOND: Now, I know that you had listened to Martin Luther King's broadcasts from Montgomery during the bus boycott and that was an influence, but Powell is also talking about the Social Gospel. Explain the Social Gospel to us.

LEWIS: Well, Dr. Rev. John Lewis Powell, he was saying, in effect, using the same type of words and phrases that Dr. King would use and a social religious theologian, I guess, or social theologian -- a guy by the name of Walter Rauschenbusch, who was pastor of a church and very involved during Hell's Kitchen in New York City -- and Powell said, as Dr. King would say, "You just cannot be concerned about the over yonder, you've got to be concerned about the down here and now. You can't just be concerned about the pearly gates and the streets of -- and doors of heaven. You've got to be concerned about the streets of Nashville and the door of Woolsworth."

We had two department stores there, two large department stores, one called Cain-Sloan and one called Harvey's. And he was saying, "We've got to be concerned about Harvey's and Cain-Sloan and not just over yonder. You just cannot be concerned about the soul of a person, but also about the body. You must minister to the whole person, and not just the spiritual side in the hereafter but you've got to be concerned and be involved in the here and now." And John Lewis Powell made it very plain and very clear to all of us.