Charles Marsh: In the summer and fall of the previous year, the Civil Rights Movement, which had hitherto existed well beyond the immaculate lawn of First Baptist Church, appeared on the front steps of Hudgins' cavernous sanctuary in the form of students from Tougaloo College, a private black school in Jackson. Under the leadership of Jackson civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, and the college chaplain, Reverend Edwin King, the Tougaloo group sought permission to worship with the regular members of First Baptist Church, just as they had sought to do in their numerous visits to other white churches in the city. From Hudgins perspective, these visits (like the Brown decision) "imposed some difficult problems on the First Baptist Church," but it still remained a political concern and warranted no pastoral consideration.(1) Hudgins would not meet with Evers or the students, nor would he meet King, whose custom it was to discuss the intent of the visits with the white ministers. The church visitors posed only a strategic nuisance, and the matter was promptly turned over to the deacons for resolution.
On June 9, 1963, one week after the first confrontation with the students from Tougaloo and two days before the murder of Medgar Evers (and the night of Mrs. Hamer's torture in Winona), the lay leadership of the church proposed a resolution to the congregation which was later adopted by a unanimous standing vote. The resolution lamented "the present social unrest brought about by agitators who would drive a wedge of hate and distrust between white and colored friends."(2) However, it would be necessary for the First Baptist Church to "confine its assemblies and fellowships to those other than the Negro race, until such time as cordial relationships could be reestablished.(3) The disingenuous notion that cordial relationships would be reestablished once the agitators were gone bears some explanation. The last black members of the church--former slaves--had been expelled in 1868 as white southerners responded to Reconstruction fears of black enfranchisement. The church's in-house historian justified the expulsion by reference to the fundamental difference in black and white styles of worship--and the need to preserve the solemn eloquence of white religion. "There was a great deal of rejoicing," he wrote, "creating a loud noise and otherwise conducting themselves in a manner that did not meet the approval of the members of the church."(4) Suffice it to say that the singing and praying of the church visitors on the front steps nearly a century later met with equal disapproval. The church visitors were turned away with the threat that arrests and jail sentences would result from further attempts to sully Hudgins' sanctuary.
In the deacons' meeting on June 11, 1963 (hours before Medgar Evers was murdered less than a mile from First Baptist), the shared sense was that the worst had passed. As the minutes indicate: "The Pastor spoke briefly of our church's problems and asked for the Board's continuing prayers. He also announced that he and Mrs. Hudgins were planning on having the Deacon's and their wives over to their new home on June 25."(5) Hudgins called for "loyalty to the Church's worship and other services, in spite of and even because of the tensions which might be in our city."(6) The meeting was then turned over to the Property and Maintenance Committee which discussed its progress report on the construction of an elevator and the cleaning of the sanctuary.(7) No mention was made of the decision to withdraw the church's annual $1500 contribution to a local colored seminary.(8)
(1) Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of First Baptist Church (Jackson: Hederman Brothers, 1976), p. 226.
(2) Cited in Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of the First Baptist Church (Jackson: Hederman Brothers, 1976), p. 262.
(3) Cited in Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of the First Baptist Church, p. 262.
(4) Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, p. 55.
(5) Minutes of the Deacons' Meeting, June 11, 1963 (Mississippi Archives and History).
(6) Minutes of the Deacons' Meeting, June 11, 1963 (Mississippi Archives and History).
(7) Minutes of the Deacons' Meeting, June 11, 1963 (Mississippi Archives and History).
(8) "Financial Report for the year 1964, First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi" (Mississippi Archives and History).