Rev. Kris Watson
I was 11 years old when my maternal grandfather died. His name was Rev. James M. Hinton. He was a hero of the civil rights movement in the South.
“Clergyman, businessman, civil rights leader. Hinton was born on October 28, 1891, in Gates County, North Carolina, to parents who died when was three years old. He was reared by an aunt in New York City, where he attended the Bible Teacher’s Training School and worked as a postal clerk. During World War I, Hinton was drafted into the U.S. Army and earned the rank of lieutenant. After the war he began a successful business career with the black-owned Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company based in Augusta, Georgia. In 1939 he established a home in Columbia, South Carolina. On his arrival he rapidly earned a reputation as a businessman, minister, and leading civil rights figure.
Hinton’s move to Columbia proved a key factor in shaping the future course of the black struggle for racial equality across the Palmetto State. Elected to serve as the president of an ailing National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch in Columbia shortly after his arrival in 1939, Hinton embraced the role of outspoken civil rights activist only reluctantly. As president of the Columbia branch, Hinton opposed the creation of the South Carolina NAACP State Conference of Branches in the fall of 1939. But as the demands for forceful civil rights leadership grew, Hinton assumed the duties of state conference president, holding the position from 1941 through 1958. During his tenure as state conference president, Hinton led the exponential expansion of the NAACP in South Carolina, taking the struggle for black civil rights into the cities, towns, cotton fields, and rural county churches of South Carolina. “I have never in my life heard anybody speak like he could speak,” explained one NAACP official. “When he got through speaking [the people] were ready to go, to do whatever was necessary” to secure their rights. The fights to win equal salaries for black teachers and to vote in the all-white Democratic Party primary were waged and achieved under his leadership. Perhaps more than any single leader in South Carolina, Hinton was also responsible for turning the tide against the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.” Historians credit him with inspiring Clarendon County residents to sue for equal educational opportunities, leading to a suit included in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Certainly, Hinton had begun demanding that NAACP members take a forceful stand against the doctrine of, in his words, “separate but never equal,” by the fall of 1947. As a forceful advocate of racial equality, Hinton placed his own life and business career on the line. In April 1949 he was abducted in Augusta, beaten, and left facedown in the countryside for daring to champion the cause of racial equality. In January 1956, at the height of the white backlash to Brown, Hinton’s Columbia home was struck by gunfire.” Hinton, James Miles | South Carolina Encyclopedia (scencyclopedia.org)
On Thursday night, NJ hosted Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith in a discussion he entitled “Perspectives of Hope for a Redeemed Future” You can view it on our website.
As Dr. Smith shared his wisdom with us, I reflected on my grandfather, our current state of racial affairs in this country, and the work that still lies ahead. I am reflecting on the deep sacrifices that my ancestors made just to be treated as human. I am reflecting on the strength and courage of my people born of necessity. I am reflecting on the stories I heard from my mother about her days with her daddy as he fought the good fight. She would tell me about driving him all through the back woods of the deep south to register people to vote, being chased by the dogs of the KKK all the while. She was just 15 years old. She would recount the stories of crosses being burnt on their lawn on a regular basis. She told the story of how granddaddy was beaten “to within an inch of his life” by the KKK. She said he was unrecognizable when she went to see him in the hospital. But he refused to stop.
Dr. Smith is that way. He refuses to stop. He joined us at Nurturing Justice. 90 years of age and still fighting the good fight in the way he can. Encouraging, exhorting, preaching and teaching. Leading by example! His mind and his passion are sharp. He ain’t in no ways tired! How dare we claim we are tired? Dr. Smith remarked to me that we have no choice if we follow the brown-skinned carpenter Jesus. He reminded me that we are not responsible for the outcome of our fight, but the fight. He said Paul never said he had won the fight, but only that he had finished the course. He reminds us that being tired is proof that we have been in the fight. And that is what the call is. This fight for justice, for the elimination of the notion that there is a hierarchy of human value is never over.
Dr. Smith is the founding member of the Nurturing Justice Council of Elders. I see my grandfather as the chair of the Council of Ancestors watching closely as we continue the work that must be done.
I aint in no ways tired. #CAN’TSTOPWON’TSTOP.