Category Archives: John T. Lewis

Two Notes on the Nature of the Church

John T. Lewis (1876-1967)

John T. Lewis (1876-1967)

In the middle of the 1940s, John T. Lewis was in the midst of a dispute with Foy and Cled Wallace over the proper relation of the Christian to civil government and the propriety of Christians participating in carnal warfare. In the midst of all this, I have been struck by some of his comments about the nature of the Church. Here are a couple of excerpts from Lewis’ The Christian and the Government (1946) (In both of these, I have attempted to reproduce Lewis’ punctuation and syntax exactly. This may be confusing at points, but not overly so):

“The mission of the kingdom of Christ is one thing, and the mission of all temporal kingdoms, or governments is another thing. All temporal governments are restricted by geographical boundaries, and for a civil government to go beyond those boundaries means war; but the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual institution, and knows no geographical bounds, race, color, nor human creed, therefore it has nothing of earthly possessions to fight for, and therefore its weapons of warfare are not carnal. The universality of the church, its fellowship, its worship, its brotherly love, and the spirit that dwells in it, is an argument, not against carnal warfare; but against Christians engaging in carnal warfare. To say that Christians should kill each other, or even destroy the life and property of those who are not Christians, at the behest of any king or potentate on earth, is to say something that no New Testament writers ever said. And all such teaching is a gross perversion of the teaching of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, and a miserable misrepresentation of the life and teaching of Christ” (pp. 139-140).

And again:

“If the New Testament does not teach that the church, the spiritual kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a non-resistant institution, it teaches nothing. It is ‘also’ the only non-resistant institution, or kingdom on earth. All earthly or temporal governments are founded by the sword, and stand upon the sword. The church or spiritual kingdom was founded by the love of God, upon the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. It is made up of people from all nations, and is antagonistic to no earthly or temporal government. If it were otherwise Christians would frequently find themselves fighting and killing each other. The very thought is repugnant to the spirit and teaching of Jesus Christ. This was demonstrated in the ‘civil war’ when brothers in the flesh, and brethren in the church, fought and killed each other, and there is no absolute guarantee that the same things may not happen again in the United States, and even in a more violent form than the ‘civil war.’ If the church of Jesus Christ had always been kept separate and distinct from the state, and free from, and un-contaminated by political broils it would be the greatest moral force, and stabilizing influence in the world today. As it is, it is a nonentity, so far as the government of the United States, the greatest government on earth today, is concerned. For a young man to tell the government that he is a member of ‘the church’ means nothing so far as military service is concerned; but if a young man can prove to the government that he is a member of the ‘Society of Friends’ (Quakers), or ‘Mennonites’ he is exempted from military service, and his convictions are never questioned — the government recognizes those organizations as non-resistant institutions. Why? Because their leaders know what they stand for, and they stand for it, whereas many gospel preachers, and church leaders stand for nothing when it comes to the greatest living issues of today — The Christian’s relationship to the governments of the world, and his obligation to the government under which he lives” (pp. 179-180).

Quizzes and Replies

Price Billingsley (1877-1959)

Price Billingsley (1877-1959)

In the early 1920s, Price Billingsley edited the Gospel Advance, a journal published out of (successively) McMinnville, Columbia, and Nashville, Tennessee. The Advance was largely sympathetic to the overall aims of its neighbor, the Gospel Advocate. But not always. In a number of issues, for example, Billingsley devoted considerable space to highlighting the inconsistencies of Advocate editor J. C. McQuiddy on the carnal warfare question. More of that, though, at a later date.

Under the above heading, Billingsley put four questions to a number of noted preachers and leaders among the churches in the January 1922 issue:

1. What single occurrence was the most significant and cheering during the year just closed in the spread of the gospel?

2. What do the churches of Christ most need today?

3. What evils in the church today, or what dangerous tendencies menace us?

4. What one most important thing will make the year just begun the banner year in extending the kingdom of Christ?

One of the people that Billingsley queried was John T. Lewis. Here are his answers:

1. I simply can’t do it. God only has that particular information.

2. Spiritual life, and the way to get that is to read the Word of God, and pray more. We are living in an almost prayerless age, an age that leaves God out of our doings.

Very few children ever heard their fathers pray, or know what family prayer is. We must change our course or the ship which carries the next generation will be wrecked on the rocks of infidelity.

3. The selfishness manifested, and the course pursued by the teachers in the church, whether preachers or elders, have always been, are now and always will be the greatest menace to the church. To illustrate, fire and water are two of the greatest blessings to humanity so long as they are under control; but when once on a rampage they become the most destructive agencies of life and property. So it is with the teachers in the church, so long as they are controlled by the spirit of Christ they are indispensable to the life and growth of the church; but when they get headed in the wrong direction they become the most deadly menace to the church. Tell me the ideas and ideals of the teachers of a church, and I will tell you what kind of a church it is. A teacher usually imparts his very being to those taught. The apparent lack of the spirit of Christ manifested by many of those “who are reputed to be somewhat” [Gal. 2:6] among us, is the darkest spot that I see in the elements of faith today.

4. According to my premise the conclusion will have to be, if preachers will rid themselves of self, putting away all “enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths and factions,” and “sanctify in their hearts Christ as Lord” — do what they can do for the cause of Christ, and rejoice in whatever good others may do — this will be a glorious year for the church.

****

When he writes in to the journals, we most frequently see the polemical side of Lewis. Here, though, we see a glimpse of what we might call his pastoral side. It is marked by a deep concern for the spiritual lives of his congregants — centered on prayer and on the reading of the Word, in the church and in the family — and  a deep concern for the spiritual formation (to use an admittedly anachronistic term) of leaders in the church. “Tell me,” Lewis writes, “the ideas and ideals of the teachers of a church, and I will tell you what kind of a church it is. A teacher usually imparts his very being to those taught.”

If we are willing to listen, may Lewis’ words encourage us to reflect on the role of teaching in the church and the seriousness with which we are called to approach it.

 

John T. Lewis — Web Resources

As a brief interlude, I thought I’d take a moment to survey some of the available internet resources for Lewis and his work in Birmingham. Obviously, a great deal of the source material for my research is unavailable online. But a few things have been very beneficial along the way. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. John Thomas Lewis (1876-1967). This is the page devoted to Lewis at Scott Harp’s therestorationmovement.com site. The page is rich in visual source material and includes a chronology of Lewis’ life. Because the chronology is based solely upon Ottis Castleberry’s He Looked for a City, it is seriously flawed in some places and simply incomplete in others. Proceed with caution.

2. Encyclopedia of Alabama. I’m a Tennessean who married an Alabamian. There’s a lot I don’t know about the State of Alabama that this digital encyclopedia — a joint project of Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Education — has helped me to understand.

3. Bhamwiki. As the name suggests, it’s a Wikipedia-type site specifically for Birmingham. Because it’s a wiki, you can sign up to contribute. I’m already planning to write a short piece on Lewis for the site in the near future … so don’t go getting any ideas :-).

4. Gospel Guardian. Bennie Johns has put much of the Gospel Guardian online — and thus much of JTL’s writings in opposition to institutionalism.

5. The Voice of the Pioneers on Instrumental Music and Societies. This is a rough PDF copy of what is perhaps Lewis’ best known work, hosted at David Sims’ “Retain the Standard” website. (Other texts by Lewis, of course, are hosted on the “Texts” page of this blog.)

6. John T. Lewis on Sunday PM Lord’s Supper. This piece by John Mark Hicks provides a nice analysis of one of Lewis’ later pamphlets. I penned a short reply to that piece here.

Happy reading!

Birmingham, 1924

S. H. Hall

Samuel Henry Hall (1877-1961)

In the spring of 1924, S. H. Hall held a meeting for the young North Birmingham church. He was there for about two weeks (April 20 to May 2) and when he returned to Nashville he wrote an extended piece for the Advocate describing the condition of the work in Birmingham. Hall was the consummate publicist, as can be seen in the regular column he wrote for the GA during his time in Atlanta (1906-1920) and Los Angeles (1920-21). He has an eye for the details, which proves to be a real boon for the historian. That really comes through in this piece.

Here it is:

Beginning on April 20 and continuing till May 2, I had a most delightful time with the Birmingham saints. The twelve-days’ meeting was conducted at what they call the North Birmingham congregation, where Brother Hugh A. Price, Jr., labors. The meeting resulted in seventeen baptisms and one from the Christian Church. We had a packed house at every night service, with the exception of one or two evenings.

I found the work in Birmingham in a most excellent condition. Brother John T. Lewis graduated in the same class with me at the Nashville Bible School in 1906. He soon began work at Birmingham, and my lot was cast in Atlanta. We have been together but little since then. He was in a meeting at Selma, Ala., the most of the time I was in Birmingham, but got back in time to help add much to the pleasure of my stay. Finding in a room on the third floor of one of their up town buildings a mere handful of members, and some of these with cranky ideas that hinder instead of helping the cause, John T. Lewis put his hands to the plow with the determination of not looking back, and a great work has been done. Here is what we have there to-day: The West End congregation, with around three hundred and fifty members and property worth $8,000; the Woodlawn congregation, with about two hundred members and property worth $5,000; the North Birmingham congregation, with one hundred members and property worth $5,000, and about $1,000 cash in bank for a better and larger building; North Lewisburg, with about seventy-five members and property worth $2,500. This congregation is just out of the city. And at Ensley we have a colored congregation, with one hundred and twenty-five members and property worth $2,000. They have a mission in Pratt City, with property worth $3,000. They also have a mission in Tarrant City, with some money in bank toward a building. At Ensley they have in lots around $5,000, and are preparing to build there. They also run a mission at Bessemer, and are helping many other weak places out of Birmingham. This all looked good to me, and it shows what can be done by those who love the cause of Christ enough to work at it seven days in the week. Lewis knows no other way to work.

Just a word about others who have helped in the work. Brother Hugh A. Price is a most excellent church worker. He went there and worked with his own hands to help procure his support until the work could use him for full time. He is now giving his whole time to North Birmingham, which has every indication of becoming one of the strongest churches there. Brother W. C. Graves, whom I baptized at East Point, Ga., in 1912, also went to Birmingham with the Telephone Company and has been supporting himself and preaching all the time. It is due to his efforts that the North Lewisburg work has been developed, and he has helped much with the colored congregation and fills in at West End and other places when needed. These three men — Lewis, Price, and Graves — love and esteem each other most highly and pull together. While at times they differ in their judgment about some features of the work, they submit their ideas as a matter of mutual helpfulness to each other and push the good work onward and upward. Brother Lewis studied under Brother D. Lipscomb. Perhaps there is not a man among us who went through the whole Bible under Brother Lipscomb so often as did Lewis. He makes me think more of Brother Lipscomb in his ideas of things than any one I know. He has a headful of plain, old-fashioned common sense, and there is no greater blessing that can come our way. I would so much love to tell of problems he has solved and difficulties he has overcome, but time forbids this.

Brother Pullias has helped as local preacher at West End. Brother I. B. Bradley has also helped, but has been compelled to be away from the work for a number of weeks, due to the condition of his wife. These two brethren are held in the highest esteem. Brethren F. W. Smith and E. A. Elam have conducted revivals there and contributed to the success of the work, and maybe others, but these are all that I know of just now. Lewis, Price, and Graves are exceedingly fortunate in marriage, and their wives would hardly live with them if they did not make good, so they must have their share of the honors. The Lord bless them and multiply their number is my prayer.

– S. H. Hall. “A Delightful Stay in Birmingham, Ala.” GA 66.20 (May 15, 1924): 463.

We can glean a number of interesting things from this. First, we get membership numbers and property values for each of the Birmingham congregations. The building values give us a small window into the relative social status of the Christians who made up Lewis’ churches. For example, when First Christian Church in Birmingham built its downtown meetinghouse in 1904 (a structure that O. P. Spiegel would call “one of the completest and most beautiful in the country”) it did so at a cost of between $21,000 and $25,000 dollars. When West End, by contrast, left Fox Hall in downtown in 1910 to construct its own building, it did so at a cost of $8,000.

Second, note Hall’s comments about the relationship between Lewis and David Lipscomb. He writes, “Brother Lewis studied under Brother D. Lipscomb. Perhaps there is not a man among us who went through the whole Bible under Brother Lipscomb so often as did Lewis. He makes me think more of Brother Lipscomb in his ideas of things than any one I know.” Hall is not alone in his estimate of the theological similarities between Lipscomb and Lewis. This is a point that will be repeated by others in the pages of the Advocate, at least through the 1930s and 40s. When, in the 1950s, Lewis’ Lipscombite views on cooperation and institutional buildup became inconvenient for the Nashville establishment such expressions disappeared from the pages of the Advocate.

Along those lines, Hall’s report inadvertently attests to Lewis’ insistence that congregations become self-supporting as soon as possible. We see that in North Birmingham, which constructed a meetinghouse and secured the services of Hugh Price only as they were financially able to do so. Hall clearly sees value in this approach and writes approvingly of it in other places in the Advocate in the early to mid-1920s.

Help Wanted

The good folks at the library have been away over the past couple of weekends. Not having access to the Gospel Advocate, my work on Lewis has had to take a different direction. I’m using this time to try to get a better sense of the context of his Birmingham work. To that end, I’ve been working on a few smaller projects over the past couple of weeks. In this post, I’ll take a few minutes to describe them.

I’ve mentioned here before that there is a published biography of John T. Lewis: Ottis Castleberry’s He Looked for a City (1980). In some of my earliest conversations with people who had been close to Brother and Sister Lewis, my interviewees expressed significant disappointment with Castleberry’s book. I only began to understand why this was the case after my first read of the book. On the positive side, for sheer volume of information, the book is a gold mine. Castleberry had access to documents and letters that (presumably) don’t exist any more. He taped hours of interviews with many people (now dead) who were close to Lewis. There are so many telling insights into the man himself.

On the negative side, though, the book is an organizational train wreck. We, of course, generally expect biographies to be structured chronologically — and if they’re not, there needs to be a clear reason why. Castleberry doesn’t even come close on this count: information about JTL’s childhood and early life comes in chapter 9, his days at the Nashville Bible School are discussed in chapter 5, a description of his church planting efforts in Birmingham is given in chapter 1. You get the picture.

Perhaps more serious than any of this are a number of significant omissions. For example, Castleberry says nothing of the major debates that took place in Birmingham during Lewis’ career (see below). Moreover, he is largely silent about Lewis’ involvement with the Alabama Christian College at Berry (1912-1922) or the Montgomery Bible School (founded in 1942; now Faulkner University). Neither does he have much to say about the institutional controversy which dominated the final years of Lewis’ active ministry. Why? I don’t have any answers, and I’m certainly not meaning to suggest sinister motives on Castleberry’s part. Maybe the book was a rush job (this was suggested by someone I talked with). Who can say?

In order to process the information found in He Looked for a City I’ve been at work on two projects.The first of these is a chronology of Lewis’ life. (Here’s one by Scott Harp that is based on Castleberry’s book. For a fun exercise, scroll down the column that lists the page number in Castleberry where each event is found. As you will notice, he had to go all over the book to put together the chronology.) The one I’m putting together is drawn from a variety of sources (including Castleberry). I’ll post it here sometime soon.

The other is the construction of a prosopography of the Birmingham church members mentioned in the book and in all of the related primary sources with which I am working. What is prosopography, you ask? Here’s a good working description. The classic example — from my previous academic training — is A. H. M. Jones and J. R. Martindale’s Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire in four volumes. To put this together, I’ve gone over the book with a fine-toothed comb extracting all of the people that Castleberry mentions in the book. The list includes anyone connected with Lewis in Birmingham: preachers, elders, members. Anyone I can reasonably assume was a part of Lewis’ work in Birmingham is on the list. Having accumulated the list, the next step is to accumulate as much information about these people as possible. Some, like preachers, are easier to locate than others. The information comes from a variety of places: Preachers of Today, the 1940 Census, findagrave.com, therestorationmovement.com, the Gospel Advocate, the Gospel Guardian, and Searching the Scriptures. For many others, nothing more than a name can be recovered (and for a few I don’t even have that). The end goal is not a detailed biography of any one person (other than John T. Lewis, of course), but rather a thick description of the community around him in Birmingham and a way to discern general patterns and and characteristics (like socioeconomic status, education levels, etc.) of the group.

You can help if you are so inclined. What follows is a list of men who preached in Birmingham — from J. M. Barnes in the 1870s down to about 1970.  I have reliable birth and death dates for several of them, as well as basic career information for many. Do any of you remember any of these men, especially the younger ones? What do you remember about them or about their time in Birmingham?

J. M. Barnes (1836-1913)

J. W. Shepherd (1861-1948)

I. B. Bradley (1868-1952)

C. M. Pullias (1872-1962)
John T. Lewis (1876-1967)
William C. Graves (ca. 1887-1946)
C. A. Norred (1888-1969)
Leslie G. Thomas (1895-1988)
H. F. Pendergrass (1896-1960)
Cecil B. Douthitt (1896-1971)
Robert W. Turner (1896-1973)
Jack Meyer, Sr. (1902-1963)
Emerson J. Estes (1903-2000)
Gardner S. Hall, Sr. (1906-1978)
John D. Cox (1907-1964)
Franklin Puckett (1908-1975)
Granville Tyler (1908-1996)
Eugene A. Pitts (1910-1981)
David Henry Bobo (1910-1985)
Raymond H. Crumbliss (1910-2000)
R. Ervin Driskill (1911-2001)
Farris J. Smith (1913-1974)
A. E. Emmons, Jr. (1913-1980)
Maurice M. Howell (1913-1999)
Marshall E. Patton (1916-2001)
C. Roy Crocker (1917-1987)
Herschel E. Patton (1917-2010)
Cecil Abercrombie (1918-1976)
A. C. Moore (1918-1979)
Hugh Davis (b. 1918)
Hiram Hutto (1923-2006)
James Edsel Burleson (1927-1992)
Howard See (1928-2006)
Ernest A. Clevenger, Jr. (1929-)
John D. Barnes (d. 2006/7)
A. Bruce Crawley
L. S. Ellis
J. R. Ezell
Elliott Hill
Floyd H. Horton (d. 1953)
Clarence Hurst
Howard Parker
Hugh A. Price
Gene Robinson
Sewell St. John
E. H. Vines, Sr.
Walter Bumgardner
Paul Shoulders
This is not an exhaustive list, of course. I come across new names regularly.
If you have anything, let me know in the comments or via email. Thanks.

Commencement Chaos: DLC, 1920

Or, “A. B. Lipscomb Pulls a Kanye.”

The semester is over and I have returned to Lewis-related matters. Some reading the other day reminded me of the following story. Since it’s May, it seemed like a good time to share.

The final chapter of Ottis Castleberry’s He Looked for a City contains transcripts of Castleberry’s interviews with a number of people who knew John T. Lewis very closely. Leonard Johnson, co-founder (along with Rex Turner and Joe Greer) of Montgomery Bible College (now Faulkner University), recounts the following story:

“Brother Lewis went back to David Lipscomb College to give the commencement address [in 1920]. His subject was ‘Compromise,’ and in his lesson, he went back, as I recall, and took Biblical examples of men and women who compromised. He addressed the students and said, ‘Young men and women, I want to give you some modern examples of compromise. (Well, there had been a Christian Church preacher, who was well known in his day and he had been holding a meeting in one of the Christian Churches in Nashville; and several of the brethren including Brother Pittman, A. B. Lipscomb, F. B. Srygley, and a host of others — I don’t know how many more had gone out to hear this man, and each one of them had been invited to lead in prayer and had done so.) All of these men were present for the commencement address. Brother Lewis began to tell the young people about the Christian Church preacher having been in town not long ago. He said, ‘S. P. Pittman, A. B. Lipscomb, F. B. Srygley,’ and he named several others, ‘were present and they participated in this worship and led the prayer — now that’s a modern example of compromise.’

“Well, when he said that, Brother A. B. Lipscomb stopped him, and for the next several minutes, with the exception of Brother Pittman — Brother Pittman never did defend himself — all the rest of these men jumped up right there in public, and they had it over and under. A. B. said, ‘Uncle Dave would have done so and so.’

“Well, Brother Lewis pretty well whipped them down to the point that they were willing for him to go on and finish his address.

F. B. Srygley (1859-1940)

Brother Srygley said to him after it was over, ‘Won’t you eat dinner with me?’ Brother Lewis said, ‘Naw, F. B., I’ve already got an appointment.’ So F. B. said, ‘ Well then, come up to the Gospel Advocate office this afternoon,’ and Brother Lewis said, ‘I’ll be right there.’

“A whole host of these men gathered because they knew Brother Srygley would be on him. Brother Srygley and Brother Lewis were good friends — dear friends — but Brother Srygley was quite a bulldog. He wasn’t used to anyone skinning him in public, and he wasn’t about to take it. So they got down there, and Brother Lewis walked in. Brother Srygley started, ‘Now John–‘ and he jumped him immediately. He said, ‘I want to tell you something, John T., I never allow any man to stand between me and my God.’ Brother Lewis said, ‘You don’t?’ Brother Srygley answered, ‘No sir.’ Brother Lewis said, ‘Now F. B., wasn’t R. H. Boll in town a few weeks ago? Didn’t you go out to hear him, and didn’t they ask you to lead in prayer?’ Brother Srygley said, ‘Yessir.’ Brother Lewis asked, ‘Didja?’ Brother Srygley began to stammer, ‘um, ah, um, well, I just couldn’t get down on my knees.’

“Brother Lewis looked straight at him, ‘Srygley, that’s too thin. I thought you never let any man get between you and your God.’

“Well, that broke that thing up. Brother Srygley had refused to lead the prayer in an R. H. Boll meeting, and then had gone out and led the prayer in this Christian Church.

“The thing about Brother Lewis was that he was fearless when he believed a thing. He wasn’t angry at anybody, but he thought they ought to be exposed. He didn’t wait until he was behind their backs. He just got them there in a crowd and let them have it. The interesting thing is that he did it — he just told them — its rather an unusual situation for you don’t commonly think of a man’s commencement address being broken up because he exposed someone.” (Castleberry, He Looked for a City, 245-246.)

****

Castleberry also publishes, at a different point in the book, a letter written to Lewis by H. Leo Boles. (Boles, in 1920, was on his way out of his first stint as president of DLC.) Here it is:

May 25, 1920

Dear Brother:

I have been wanting to write you ever since you were up here, but have just now found time. In addition to the other work that I have had to do, I have been moving.

I wanted to say that after calm deliberation I am more confirmed in the opinion that your speech was scriptural and timely. I have heard a number of thoughtful people who were present express themselves and they all think as I do. Some of the other side have expressed themselves as making a mistake that day in trying to answer or discredit some of the statements that you made.

May the Lord bless you for your faith, zeal and courage. I appreciated very much your speech and the courage that you manifested in giving it.

Yours fraternally,

H. Leo Boles

To Birmingham

This is later than I anticipated. But I still wanted to put this out there for those of you who might be interested. Back in October, on a weekend when my wife and girls were visiting with my in-laws, I and a friend hopped into the car and headed to Birmingham to do a bit of Lewis-related research.

We left out early on a beautiful Saturday morning, stopping off briefly for breakfast. We had two interviews on our agenda. Our first stop was with a wonderful lady, twice a widow, whose first husband succeeded Lewis in the pulpit at the Ensley church. Dick Moore (that was his name) has an interesting story of his own that I may recount in a future post. Our second stop, over supper at Cracker Barrel, was with a delightful church historian living in Trussville, northeast of the city.

Ensley Steel Plant 1908 postcard front

Ensley Steel Plant 1908 postcard front (Photo credit: Dystopos)

In between these stops, we did some sightseeing. That’s what I want to focus on in this post. The Ensley section of Birmingham is on the western side of the city. In its heyday, it was a large and thriving independent city at the center of Birmingham’s iron and steel making industries. It had a large immigrant population (including an Italian quarter) and was the home of the Tuxedo Junction club, made famous in a tune recorded by Glenn Miller.

Driving through it this past fall reminded me of nothing quite so much as some of the photographs that one can see of Detroit. Most structures exhibit an advanced state of decay. Much of the population has fled. Everything in the downtown is boarded up, surrounded with chainlink fence. Housing stock shows the same traits: maybe every other house is occupied; many are caved in or otherwise severely run down.

An industrial scene in Ensley, Alabama (Februa...

Ensley Works and worker housing, ca. 1937 (via Wikipedia)

Our goal in visiting a really unprepossessing area of town was twofold. First, I wanted to see the old Ensley Church of Christ building. This congregation was one of Lewis’ numerous plants. He established it in 1926 and much of his regular preaching after that date was done at Ensley.

Yours truly, in front of the Ensley building

Cornerstone, obscured by PVC piping

As the pictures indicate, the building dates from 1949. The Disciples of Christ Historical Society has a file on Ensley that contains a pamphlet by Lewis in which he provides an exact accounting of the money that was collected and spent on the building. As far as I’ve been able to determine, it was in use until around the mid-1980s, when the last remaining members disbanded and went to other congregations. On this trip, while at worship on Sunday morning, I met the widow of one of the Ensley elders (who knew John and Della Lewis intimately) who filled me in on some of these details.

It’s hard to tell if the building is currently occupied. It seems to have changed hands recently.

Sign, propped up behind the building

Current sign

Presumably, the Westside Church of Christ is responsible for the addition of a handicapped ramp to the front of the building. We weren’t able to contact anyone affiliated with the congregation, however. All told, however, the building is in great shape. The same cannot be said for the neighborhood.

Adjacent house

The house pictured above sits immediately behind the church building and is typical of much of the housing stock in Ensley.

After a drive through downtown Ensley — filled with boarded up structures — our next stop was the Lewis home. (The highrise in the picture below is surrounded by chain link fencing. Numerous attempts at revitalization of downtown Ensley — which has good ‘bones’ from an urban planning perspective — have floundered over the years.)

Downtown Ensley

Some artwork, seen driving through downtown Ensley

The Lewis house, which sits at 1604 30th Street in Ensley, is currently unoccupied and sits in a neighborhood of similarly run-down housing stock. The construction of I-59 split Ensley in half; we had to take a somewhat circuitous route to get from church building to house, a journey that would have been simple (and close) in Lewis’ day.

Lewis house

That afternoon, we had a bit of time before our next interview. So we headed into downtown Birmingham. Destination: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Not directly related to Lewis, of course, but we wanted to at least see the Museum and 16th Street Baptist Church. It was late in the afternoon, and close to appointment time, so we limited ourselves to the gift shop and some photos taken out of doors.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Memorial to the four girls killed on the morning of 15 September 1963

Lewis’ own comments on race are somewhat enigmatic. Some of his remarks seem to be in the vein of David Lipscomb’s views. There are some interesting stories to be told, but he never remarked directly (as far as I’ve been able to discover) on the marches, the church bombing, or any other part of what was occurring in the city in those days.

That’s all for now.