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,,, 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.

10 responses to “Help Wanted

  1. I think I’m right on all these connections…contact Jon Shoulders, President of Friendship Christian School in Lebanon; he is son of Paul Shoulders. Paul died in about 1966; he was at that time preaching in Hendersonville. Contact John Parker, English prof at Lipscomb about his father Howard Parker. Ernest Clevenger is a member at Grannny White, I think (or was). I. B. Bradley was in Dickson for a while and there may yet be folks there at Walnut St. Church who may know something of him.

  2. You might talk with Carrol Sutton in Albertville, AL. He was a good friend of Hiram Hutto and Howard See. Also, you might contact Bill Hall, he worked with the 77th Street church where Bruce Crawley was an elder (he named his son after Bro. Crawley). Wish that I was able to give some information about Bro. Lewis but I was just too young to pay attention to what was going on arround me at the time. Stanton

  3. I grew up in the Ensley congregation and remember both John T. Lewis and A.C. Moore. My grandfather, Lonnie Lenderman, was an elder when Bro. Lewis was there. My grandfather died before my parents married, so I never knew him. My mother told me about the Ensley church meeting in the dwelling house next door to where te church building was built. As a child, I remember Bro. Lewis encouraging the young folks to sit on the front 2 pews-the first pew was for “future preachers’ and the 2nd pew was for “preacher’s wives.” He and Sis. lewis never had any children.

    Granville Tyler moved to Decatur, AL (I thinnk his son is still in the area.) Maurice Howell moved to Moulton, AL.

  4. I believe that Floyd Horton was Howard Horton’s uncle. Howard grew up in Hanceville, was missionary to Africa, Vietnam, Hawaii. At some point he was dean at Okla. Christian, and later chair of Bible Department at Lipscomb. There are references to Floyd in the memoir, From Pepperdine into All the World, an oral history transcript I edited based on audio tapes with Hugh Shira, Horton, and my dad, Paul Tucker. There is a copy of the transcript in Special Collections at ACU. I could find my own copy but have just moved and am still unpacking. Happy hunting!.

  5. James C. McFerrin

    As a young child at the State Line church north of Huntsville, AL and south of Fayetteville, TN, I remember a preacher, Lewis conducting a Gospel Meeting for us. I think it was John T., but I was only about 6 to 8 years old at the time. Someone mentioned about him encouraging young folks to sit up front. That was where I was with a friend, but with disastrous results. We were walking our fingers across the back of the pew/bench and he called us down from the pulpit. I felt that was too harsh for the “crime” and cried like a baby when I got home. Maybe it helped, considering that I remember it so vividly about 70 years later.

    Walter Bumgardner was the first minister at the 9th & Jefferson/Collegeside church in Cookeville, TN in 1953. I first met him the second year when I started college at Tennessee Tech in 1954. He left there about 1955 or 1956 to work with the Redbank church in Chattanooga, TN. The last time I saw him was when my wife and I visited there on our honeymoon on Aug. 31, 1958. He had a very positive influence on me as I grew as a Christian away from home.

    I remember Granville Tyler as a dynamic speaker with a great sense of humor when we worshiped with the Somerville Road church in Decatur, AL from Aug., 1959 – July, 1961.

    I hope these tidbits of information will be helpful to some extent.

  6. re: James McFerrin’s comment about John T. Lewis–I remember him telling a young mother from the pulpit to take her crying baby out of the assembly!

  7. Wow. Thanks to everyone for chiming in with stories and leads. This really helps fill out my picture of who these men were and what was going on in Birmingham (and Alabama at large) during Lewis’s ministry.

  8. I met brother Castleberry. He was a very nice man and a professor at Long Beach State University I believe, he seemed very averse to any controversy, which might explain his desire to avoid any mention of brother Lewis’ conflicts over institutionalism.

    I’ve heard many of the names on your list and knew some who are mentioned. One, of course, was my grandad. My Dad probably new almost all of these people and would be glad to tell you anything you would like. I’m also going to try to hook you up with Phillip Owen. Not only was Phillip’s family close to brother Lewis, but Phillip loves historical research.

  9. Chris, Gardner Hall emailed me concerning your study, interest in bro. Lewis, and desire for more information. From Gardner I learned of your blog. I could likely help. Our family connections with bro. Lewis go back to my grandparents during the ’20s. He was an elder for a number of years with the Ensley congregation. Bro. Lewis baptized my mother and father (’40s), and my father helped with some of bro. Lewis’ tent meetings (setting up his tent, chairs, etc.) during the 50’s. They were careful listeners in bro. Lewis’ classes. I remember him but only as an older man; I was too young to understand any preaching/teaching. However, all the written personal material that Castleberry used for the book has fallen into my hands. Pictures, notes, handbills, correspondence, etc. Perhaps we could get together at some time and go through it. We are in Birmingham.

    • Hi Phillip,

      I would be very interested in talking further and, for that matter, in coming to Birmingham whenever a convenient time can be arranged. My email address is available under the “About” tab at the top of the page. Hope to hear from you soon.


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