Category Archives: Birmingham

On Individual Responsibility

James J. Irvine (1862–1898) was a native of New Zealand. He came to America at the age of 20 and, in due course, enrolled in classes at College of the Bible, from which he graduated in 1890. Like a large number of other graduates in those days, he came south to Alabama to begin his ministerial career. He served as State Evangelist in Alabama from 1890–1891, followed by a stint as minister for the church in Selma.  By 1895, he had taken a position as office editor of the Southern Christian,  edited by C. P. Williamson out of Atlanta, with close sympathies for the progressive stances of the Apostolic Guide and the Christian-Evangelist. Later, he would undertake pastorates in Jacksonville, Fla., and Norfolk, Va.—where he met an untimely death in 1898 at the age of 36.

The Gospel Advocate for June 20, 1895 reprinted a piece that Irvine wrote for the Southern Christian, titled “Individual Effort.”  It might strike us as odd that the Advocate would reprint a writer like Irvine with such ties. Two considerations are at work here: 1) the Advocate of the pre-Goodpasture period consistently fostered the open exchange of ideas and the various sides of a given issue. F. D. Srygley—front page editor at the time this piece was written—would reprint anything he thought worth reading, no matter who the author was. 2) The 1890s were a time of transition. A page-by-page survey of the decade allows the reader to clearly see the split between progressives and conservatives in real time. It was not a time when firm lines that could not be crossed had been drawn—although that was soon to happen.

Anyway, I reprint the piece here not so much to make a specific theological point, as rather for the sake of general edification.

Every work to-day, great or small, stands as a monument to personal effort. We look upon an immense building in all its beauty and massiveness; we think of the different individuals who worked with brain and muscle, and of the agencies used to bring about this grand result.

The architect, as he made the plan, as he calculated the symmetry, the blending of the parts; the contractor, as he takes what has been planned and begins to lay his foundation deep and wide and strong, and going down to the solid rock to make it the base of his operations.

The building begins to assume size and shape. Each one at his particular place, all helping and using their skill and personal effort until the whole building fitly joined together is a fit abode for man. All this was brought about by a combination of personal effort, a working together for a desired end.

Is not this the divine idea and will? Are we not co-laborers together with God in the building up of the great structure of the Church of Christ?

In the building of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, we find that the people had a mind to work, although surrounded within and without by enemies, and the result was the walls were completed.

So with the spiritual walls of Jerusalem, the people must have a mind to work, must have the Christ spirit dwelling in them, to be continually going about “my Father’s business.”

The walls of the spiritual Jerusalem are being strengthened in our Southland, and now the servants of our Lord are doing so much. How much could be done if every individual follower of Christ would put forth some personal effort. Now is the time. Let us go to the Divine Architect, get our plans, and work by them. Go down to the solid “Rock of Ages,” build thereon, and each one in his place, with the talent and ability given him, rear a part of the great structure to the honor and glory of God. In this God-given work let each do his part and do it well. If you can sing, sing the praises of God and the gospel of his Son. If you can pray, pray fervently for the workers in whatever part of the great building they may be found. If you can teach or preach, know nothing among men but the Christ, exalt his name, hold him up as the chief corner-stone, the one despised and rejected, but now the King of kings.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God, and when life’s work is done on earth we have the sweet promise of entering into that rest and that mansion prepared for the faithful, into the heavenly Jerusalem, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. May each one do his individual part in the effort to save men.

— J. J. Irvine, “Individual Effort.” Gospel Advocate 37.25 (June 20, 1895): 386.

I’ve not blogged much over the past couple years, but expect to see more of this kind of clipping. I’ve collected a lot of this sort of thing from my time in front of the microfilm reader.





On “the fruitfulness of co-operative endeavor”: J. A. Lord in Birmingham, 1907

James Alexander Lord (1849–1922)

James Alexander Lord (1849–1922)

In November 1907, J. A. Lord, editor of the Christian Standard, traveled south to attend the annual meeting of the Alabama Christian Missionary Cooperation, which was held in Jasper that year. He came away excited and very optimistic about the prospects of the progressive churches in Alabama, especially those in Birmingham and Jasper (where a new, pro-society church had just been established).

I’ve been doing a lot of research of late focused on establishing the context for John T. Lewis’ arrival in Birmingham in the fall of 1907, a point at which Castleberry’s He Looked for a City disappoints. For Castleberry, the Fox Hall church simply exists. He is not interested in describing its origins or the larger religious context of Birmingham. In his telling, Lewis stepped into a vacuum when he held that first meeting in Pratt City in August-September of 1907.

But this was simply not the case. Consider what Lord has to say about Birmingham:

This whole Birmingham story, so full of inspiring details, that pages might well be devoted to it, is a demonstration of the most striking character of the fruitfulness of co-operative endeavor in the great industrial and commercial centers of America. These churches and their preachers are devoted to the preaching of the simple gospel and to planting churches of Christ at every vantage-point in this whole growing congeries of manufacturing and commercial communities, which will be fused into a city of half a million people in less than twenty-five years. From the present rate of growth, and with the present outlook, some fifty churches of Christ will be planted here in the next quarter of a century. And let it not be forgotten by brethren who have been slow to fall in with co-operative methods of evangelism, that none of these churches would have been in existence if their fears had possessed the Birmingham workers, or their inadequate theory of church expansion had been carried out. One thousand people of Birmingham and vicinity are now enlisted in and are committed to the spirit of the Restoration plea, who would be out in the world, or scattered among the denominations, if the anti-co-operative views of those who opposed missionary societies had prevailed. In no important center of population except Nashville, Tenn., have the anti-co-operative ideas resulted in churches of Christ of any strength of membership or influence, and a full understanding of the facts will show that even Nashville is no exception to the rule.”

(Excerpted from “Southern Convention Notes,” Christian Standard 43.50 [December 14, 1907]: 2071.)

This was Lord’s third trip to Birmingham as editor of the Standard. In this excerpt, he is talking about the five progressive (i.e., pro-society, pro-instrument) churches that existed in Birmingham, four of which had been established in the seven years prior to Lewis’ arrival.

Ironies abound here, of course. At the very moment Lord wrote these words, the young John T. Lewis had just arrived in Birmingham to begin his work with the Fox Hall church. (Counting Fox Hall, of course, would bring the total number of Stone-Campbell churches in the city to six.) While Lord’s “fifty churches of Christ” never materialized, Lewis—beginning with that single, tiny church—was ultimately responsible for more than thirty churches in the Birmingham District based, albeit, on an “inadequate theory of church expansion” that Lord thought would never work.

Moreover—and not to put too fine a point on it—while the first decade of the twentieth century was a flush time for the pro-society churches, never again would the expansive spirit of A. R. Moore, O. P. Spiegel, J. A. Lord, and other progressive leaders in Birmingham be fully recaptured by them.

Finally, regarding Lord’s comments about Nashville. What does he know about the situation in Nashville that he’s not saying here?

W. C. Graves (1886-1946)

In the materials that I’m working with in my research the name of John T. Lewis is inseparable from the churches in Birmingham. That is as it should be. Lewis spent sixty years in the Magic City and deserves every bit of the credit he gets for the number and strength of the churches in that city.

But he was not without help. One of the most fascinating aspects of this research has been uncovering the stories of Lewis’ helpers in the work in Birmingham. I say uncovering because the story I’d like to tell here is largely absent from He Looked for a City and I’ve had to piece it together from several other sources.

That said, what appears below is more of a dossier than a biography proper. I’ve tried to make it as readable as possible, though.


William C. Graves (1886-1946) was born in Alabama. In his own narrative of his early life, included in S. H. Hall’s Sixty Years in the Pulpit (1955),  Graves recounts that he was raised in Methodist and Presbyterian settings. By the time he had entered his 20s, he had gone to Atlanta. There he was baptized by S. H. Hall in East Point (an Atlanta suburb) in May 1912. Presumably at the encouragement of Hall, he entered the Nashville Bible School in the fall of 1914. He graduated in the spring of 1917. After graduation, he was off to Dalton, Ga., for a brief time before returning to Atlanta.

The date isn’t exactly clear, but Hall  indicates that Graves had left Atlanta for Birmingham by the summer of 1920 (“Georgia and the Far Southern Field.” GA 62.33 [August 12, 1920]: 791). In the Advocate, Hall reports that R. L. Harwell, one of the West End (Atlanta) elders, had been in Birmingham over a recent weekend and had worshipped at West End (Birmingham) while in town. Graves happened to be preaching that day and Harwell took a glowing report of the day back to Atlanta with him. It’s clear that it gave Hall great pleasure to relate this: Graves was clearly a student of whom he was very proud.

So, Graves was preaching at least occasionally at West End very soon after his arrival in Birmingham, perhaps on Sundays when C. M. Pullias was away. The pace of his work only increases thereafter. In 1921, we find a report in the Gospel Advance (Price Billingsley’s monthly out of McMinnville, Tenn.) indicating that Graves is going to be working full-time with the church in Gadsden, northeast of Birmingham. It’s unclear what happened there; I’ve found no other references to it.

Marshall Keeble (1878-1968)

Castleberry’s first reference (of two) to Graves comes from this early period: “The work among the black people in the area was started in Ensley by W. C. Graves. [He] supported himself as a representative of the Southern Bell Telephone Company” (He Looked for a City, pg. 6). The relationships are never made explicit, but it is reasonable to suppose that Graves became familiar with Marshall Keeble’s work through S. H. Hall and through his time in Nashville. At any rate, when Keeble first came to Birmingham in 1921, Graves played a prominent role in that work (Hall, Sixty Years in the Pulpit, pg. 38). In his first Birmingham meeting that summer, Keeble baptized 45 people, who became the nucleus of the “New” Church of Christ in Ensley. Keeble returned numerous times over the next few years to hold protracted meetings and to work with this congregation, sometimes staying in Birmingham for over a month at a time. Between visits by Keeble, Graves and James H. Davis (who later served as a deacon and elder at West End) preached and taught for the fledgling congregation.

Graves’ racial attitudes are hard to speak to definitively. He enthusiastically believed in evangelizing Birmingham’s African-American population, which was quite a bit more than could be said for some of his brethren. Moreover, he clearly cared for the members of Keeble’s fledgling Birmingham church. That said, some of his comments will undoubtedly sound backhanded or patronizing to our contemporary ears. Consider these remarks from Graves’ pen in 1923: “Let me say a word about Brother Keeble. He preaches the gospel of Christ and knows how to behave himself. That’s enough” (W. C. Graves. “The Work in Birmingham Among the Colored Folks.” GA 65.41 [October 11, 1923]: 994-95). In this, I think we could fairly say that he is a product of his time and place. Birmingham in this period has been called “the most segregated city in America.”  In some ways it is surprising that Graves crossed as many lines as he did.

Whatever we make of Graves’ stint in Gadsden, he is definitely back in Birmingham to stay by 1923. In the fall of that year, he established a mission congregation in Bessemer. Several members of West End, including O. B. Anthony, came along to help support this work. By 1924, Graves had started Truth in Love, a small four-page weekly publication. Truth in Love was part evangelism/teaching tool and part newsletter for the churches in the Birmingham district. JTL wrote extensively for it throughout the 1920s. It ultimately went through two iterations before Graves fell ill and sold it to Marion Davis and Gus Nichols in 1942, at which time the paper left Birmingham and ceased to be locally focused.

As the decade progresses, Graves’ fingerprints can be found on a number of Birmingham-area congregations. Truth in Love (quoted by Castleberry) indicates that he preached at North Lewisburg (later Fultondale) in 1926. During that same year — in the uncertain interim between H. F. Pendergrass and J. W. Shepherd at West End — he did fill-in preaching. The first issue of the Gospel Advocate for 1928 finds him preaching at Parkview (the forerunner of the Berney Points church).

We lose the trail for a bit in the early 1930s. But by 1936, Graves was preaching for the Tarrant City church. Castleberry’s other reference to Graves comes here:  While in Tarrant, he debated a Primitive Baptist minister with JTL serving as his moderator. Reportedly, Graves got so flustered in the course of the debate that Lewis had to finish the debate (He Looked for a City, pp. 203-204).

In late 1936, Graves introduced a “reboot” of Truth in Love. It’s unclear how long the first version had been out of print by this point. Nevertheless, the new TIL was larger (8 pp.) and featured a mix of Birmingham and national names among the writers and editorial staff. (In 1937, the editors were Gardner Hall, Jack Meyer, and Gus Nichols.) Graves was the publisher of this version of the journal, only writing infrequently. JTL, likewise, only rarely appears.

After he sold TIL, Graves was still involved in other ventures. He ran a religious bookstore out of his house at 817 7th Street in Birmingham. (Ads can be found in several issues of TIL.) He’s listed as a staff writer for A. E. Emmons’ and Emerson Estes’ The Way of Life (published out of Birmingham from 1943-48) and also wrote extensively for Sound Doctrine, a journal published out of Montgomery in the early 1940s.

Around 1942, Graves published what I believe to have been his only full-length book, Lessons on the Church of Christ. S. H. Hall had written a book of the same title (published by McQuiddy in 1916 when Graves was a student at NBS). Jack Meyer, in the intro to Graves’ book says: “The author, W. C. Graves, has been a resident and gospel preacher of Birmingham, Ala., for 22 years. He has assisted in establishing several congregations, has been the editor of a local gospel paper, is building a substantial business as a dealer in new and used religious books, has materially contributed to the growth of the gospel of Christ in this area, and is correspondingly well known” (pg. 4).

Near the end of his life, Graves served as an elder at Fairview. His appointment

Foy E. Wallace, Jr.

was the occasion of a short tribute by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., in the Bible Banner for October 1945:

The latest addition to the eldership of this congregation was made in the appointment of W. C. Graves a year or so ago. He has been a definite strength to the official force of the congregation. Brother Graves has been active in the growth of the church in the district for over thirty years, as a preacher, a leader, and an elder. Several churches have been “planted and watered” by him. No man in Birmingham exerts a wider and stronger influence, and though he has worked quietly, without sounding a trumpet before him, no one man has accomplished more good in that locality. For years Brother Graves has been an executive in the Southern Bell Telephone Company and has exerted a salutary influence as a respected citizen and business man as well as a Christian and a preacher. He possesses a fine knowledge of the Bible, is unblemished in character, amiable in disposition, and has always backed any preacher who will stand for the truth. I regard him as among the great men in the church and I esteem him as a personal friend.

This was written, of course, after the fallout between Wallace and JTL. Is Wallace’s assertion that “no man in Birmingham exerts a wider and stronger influence, and though he has worked quietly, without sounding a trumpet before him, no one man has accomplished more good in that locality” a slap at Lewis? Who can say?

At the time of his death, Graves was the editor and publisher of Grace and Truth, a monthly evangelistic magazine. After an extended period of illness, he died September 24, 1946.

Graves’ obituary — Oct 1946 issue of Way of Life

As I said, stories like Graves’ are really interesting to me. Here we have a man every bit as involved in the Birmingham work as JTL. If we knew nothing about him beyond what Castleberry recorded our picture of events in Birmingham would be greatly diminished.

Does anyone out there have paper related to Graves and his work in Birmingham? Leave me a comment or send me an email.

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,,, 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.

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.