Jackson, Mississippi

Faith in Racial Justice: Rev. Ed King and Bishop Clay Lee

First Recorded

October 13, 2017


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Rev. Ed King and Bishop Clay Lee were activists in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi whose Methodist faith has helped to shape their approaches toward racial justice and reconciliation in the American South. In this conversation, the friends reflect on their activism and explore what it means to be a Christian committed to racial equity today.

This story was produced by Alero Oyinlola.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity‚Äôs stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Ed King and Clay Lee

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Ed King: And my great grandparents owned slaves. My great grandfather, whose home was burned by Sherman, my great grandfather was off fighting with General Lee. When I first began to see that race relations needed change, people would say, "Well, if you do anything, it'll be as bad as Reconstruction." And look at what happened. Slavery ended. And this was White people saying, but things really weren't much better.

Clay Lee: What happened to the people at that time, it still makes me so uneasy because you know as I know, the 50s, the 60s, and it went on for a while and there's still some of it. But it's this attitude that we as white people are so much better than all the others.

Ed King: The white leadership has turned itself over to the George Wallaces and the crazies. But here is Black leadership, and I'll have a time, I'll just follow Martin Luther King. And Martin Luther King spoke out in terms of Jesus and Gandhi. And I had heard about both Jesus and Gandhi, and Martin King even talked about Amos and Isaiah and Hebrew prophets that I had heard about. And I thought, "We're going to get through this." And I made a commitment thinking all that would amount to was that when the crises came, I could help get interracial groups behind the scene. It was an easy commitment, but it was interesting that it was the Black leadership of people like Martin Luther King that gave us hope and still give us hope as Americans.

Clay Lee: What happened to the people at that time, it still makes me so uneasy because they certainly...they were filled with fear. I became pastor at First Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on June 1, 1964. Three weeks later, three young civil rights murders took place. And it was not only believed, but pretty well known that the Ku Klux Klan was behind that. The fact that the sheriff and the chief deputy for the county were a very definite part of that group that was involved with the murder of those three young men, that here is something people that supposedly had been nurtured in the church began to feel a sense of guilt.

Ed King: And none of us can overcome the bad things we've inherited, the bad things we've done without the grace of God and neighbors who are kindly to us. And we can't do good things without generations of family and neighbors. You'd never know that what you do makes a difference, whether it's helping a neighbor or helping a social issue.

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