Rufus King Young (1911–2004)

Rufus King Young was an influential church and civil rights leader in Arkansas in the second half of the twentieth century. As the leader of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County), he was actively involved in the local civil rights movement and the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Rufus King Young was born on May 13, 1911, to Robert Young and Laura Scott Young in Bayou Bartholomew (Drew County). He received his early education at Young’s Chapel AME Church, an institution built on land originally owned by his grandfather, before graduating in 1933 from Chicot County Training School in Dermott (Chicot County). He continued his education at Shorter College in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1937. After his graduation from Shorter College, Young went to Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce, Ohio, earning a Bachelor of Divinity in degree in 1940. He also undertook additional advanced study at the University of Chicago.

Young married Essie Mae Adams of Jackson, Mississippi, on September 10, 1941; the couple had five children.

Young was licensed to preach in 1924 and became an ordained traveling minister in 1934. Young served as the pastor of ten different churches across the southeast from Alabama to Louisiana to Mississippi, and finally to Arkansas (as well as hosting radio ministries) before coming to Bethel AME in Little Rock in June 1953. While at Bethel, he served as the leader in the Twelfth Episcopal District of the AME Church, which included both Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Upon his arrival in Little Rock, he became a member of the ministerial alliance associations that were actively involved in the civil rights movement of the late 1950s. In addition to serving as president of the Christian Ministers Alliance of Greater Little Rock, he served as president of the Greater Little Rock Ministerial Association, the first African American to do so. He was personally involved in the effort to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School, as three of the Little Rock Nine students—Ernest Green, Gloria Ray, and Melba Pattillo—were members of his church. In addition, Young was a friend to Little Rock civil rights activist Daisy Bates, who had been a member of his church prior to joining her husband at Union AME. Young’s involvement in the civil rights movement did not end with the desegregation of Central High School, nor was it limited to Arkansas and Little Rock. He participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and contributed to the integrated communal efforts that helped Little Rock avoid violence in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition to his extensive church-based civic career, Young also had a distinguished career as an educator. In the early 1940s, he served as dean of the Edward W. Lampton School of Religion at Campbell College in Jackson, Mississippi and was president of Daniel Payne College in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1948 to 1950. He also served as an educator and as the dean at Jackson Seminary and Shorter College.

Young retired from the ministry in 1986, after having served thirty-three years as pastor of Bethel AME. The widowed Young then married Yvonne Smith Bruner, a former teacher and native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 2002, Connor’s Chapel AME of Little Rock was renamed in Young’s honor.

Young died on August 29, 2004. He is interred at the Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock.

For additional information:
Fizer, Ellen Arneatha Verdia Young. And He Did Have Something to Say: Our Story of Rev. Rufus King Young, Sr. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2020.

“Rev. Dr. Rufus King Young, Sr.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 2, 2004, p. 4B.

Rufus K. Young Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at (accessed October 25, 2022).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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