Religious Figures

Subcategories:
  • No categories
Clear

Entries - Entry Category: Religious Figures

Morris, Elias Camp

Elias Camp Morris was an African-American minister who, in 1895, became president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), the largest denomination of black Christians in the United States. Recognized by white Arkansans and the nation as a leader of the black community, he often served as a liaison between black and white communities on both the state and national level. He was also an important leader in the Arkansas Republican Party. Morris was born a slave on May 7, 1855, in Murray County, Georgia, the son of James and Cora Cornelia Morris. In 1864–1865, he simultaneously attended grammar schools in Dalton, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. From 1866, he attended school in Stevenson, Alabama, and in 1874–1875, he attended Nashville Normal …

Morris, John Baptist

John Baptist Morris was the third Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, which still corresponds to the political boundaries of Arkansas. Known as a gifted orator, Bishop Morris served for four decades as Arkansas’s Catholic leader while the diocese underwent tremendous institutional growth. This was accomplished as the U.S. went through two world wars and a massive economic depression. John Baptist Morris was born on June 29, 1866, on farm near Hendersonville, Tennessee, the eldest son of John Morris and Anne Morrissey, both immigrants from Ireland. Morris received his first formal education at St. Mary’s College in Lebanon, Kentucky. It is not clear what degree Morris earned, for in 1887, he returned to live with his family, …

Norful, Smokie

aka: Willie Ray Norful Jr.
Smokie Norful—a popular pastor in Chicago, Illinois, and a Grammy Award–winning gospel singer—spent most of his developing years in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and is one of the most commercially successful gospel recording artists to have emerged from Arkansas. Born Willie Ray Norful Jr. in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 31, 1975, to the Reverend W. R. Norful and Teresa Norful, Norful is the oldest of three boys. Like so many other African-American gospel singers, he found church to be a nurturing environment in which his musical skills could be honed. At a 2012 taping of the Trinity Broadcast Network’s flagship program, Praise the Lord, Norful joked before a studio audience about growing up as a “P. K.” (preacher’s kid) …

Ogden, Dunbar H., Jr.

Dunbar Hunt Ogden Jr. was a minister who played an important role in the effort to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the mid-twentieth century. His support for the Little Rock Nine was controversial, and his efforts split his congregation. Ultimately, faced with diminishing support, Ogden resigned his pastorate and left Arkansas, taking over a church in West Virginia and eventually retiring in California. Dunbar Ogden Jr. was born on August 15, 1902, in Columbus, Mississippi. One of seven children born to Dunbar H. Ogden, who was a minister, and Grace Augusta Cox Ogden, Ogden was brought up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Boys High School in Atlanta before going to Davidson College …

Orr, David

David Orr was one of the earliest preachers in northeastern Arkansas, settling in the state in about 1828. During his time in the region, he started nine different churches and founded the Spring River and Rocky Bayou Baptist Associations in the Ozark Mountains east of the White River. Although Orr was exclusively a Baptist preacher, he was also interested in modern-day religious revelations, such as those of the Mormons and New York farmer William Miller. After his birth in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1798, Orr lived near Cincinnati, Ohio, seventy miles away from his birthplace. While in Cincinnati, he was influenced and baptized by Jeremiah Vardeman, a fiery revivalist preacher during the Second Great Awakening. Orr married Eliza Caldwell in …

Perry, Harold Robert

Harold Robert Perry was the first African American to become a bishop in the Catholic Church in the modern era. Part of his career beforehand was spent serving a church in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Perry was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on October 9, 1916, the son of a mill worker and a domestic cook. He knew at a young age that he wanted to enter the ministry, and at age thirteen he entered the Society of Divine Word Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. In 1944, he was ordained into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the twenty-sixth African American to attain this position. Over the decade, he served in several positions, pastoring congregations in Mississippi, …

Pettaway, Caleb Darnell

The Reverend Caleb Darnell (C. D.) Pettaway was an influential Little Rock (Pulaski County) religious leader who served as president of the National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA) from 1957 to 1967. Caleb Darnell Pettaway, commonly referred to as “C. D.,” was born on December 18, 1886, in Concordia Parish, Louisiana. Sources conflict as to his birth name—he is listed as Charles, Cyrus, and Claude in various years of the Little Rock city directory. However, his World War I and World War II draft cards are clearly signed as “Caleb.” In 1918, Pettaway married Jennie E. Vagner of Independence County and apparently moved to Arkansas around that time. Together, they moved to Little Rock and bought a house located at …

Pierce, Henry Niles

Henry Niles Pierce was the fourth bishop of the Episcopal missionary jurisdiction of Arkansas and Indian Territory, and the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. Henry Niles Pierce was born on October 19, 1820, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Susan Walker Pierce and Benjamin Bentley Pierce, a tanner, currier, and deacon of First Baptist Church. Pierce attended Portsmouth High School and graduated from Brown University in 1842. He studied theology under Dr. Francis Vinton and Rev. George W. Hathaway, both of Rhode Island. Initially, Pierce intended to become a minister of the Baptist faith practiced by his family; however, his personal beliefs aligned more closely with those of the Episcopal Church. Upon his physician’s recommendation to seek a …

Polk, Leonidas

Leonidas Polk was the first bishop in the Episcopal ministry to serve Arkansas, and he also served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. In addition, he was the second cousin of President James K. Polk and helped found the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Leonidas Polk was born on April 10, 1806, in Raleigh, North Carolina, to William Polk, who served as an officer in the American Revolution and was a well-to-do planter in North Carolina, and Sarah Hawkins Polk; he had three brothers. Polk first attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1821 to 1823 but did not take a degree. In 1823, he received an appointment to the United States Military …

Presley, Luther G.

Luther G. Presley was a music teacher, song director, and prolific writer of gospel songs who has been credited with writing more than 1,100 hymns. His best-known song is most likely “When the Saints Go Marching In,” for which he wrote the lyrics in 1937 (the melody was written by Virgil O. Stamps). Luther Presley was born in Faulkner County on March 6, 1887, to James Thomas Presley and Nancy Ann Brooks Presley. He was educated in Faulkner County’s public schools. Presley attended his first singing school at the age of fourteen, under the direction of M. W. Beckett, and taught at his first singing school at the age of eighteen. Presley continued his musical education, and according to a 2005 …

Rudd, Daniel

Daniel A. Rudd was a lay leader within the Catholic Church during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who used his own experience and influence to usher in a sense of black consciousness among Catholics in the United States and to advocate for the equality of all African Americans. He published the American Catholic Tribune, organized the first Negro Catholic Conferences, and developed relationships with some of the most influential black and Catholic leaders in Arkansas. Daniel Arthur Rudd was born on August 7, 1854, in Bardstown, Kentucky. He was the eleventh of twelve children born to Robert Rudd and Elizabeth (Eliza) Rudd, who were enslaved to two different owners—Robert to Richard and Margaret Rudd and Eliza to Charles …

Sanders, Ira Eugene

Ira Eugene Sanders became the most well-known and respected rabbi in Arkansas for his indefatigable efforts in promoting social work and civil rights. Ira Sanders was born on May 6, 1894, in Rich Hill, Missouri, one of five children of Daniel and Pauline (Ackerman) Sanders. His father was a wholesale meat packer. When Ira was six years old, his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he attended public school. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati, possibly in sociology, in 1918; he then obtained a rabbinate degree from the (Reform) Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, in 1919 and was ordained as a rabbi that year. He served as rabbi of Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown, …

Saphore, Edwin Warren

The Right Reverend Edwin Warren Saphore served from 1935 until 1938 as the seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. In 1917, he became the first elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of the diocese, serving in that position until the retirement of Bishop James R. Winchester in 1931. In the absence of a duly elected and ratified bishop, he served as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese until his election as bishop in 1935. Edwin Warren Saphore was born in Rahway, New Jersey, on September 17, 1854, to Daniel A. Saphore and Martha Warren Saphore. He graduated from South Jersey Institute at Bridgeton, New Jersey, and received a BA from Pennsylvania State College (now the University of Pennsylvania) and an …

Sartain, J. Peter

James Peter Sartain was the sixth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which encompasses all of the state of Arkansas. Although he was only briefly in Arkansas, Sartain’s reign coincided with great growth: under his watch, the Diocese of Little Rock increased from 90,600 members to 107,000, Hispanic ministry became more focused, and the numbers of seminarians and ordinations rose dramatically. J. Peter Sartain was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 6, 1952, to Joseph and Catherine Sartain; he was the youngest of five and the only boy. Faith was very important to the Sartains, who passed on this influence to their children: one of Sartain’s sisters became a Dominican sister, and three of his sisters have …

Sawyer, Sophia

Sophia Sawyer, an educator whose calling was to teach the Cherokee, founded the Fayetteville Female Seminary in 1839. This tireless educator was associated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Church. Sophia Sawyer was born May 4 or 5, 1792, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Little is known of her parents, save for the fact that they were extremely poor farmers who eventually bought a farm in New Hampshire. She never married. Dr. Seth Payson, a Congregational clergyman from Rindge, New Hampshire, took Sawyer into his home as a housemaid after her parents died and sent her to school. Sawyer gained teaching experience in the Payson household, teaching basic education during the summer at Rindge but needed …

Smith, Gerald Lyman Kenneth

Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith was a minister and political agitator who built a series of “Sacred Projects,” tourist attractions with a religious theme, in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) beginning in the 1960s. He attained prominence first in the 1930s as an organizer for Louisiana political boss Huey P. Long but was known more for far-right activism, particularly for anti-Semitic and fascist causes. Gerald L. K. Smith was born on February 7, 1898, on a farm in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, to Lyman Z. Smith and Sarah Smith. He had one sister. He was descended from three generations of Disciples of Christ ministers, earned a degree in biblical studies from Valparaiso University in Indiana in 1918, and became a minister himself, serving churches …

Smith, Ocie Lee (O. C.), Jr.

Ocie Lee (O. C.) Smith Jr. started out singing jazz before moving into the genres of country and rhythm & blues/soul. After touring with Count Basie’s band in the early 1960s, he had his biggest hit with the song “Little Green Apples,” which reached number two on the pop and R&B charts in 1968. In the 1980s, he put aside his career as a recording artist to become a minister. Smith was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1996. O. C. Smith was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, on June 21, 1936 (although some sources say 1932). His parents, Ocie Lee Smith Sr. and Ruth Edwards Shorter Smith, who were both teachers, moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) …

Stevenson, William

William Stevenson was a nineteenth-century preacher generally credited with bringing Methodism to Arkansas. A prototypical frontier preacher and circuit rider, he moved from frontier region to frontier region—from the South Carolina frontier to Tennessee, from there to Missouri, and from there to Arkansas—until he finally settled in Louisiana. Swept into the enthusiastic Methodism of the Second Great Awakening, he felt a desire to spread the faith that led him into sparsely settled areas. In doing so, he laid the foundations of the Methodist faith in Arkansas. William Stevenson was born on October 4, 1768, in a frontier area of South Carolina, not far from the line marking Cherokee land. His parents, James Stevenson and Elizabeth Stevenson, were Presbyterian, and he was …

Stout, William C.

The clergyman William Cummins Stout was the master of two large antebellum plantations at the foot of Petit Jean Mountain in Conway County and the “first Arkansas man ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas,” according to church records. William Stout was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on February 18, 1824. His parents, John G. Stout and Mary Kirby Stout, moved with their children to Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1830, where they continued their farming occupation. While a young man working in a store near the Indian Territory line, Stout attended meetings conducted by Bishop Leonidas Polk and discerned a religious calling. With Polk’s encouragement, Stout received his education at Kemper College in Missouri, then Nashotah House …

Talbot, John Michael

John Michael Talbot—the founder and leader of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage near Eureka Springs (Carroll County)—is one of the preeminent Catholic musicians in the world, with more than fifty albums to his name. He is also the founder of the Catholic Association of Musicians and the author of more than a dozen books on Christian meditations and music. John Michael Talbot was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on May 8, 1954, to Jamie Margaret (Cochran) Talbot and Richard Talbot. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when Talbot was seven years old and then to Indianapolis, Indiana, two years later. Struggling to make friends in Indianapolis, the family started playing music as …

Townsend, William Cameron “Uncle Cam”

In June 1934, William Cameron Townsend, along with Leonard Livingston Legters, founded a linguistic training program for the purpose of promoting Bible translation among minority language groups. Named Camp Wycliffe, in honor of the first scholar to translate the entire Bible into English, John Wycliffe, the program was based in an old abandoned farmhouse near Sulphur Springs (Benton County). Camp Wycliffe would later become Wycliffe Bible Translators, the founding of which, as historian Dr. Mark Noll affirmed, “may stand symbolically for one of the great Christian events of the age.” Cameron Townsend was born on July 9, 1896, in a one-room farmhouse in Eastvale, California, the first son and fifth child of William Hammond, a poor tenant farmer, and Molly …

Tribou, George

Father George William Tribou was an influential figure in Catholic educational and community affairs in Arkansas, primarily through his position as principal and rector of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock (Pulaski County). George Tribou was born in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1924, to George and Mary Tribou. His father was an electrician, and his mother was a waitress; he had two sisters. After high school, he entered seminary in Philadelphia and completed the equivalent of a college curriculum. Area seminaries in the Northeast were rather crowded, so he relocated to St. John Catholic Seminary in Little Rock to complete his education for the priesthood. He was ordained as a Catholic priest on September 1, 1949. His …

Washburn, Cephas

Cephas Washburn was a Presbyterian missionary who helped found Dwight Mission to serve the Cherokee. Washburn, who struggled along with his colleagues to bring Christianity to Native Americans on the territorial Arkansas frontier, served as an educator and minister for four decades. Cephas Washburn was born on July 25, 1793, in Randolph, Vermont, to Josiah Washburn and Phebe Cushman Washburn, who were farmers. Washburn turned from farming to education when he feared he might be disabled permanently from a broken leg. While teaching in Groton, Massachusetts, in the winter of 1814–1815 to raise money for further education, he became a Congregationalist and soon decided he wanted to be a missionary to the Indians. After graduating from Vermont University in 1817, …

Watson, Patrick Samuel Gideon

Patrick Samuel Gideon Watson, the father of Baptist history in Arkansas, was one of the state’s early itinerate ministers and the editor of Arkansas’s first religious newspaper in 1859. Watson was born on May 2, 1816, in Falmouth, Kentucky, the son of local farmer Joseph Watson and Ann Anderson Watson. His writings indicate that he received an excellent classical education. He married Catherine Oldham Harris on March 14, 1839, in Kentucky. They were the parents of eleven children, only three of which were living by the time the family moved to Texas in the 1870s. In 1843, he was licensed to preach by the historic Forks of Licking Baptist Church in Falmouth. Shortly afterward, he and his family joined an …

Weibel, Eugene John

aka: Johann Eugen Weibel
A Swiss-German Catholic priest and missionary, Father Eugene John Weibel founded so many churches and other ecclesiastical institutions that he has been termed the Catholic “Apostle to northeastern Arkansas.” Eugene Weibel was born on May 27, 1853, in the small town of Eschenbach, Canton Lucerne, Switzerland. (His name appears as Johann Eugen Weibel in some German-language sources.) In Weibel’s autobiography, he failed to mention his birth mother’s name, only that she died at age thirty-three, four weeks after his birth; his father, John Baptist Weibel, remarried when Eugene was two. Although he mentions that there were eleven children in the family, he does not indicate where in that order he arrived. After attending Catholic elementary school in his village and a …

Welch, Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice Welch was an early Presbyterian minister and leader in Arkansas. He played an important role in the establishment of Lyon College and served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for twenty-five years. Thomas Rice Welch was born on September 15, 1825, on a farm near Nicholasville in Jessamine County, Kentucky, to John Welch and Elizabeth J. Rice (Betsey) Welch. He had at least four brothers and a sister and was named after his mother’s brother, who was a Methodist minister. Welch was encouraged by his uncle to pursue the ministry. Welch received his early education at Bethel Academy near Knoxville, Kentucky, before enrolling at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in May 1844. He …

West, Dan Carlos

Dr. Dan Carlos West served as president of Arkansas College, now Lyon College, from 1972 to 1988. As stated in Brooks Blevins’s history of the college, the physical and curricular changes, along with West’s administrative style, made his presidency “the most turbulent, the most exciting, the most confusing, [and] the most successful” time in the school’s history up to that point. Dan C. West was born on May 29, 1939, in Galveston, Texas, one of four children of Embry Carlos West and Mildred Louise Junker West. The family later moved to Dallas, Texas, where West attended Woodrow Wilson High School, graduating in 1957. He attended the University of Texas for a year and then went on to the U.S. Naval …

Williams, Claude Clossey

Claude Clossey Williams was a Presbyterian minister and human rights activist who was long involved in the civil rights movement. In addition, he was an active labor organizer and served as national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Claude Clossey Williams was born on June 16, 1895, in Weakley County, Tennessee, to Jess Williams and Minnie Bell Galey Williams. His parents were tenant farmers and sharecroppers who were members of the fundamentalist Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1910, he left his family and moved in with cousins, working on their farm. During the winters, he worked as a railroad laborer, carpentry assistant, and painter. He also heaved coal for Mississippi River steamboats. In 1916, with the United States on …

Williams, Hubert Ethridge (H. E.)

Hubert Etheridge Williams was a twentieth-century religious, educational, and civic leader. He founded what is now Williams Baptist University and made an unsuccessful race for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1960. In 1941, he became the youngest college president in the nation. Hubert Etheridge (H. E.) Williams was born on April 8, 1913, in Casa (Perry County) to Robert L. Williams and Anna Emma Williams. Robert Williams, who was a Baptist deacon, had progressive leanings, which he instilled in his son. Williams graduated from Casa High School and enrolled at Arkansas Polytechnic College—which later became Arkansas Tech University—in Russellville (Pope County). He also attended Ouachita Baptist College—which later became Ouachita Baptist University—in Arkadelphia (Clark County), and the George Peabody …

Williams, J. Paul

J. Paul Williams made notable contributions to the field of church music. His catalog of published lyrics exceeds 925 songs, running the gamut of sacred and secular texts. A leader of choral clinics and composer symposiums, he was also a member of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). James Paul Williams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 29, 1937. He was the only child of Ferris Woodrow Williams (a taxi driver) and Violet Simonton Williams (a bank supervisor). He was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he left for college. Williams admired the church’s minister of music, and he decided to pursue that career, even though he had never had a …

Williams, Samuel Woodrow

Samuel Woodrow Williams was an African-American Baptist minister, college professor, and civil rights activist who had a major impact on race relations in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid-to-late 1950s until his sudden death in October 1970. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Samuel Woodrow Williams was born on February 20, 1912, in Sparkman (Dallas County), the oldest of the eight children of Arthur Williams and Annie Willie Butler Williams. As a child, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing baseball and basketball, but nothing gave him as much pleasure as reading; over his lifetime, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Lessons about racism came early for Williams. Before he …

Winchester, James Ridout

James Ridout Winchester served as the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas from 1912 until his retirement in 1931. His episcopate faced many fiscal difficulties brought about by the overzealous plans of his predecessor William Montgomery Brown and by economic challenges resulting from World War I and the Great Depression. James Ridout Winchester was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 15, 1852, to Jacob Winchester and Mary Ridout Winchester. He received a BA from the College of Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia, and graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. He earned four advanced degrees, including two Doctor of Divinity degrees. He married Elizabeth Atkinson Lee in Clarke, Virginia, on April 17, 1878. Francis McNeece Whittle, …

Young, Rufus King

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 …