published Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Civil Rights pioneer Paul McDaniel has ministered to Chattanooga for 48 years; now he’s stepping back

The Rev. Paul McDaniel delivers a sermon at Second Missionary Baptist Church ion Feb. 9. McDaniel plans to retire June 30.
The Rev. Paul McDaniel delivers a sermon at Second Missionary Baptist Church ion Feb. 9. McDaniel plans to retire June 30.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

AT A GLANCE

A brief time line of the Rev. Paul McDaniel’s service in Chattanooga:

1966: Started as pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church.

1969: Founded the Unity Group with other black leaders. The group helped to get John P. Franklin elected as the first black city commissioner in 1971. He later became vice mayor of the city.

Early 1970s: Became the first black minister to serve as president of the Clergy Association of Greater Chattanooga.

1977: Won a U.S. Supreme Court case enabling him to be a member of the 1977 Tennessee Constitutional Convention that established the county commission form of government. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Tennessee could not prohibit members of the clergy from holding office.

1978: Served as a commissioner from the Hamilton County Commission’s formation in 1978 to 1998, when he retired. He was chairman five times.

2000: Worked with other churches and ministers to open the Church Koinonia Credit Union, a credit union made up of mostly black churches where black people were overseeing loans given in the community. The credit union merged in good standing with the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in 2013.

2014: Expected to retire as pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church.

At 11 a.m. the deacons walked into the sanctuary singing an old gospel hymn in perfect harmony. No music.

Then the piano player started on the keys. Older women wearing hats walked toward the front to take their seats in the large sanctuary that was barely filling. The smell of eggs and bacon wafted from the cafeteria.

Then right after the offering was being taken up, after the children sang, the reverend, in his long black robe striped with African colors, walked from a side of the room to the pulpit.

For 48 years the Rev. Paul A. McDaniel has spoken his mind and the word of the Lord from this wooden pulpit. At the mostly black Second Missionary Baptist Church in East Chattanooga’s Churchville community, he has plunged generations of new believers in baptism, prayed for the sick, called for benevolence and buried old friends and boys too young to die.

But this month he will begin stepping away from his church and out of public life. His final day at Second Baptist will be June 30.

At 83, he sees that the church needs a new vision. The young don’t attend Sunday service anymore, and his generation is dying. He is tired. Fifteen to 20 people at his church die every month. Doing that many funerals pulls on you emotionally, he said.

Today McDaniel is a towering presence in Chattanooga’s black community. He has worked as a pastor, a social activist and a politician here for nearly half a century. He was the pastor who went with his congregants to legal hearings when they were in danger of being evicted. He went with people to court, visited them in the hospital and counseled them through rocky marriages.

“It’s going to be sad,” said Doris Ervin, whom McDaniel baptized as a child in 1969. “Sometimes I hear him mention that he’s leaving and I tear up and turn my head.”

“There will never be another Paul A. McDaniel,” she said.

•••

McDaniel was born in South Carolina in 1930, one of five, a child of the Depression.

When he was a boy he was sick a lot, suffering from severe asthma. The doctors told his parents that he wasn’t expected to live. So at 8 years old, he said he made a bargain with God; If God would heal him, he would become a preacher.

And he was healed shortly after, with the help of a doctor in Columbia, S.C., and gave his first official sermon when he was just 15 at Big Calvary Baptist Church in Edgemoor, S.C., where his father, Adam T. McDaniel, was the pastor.

During post-secondary studies at Morehouse College, McDaniel studied political science and was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.

McDaniel eventually would pastor in New York, where he met his first wife, Edna, and then in New Jersey. In New Jersey he was the first black to head the Rahway Ministerial Association, and his brother was the first black on the board of education.

Yet racism was no stranger.

In 1963, McDaniel recalled, he had taken his first three babies south to a Delaware beach. He remembers the family had wanted to stop for dinner after a long day and they went to a drive-in.

He chose a drive-in because he wasn’t sure of the area’s rules about blacks eating in certain places, and not in others, and he wanted no trouble.

But even at a drive-in, when the waitress finally brought the family their food, she said they couldn’t eat it in the parking lot. They had to take it and go.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was changing the South he was about to enter.

While still pastoring in New Jersey, McDaniel marched with blacks and whites in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and was responsible for finding yards for marchers to sleep in overnight. He remembers blacks throwing rocks at white motorists, and he said he was afraid to walk at the front of the line.

He did it anyway. Some of the National Guard officers spit on the marchers, he said.

Then in 1966, he moved his entire family from New Jersey south to Chattanooga. Second Missionary Baptist Church, then 100 years old, had called him as 20th pastor.

With the South in the heat of the civil rights movement, McDaniel said he didn’t want to leave the North. He didn’t want to raise his three children in a segregated society. Peter, his youngest son, had yet to be born.

Yet the Civil Rights Act had made it illegal to segregate people by race at school and places of public accommodation. So when a former classmate told McDaniel of the opening in Chattanooga, he was more receptive.

A date was set for him to preach at the church in May 1966. By August of that year he was installed, at age 36, as the full-time pastor. But the church had split into two congregations before he arrived, and healing was the first order of business.

He wasn’t a dynamic personality, he said. So people had to get used to his soft-spoken, laid-back style. But they did, and the church began to grow.

In 1975 the church moved to East Third Street near Dodson Avenue, where many members lived, and a new facility was built. The sanctuary seated 550 and had 20 classrooms. The chapel was named in honor of McDaniel’s parents.

At the height of the church’s influence, four teams of workers would go out on Saturdays to recruit children to church. Then on Sunday they would drive to pick them up.

Second Missionary became one of the largest black churches in Chattanooga. Its membership climbed to well over 1,000.

“We are called to be a servant church,” McDaniel said in a Times Free Press article in 1991. “We have been given our ministry. We have not earned it. It is a gift of grace from God. Therefore, being recipients of the grace of God, we are also ministers of reconciliation.”

Politics was his other ministry, he said.

•••

McDaniel made national history in 1978, a decade after coming to Chattanooga, when he won a U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned a state law prohibiting ministers from holding elected office. The victory allowed him to serve as a delegate in the State Constitutional Convention that established the new form of county government.

“He has been and is a voice of reason and logic,” said City Council Chairman and Second Baptist church member Yusuf Hakeem. “He has been a stabilizing force within the leadership of Chattanooga.”

McDaniel was elected to the first Hamilton County Commission in 1978 and served 20 years, five times as chairman, before retiring in 1998.

He became the first black to serve as president of the Chattanooga Clergy Association and helped found the Unity Group, which assists black leaders who run for political office.

He also helped start the Church Koinonia Federal Credit Union, made of mostly black churches, in 2000. The financial institution operated for more than a decade before merging in good standing with the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in 2013.

“He has been a steady voice for fairness and inclusion,” said Quenston Coleman, who has worked with McDaniel as a longtime member of the Unity Group.

“He came to Chattanooga with … experience in the civil rights movement just in time to help the black community move in lockstep with other cities struggling with issues of racial hatred,” Coleman said.

“His quiet manner allowed him to work with the white community and make things better for everybody.”

Coleman said he remembers singing “We Shall Overcome” with McDaniel, and the reverend would emphasize his favorite line: “Black and white together we shall overcome some day.”

•••

The church McDaniel spoke to on a recent Sunday looks much different than it did during his middle age. Only 500 members are on the roster now. Fewer than that appear in the pews on Sunday.

Still, McDaniel sees hope for the future of the church.

Members say he leaves big shoes to fill.

His wife of 17 years, Dr. Linda McDaniel, calls him a “true man of the cloth,” one who lives what he preaches. McDaniel’s marriage to his first wife, Edna, lasted 40 years. She died in 1990.

Several church members applaud McDaniel for his ability to help people become better leaders.

“He’s not just a role model. He’s a goal model,” said Ronald Harris, a pastoral assistant at Second Missionary.

It was McDaniel’s encouragement and support that led Harris to become a minister. And McDaniel had a subtle way of setting up Harris and other ministers to succeed, said Harris.

“He is on my Mount Rushmore of ministers,” said Harris. “No question about it. He does more than preach the gospel, he experiences it. He’s not just preaching at you, he’s preaching for you and with you.”

And everything that McDaniel does is on the foundation of love, he said.

On this day, McDaniel’s voice grew louder than it usually does. His body rocked side to side, head bouncing and arms waving.

“Jesus does not deny that we will have people who persecute us, but that does not take away the responsibility to love them, even if they can’t stand you,” he said. “You can’t love God without loving others.”

He stepped back from the microphone and spoke in a booming voice.

“If you love God,” he said, “you will love your neighbor.”

Contact staff writer Joan McClane at jmcclane@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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