Dr. Jesse L. Douglas, Sr. (CRDS ’75) is a minister, civil rights activist and vocalist. Dr. Douglas attended Dillard University (New Orleans, LA) and Lane College *Jackson, TN) and earned a divinity degree at Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta, GA). In 1960, Atlanta, GA, Dr. Douglas along with other area students, took action to desegregate a cafeteria frequented by state government employees. A sit-in protest resulted in arrests and the lawsuit Douglas and Reynolds vs. Vandenberg, filed on behalf of the students by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which effectively ended racial separation at “all facilities at the Atlanta capitol building.”
Douglas’s albinism spared him from arrest in Atlanta and would be adroitly exploited in the future in the cause of civil rights for blacks in the South. Dr. Douglas pastored the First Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church (Montgomery, AL). He was then elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA is an organization founded in 1955 in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and first headed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was during Douglas’s three-year tenure as MIA president (1963 to 1966) that efforts in March 1965 by MIA in conjunction with SCLC to register black voters met with resistance from state officials, unprovoked violence from Alabama state troopers, and deadly attacks on civil rights volunteers. A trusted and reliable ally of King and SCLC, Douglas again proved his value to the civil rights movement through his skillful, behind the scenes coordination of logistics that sustained the 18-day, 54-mile Selma to Montgomery marches.
Long referred to as the “unidentified white man,” a photo of Douglas during this tumultuous era (March 17, 1965) famously shows him locked arm-in-arm with King and John Lewis, then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leading a crowd to the Montgomery County courthouse where they negotiated protocols for protest demonstrations with city officials. Douglas was also a stirring vocalist who sang at religious gatherings and was often requested by King to set the right tone for his rousing speeches with King’s favorite gospel hymn, “If He Changed My Name.”
In 1966, Douglas left Montgomery and began pastoring at CME churches in Birmingham, Alabama; Kansas City, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Flint, Michigan; finally retiring in 2004 at St. Luke’s CME Church in Champaign, Illinois. In 1968 he sang for the occupants of the tent city on the Washington Mall during the Poor People’s Campaign. Douglas and his wife resided at a nursing home in Mint Hill, North Carolina.
The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. is president of Healing of the Nations Ministries and serves as national minister for the Drum Major Institute. He is senior minister emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York City where he pastored for 18 years. He was the first Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in NYC and taught homiletics for 13 years. Additionally, Dr. Forbes is a highly acclaimed author, scholar, and nationally sought-after speaker, affectionately referred to in national and international religious circles as the “preacher’s preacher” because of his extensive preaching career and his charismatic style. Newsweek magazine once recognized Forbes as one of the 12 “most effective preachers” in the English-speaking world. As a passionate educator, administrator, community and human rights activist, and interfaith leader, Dr. Forbes was twice designated as one of America’s greatest Black preachers by Ebony magazine. Dr. Forbes is a featured TEDex speaker and also a frequent guest and contributor to top national media outlets including Huffington Post, MSNBC, and others. He has authored several books, including “Whose Gospel?” (The New Press) and “The Holy Spirit and Preaching” (Abingdon Press).