Civil Rights Reformer to Present for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Charles Joseph Served as Mississippi Adventist Minister

By: Rachel Smith

As an Adventist pastor, Charles Joseph helped organize a medical emergency vehicle to treat participants in civil rights marches.

Walla Walla University welcomes Charles Joseph for two presentations planned as part of the university’s observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  

His first presentation will be Monday, Jan. 21, at 11 a.m. at the University Church. Joseph will present “My March With Martin Luther King, Jr.,” which will chronicle his work with Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as his work as a civil rights activist during the 1950s, 1960s and continuing into the 1990s in Alabama, Mississippi, and the south side of Chicago, Ill., where he worked as a community organizer with the young Barack Obama in poor black and Latino neighborhoods.

At 7 p.m., Joseph will be one of the key members of a community panel discussion at the Melvin K. West Fine Arts Center Auditorium. The evening presentation is entitled “Faith and Social Engagement.” Other panel members will include:

• Pedrito Maynard-Reid, WWU professor of biblical studies and missiology,

• Terrie Aamodt, WWU professor of history and English,

• Noah Leavitt, Whitman College assistant dean for student engagement,

• Reverend Adam Kirtley, First Congregational Church, and

• Emily Muthersbaugh, WWU student newspaper editor.

Austin Archer, WWU professor of psychology and education, will serve as program host.

Born July 30, 1936, in Centerville, Ala., Joseph completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and agriculture from Oakwood College, and then earned a master of divinity degree from Andrews University and a doctor of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University. Joseph has served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor since 1962 and was president of the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1977 to 1986.

Joseph’s sociopolitical activism on behalf of minorities and the poor began in the late 1950s and continues into the present. He worked for equal access to administrative advancement within the Chicago transit system in the late 50s, and for the rights of all blacks while serving as the pastor of a poor, black Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Greenwood, Miss.
An active member in the 1960s of the National Urban League, the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Joseph helped organize some of the activities for SNCC and CORE. He helped advocate for the desegregating of public housing, the improvement of child care facilities for the Head Start Program, and agitating for black voting rights. He also contacted members of Congress, urging their support of the civil rights initiatives of SNCC and CORE.

In Greenwood, he worked to overturn longstanding legislative requirements that prevented blacks from exercising their right to vote. He participated in several protest marches, most notably: the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, the 1966 March Against Fear, and the 1968 Poor People’s March.  

During this period of activism, Joseph became acquainted with other civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Goodman, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Fred Shuttlesworth. He is first cousin-once-removed to the now-iconic Rosa Parks.

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