Paul N. Carnes was born on February 1, 1921 in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Indiana University and he received his theological degree, with honors, from Harvard. Carnes served as a second lieutenant in World War II and was a prisoner of war in Tunisia from 1942 to 1945. After the war he married Freda Wolf. After finishing his theological training at Harvard, he served as minister to several Unitarian congregations, including the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown and the First Unitarian Church of Memphis, from 1954 to 1958. While in Youngstown, Carnes was president of the city’s Interracial Committee. He would later serve as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s president from 1977 to 1979. Unitarians have served as the shadow voice of Christianity since the Council of Nicea condemned Arianist non-trinitarian heresies of universal salvation in 325 A.D. More recently they have spoken out against sixteenth-century church-sponsored executions of non-trinitarians (both Catholic and Protestant), and twentieth century discrimination based on race.
During Carnes’s brief four year ministry in Memphis, he received death threats for advocating home sales in his neighborhood to blacks. From 1968 through the mid-1970s, the Unitarian Black Affairs Council came to dramatic confrontations at the UUA General Assembly which included at least one incidence of spitting between leaders bitterly divided over the virtues of black empowerment versus integration. During Carnes’s presidency, the assembly resolved to recognize the 25th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, having navigated Brown’s turbulent aftermath. The neighborhood near 1283 Inman St. (Memphis), where the Carnes family lived, has maintained its middle class composition, and is now predominantly African American. Carnes died at his home in Boston on March 17, 1979. His papers are housed at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In his address to Memphis Unitarians, Carnes makes deft use of Floyd Hunter’s community power structure theory, arguing that black and white elites have to find moderates among them to steer Memphis through a potentially chaotic storm. He gently reminds his congregation that there are reasonable people searching for the right path, and connects rationality to the commonsensical need for gradualism. He is also flexible, and does not care whether the multiracial elite pact stays within the formal sphere of a mayoral commission or if people have to create their own venues to steer Memphis. But Carnes is firm that Uncle Tom-ism cannot steer