Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview
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1962
§64 Heslip “Happy” Lee

Heslip Malbert “Happy”Lee was born in Polk County, Georgia on February 21, 1922 to a family of sharecroppers. He received the nickname “Happy” from his younger sister who had trouble pronouncing his name. Lee married Laura McClung in 1941. They had five children. Lee was ordained to preach in October of 1949 at Antioch Baptist Church in Cedartown, Georgia. Both he and his wife attended Truett-McConnell Jr. College in Cleveland, Georgia in 1951. In 1952 they continued their education at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia from which Happy received a B.A. in philosophy. During this time, he pastored at Belerma Baptist Church and Jenkinsburg Baptist Church. In 1954 Lee attended ColgateRochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York and while studying there pastored at York Baptist Church. He received his M.Div. from Colgate in 1957.

In 1961 he became a member on the board of directors of the Virginia Council of Human Relations and later was appointed executive director. He also joined the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. As a consequence, the Kennedy administration called on Lee to help fight racism; this resulted in the integration of schools throughout the South. In 1964 Lee moved to the North Carolina State Advisory Committee as well as becoming a consultant for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In 1966 he became a member of the board of directors for the North Carolina Council on Human Rights and was later appointed vice president. Since that time, Happy Lee has remained very active in the civil rights arena. In 2004 the Gandhi Foundation of USA chose Reverend Lee to be the first non-Indian recipient of the Gandhi Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his work in human relations. His papers are held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

In his sermon to the First Unitarian Church of Richmond, Lee reminds his listeners that the racial climate is favorable to change, but also that there remains a condemnation and resentment among many whites over the “overaggressiveness” of some in the fight for better human relations. Throughout this address, Lee uses the term “human relations” to describe the civil rights movement. Such a strategic renaming makes the movement more rhetorically inclusive and perhaps less objectionable to many southerners. Lee offers three “basic persuaders,” what he later terms “hidden persuaders,” fundamental to any movement. The first and most important of these is commitment. Bound up intimately with commitment are motivation and the presuppositions underlying a movement’s activities. The second hidden persuader involves the extent to which we are willing to have our presuppositions and motivations scrutinized by others—“and that means all others.” If a movement’s basic beliefs cannot stand up to careful critique, then that movement should, and will, wither and die. The final hidden persuader, and

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