Few white Mississippi clergy were willing to speak out in 1962 against white segregationists. One such brave minister was the Reverend Charles Leo Stanford, Jr., who graduated from Mississippi State University and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1958, Stanford first served the Vidalia Presbyterian Church in Louisiana. His second pastorate, in Meridian, Mississippi at the Jones Memorial Presbyterian Church is where he delivered this sermon. “After the sermon,” according to R. Milton Winter, “Stanford noticed that one of the elders refused the Lord’s Supper. Following the evening service, he happened to drive past the elder’s home and realized that his session was meeting there secretly. The next week Stanford was given a resolution calling his sermon ‘untimely’ and the references to alleged sins of the congregation ‘uncalled for.’ Attendance dropped precipitously.” Sixteen months later, Stanford received a new “call” to Kentucky.
While it might have been relatively safe to speak out against the Meredith Riots at Ole Miss outside of the Magnolia State, not so for a white minister. In this brief sermon on worldwide communion Sunday, Stanford lays the blame explicitly from the outset: “The horror at Ole Miss has been the result largely of Christian preachers who have not been preaching the whole counsel of God to the people of God.” And yet Stanford also points the finger at his congregants: “if you have hatred in your heart toward anyone, you do not have love in your heart for God.” But Stanford goes even further in his condemnation, pointing to some members “of this particular church” who counseled violence. Such people “are more at home with the spirit of violence and war. And to claim that such a spirit is a Christian spirit is to do blasphemy to the name of Christ.”
Jones Memorial Presbyterian Church, Meridian, Mississippi
October 7, 1962