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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Jones experienced opposition to his liberal racial stance as minister

Conservative Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church members attempted to oust Jones from the pastorship because of his liberal philosophy and involvement with the civil rights movement. Though most of the congregation supported him, Jones ultimately quit in order to preserve the good relationship between the Orange County and Chapel Hill presbyteries. His supporters insisted that he pastor a new church, the Community Church. Despite his initial reluctance, Jones relented.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

. JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
Perhaps we could say something about the Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill. My impression is that that congregation has always been the center of controversy in Presbyterian circles in North Carolina.
CHARLES M. JONES:
Right. And liberalism, in a sense. It's never had a conservative preacher. Well, at the present time there is, a young fellow; he's conservative, but he's not illiberal. Barron. I like him very much. But mostly they've had "nuts." The Chapel Hill church problem was more the chruch and its relationship to the Presbytery, the Synod, and the state. The congregation, when I was there, oh, well over ninety-some percent enthusiastic, some less so. The problem actually was initiated in such a way that I think some honestly didn't mean to have it happen. And this has never really come out, I think, because …
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
This is the local people.
CHARLES M. JONES:
Yes. I don't think this has ever come out, because people were so angry and dissatisfied at me. There were about nine or ten people in the congregation who really would love to see me leave. And they were diehards really. They thought Frank Graham was awful. But others like Professor Boyd came here and Hugh Holman and three or four people who were not in this church became inadventently part of the problem. As a matter of fact, Hugh was attending the Presbyterian Church in Durham, because he was pretty conservative theologically. We were good friends. But a few people who wanted another Presbyterian church started teamed up with these recalcitrants, making about a dozen people. They had a secret meeting one Sunday afternoon, and they decided to approach Orange presbytery, which is the next higher unit than the church [unclear] and ask them if they could start another church. Well, what happened was, yes, they gave them permission, but then some people who wanted to make trouble outside of Chapel Hill said, "Well, what's wrong with the Chapel Hill church [Laughter] that you folks can't go to it?" So the Presbytery passed at the same time they gave permission for a new church a resolution to investigate the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, and they were off! Bunny Boyd apologized to me greatly, and he said he never in the world intended that to happen; I'm sure he didn't. The other nine or ten did. [Laughter] And it was a case of some of them not being wise enough to know who they were linking up with and what the situation was. But that was how the trouble started, in a simple thing like that.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
Were these recalcitrant members pretty much the same people who had been back dissenters in the War years?
CHARLES M. JONES:
Oh, yes. Same ones. In fact, one of them picketed the church one day, a lady.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
With a sign?
CHARLES M. JONES:
No. Walked up and down and stopped people and said, "Do you know what Mr. Jones does?" They'd say, "What?" "He eats with niggers." [Laughter] And it was so. I really felt sorry for those folks. But I could not do a single thing with them. [unclear] . They said, "Well, the church will never change as long as Charlie Jones is here and Frank Graham is here, because they boss the officers." Well, now, can you imagine I was bossing [M. T.] Van Hecke or Henry Brandis. "They boss them all." And the protesters argued, "Officers are elected for life" And they were! "But if we ever get them out," they said, "it'll change." So I saw that was probably a just criticism. They ought to have a chance to change officers. So I proposed at the officers' meeting one night that we send out a letter and ask the people how they felt about rotating the officers, and they said, "You go ahead and write it," which I did and asked members to express their opinions to see if they'd like to have a meeting to discuss it and so on. I got back a letter from one of these people. She said, "I am in favor of rotating. I'm in favor of the janitor rotating so he gets the church clean, and I'm in favor of rotating the key in the lock of the church [Laughter] . I'm in favor of Mr. Jones rotating out of town. And I'm in favor of the officers rotating out of office." [Laughter] But you can't do anything with that, you see. You're just stuck when you've got such an adamant opposition. It was very interesting. I reluctantly took a leave of absence for a year. I'd been given a leave of absence and started not to take it, yet all the officers insisted I take it. They said they would attend to the problem, and they did. They fought them. They made them an appeal and all that kind of thing, but it didn't do. See, no charges were ever brought against me, not one. And they wouldn't let us see the record of anybody who protested anything. We never knew what any protester said.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
Is that in accord with the rules of the church?
CHARLES M. JONES:
No. And that's where Van Hecke and Brandis, while I was away, got up a legal appeal and took it all the way to the highest church court, so that and the Presbytery was overruled in some respects. I mean Brandis and them won it. And the top court of thirty-three people said that the presbytery had erred in taking testimony in secret and not making it available to us, and their public utterances were such as to defame me. And if I chose to force them to make charges, they would have to bring court charges. Well, that wouldn't have changed the situation. I would still have had to leave, because the one thing they did do they had a right to do, which was to remove me from office "for the the welfare of the church." And the Presbytery offered to find me another job, but they just said I wasn't good for Chapel Hill. And it turns out that at the bottom of it was a plywood contractor in High Point. I didn't know that. Dr. Frank told me that he went to the bottom of it, and several other people like Paul — Lee Rays. Fairly strong people in the state, some of them politicians. So I just felt no need to fight that kind of thing. But the local congregation stood firm all the way through. But there are a lot of legends about that, too. There are legends that I was defrocked, thrown out, so on down the line. I don't know how such things grow, but they do. And Marion A. Wright the other night in the Civil Liberties Union had a whole page of mistakes [Laughter] he read out, and I didn't have nerve enough to correct him. It didn't matter that much anyway. But it is, in a sense, bad for the local Presbyterian Church, because our relationship with it was good and had for, more than thirty of them. As soon as I quit, I didn't intend to preach any more. I was doing some experimental work in the mountains, community organization; I intended to go on with that. But then some folks in Chapel Hill wanted a community church. I told them I couldn't do it, because if they organized the church around me it wouldn't be much of a church. So if they needed a church, they needed it without me. And they went ahead and did organize and incorporate it, and then came back to me [unclear] with a list of new people that wanted to be members. And I had said I wouldn't come back. But when they came back and presented me with what they hoped to do and everything and it looked interesting, and so I became their minister. But you see, it isn't a case of a church splitting and mad at each other. For the first year the high school students in the Presbyterian Church met with mine [Laughter] . But you get this picture. And, as I say, I don't know how these legends grow up. They grow up out of people's anger, really, but half the stories are wrong.