Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly
The Rev. T. J. Jemison, a longtime Louisiana pastor, pioneering civil rights leader and founder of one of the nation’s met effective faith-based civil rights organizations, has died. He was 95.
Jemison’s son, Ted Jemison, told The Associated Press that his father, who once served as president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., died Nov., 15, of natural causes at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Theodore Judson Jemison was born in 1918 in Selma, Ala., where his father, the Rev. David V. Jemison, was the pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church. He came from a family of prominent ministers and strong churchgoing women. He attended local segregated schools.
Jemison earned a bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University, a historically black institution, where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the same fraternity Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of. Jemison earned a divinity degree at Virginia Union University to prepare for the ministry, and later enrolled in graduate courses at New York University.
In 1953, while serving as pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., a post he held for 54 years, Jemison helped lead the first civil rights boycott of segregated seating on public buses. The organization of free rides, coordinated by churches, was a model used later in 1955 through 1956 by the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama. Jemison was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957.
Although the critical role the Rev. Jemison played in laying the foundation for King’s successful boycott still is not known widely or celebrated, in 2003, the city of Baton Rouge commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Baton Rouge bus boycott.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sought the Rev. Jemison’s advice when organizing the famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., two years later, Ted Jemison said of his father.
When King became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded in New Orleans, T.J. Jemison was the organization’s first secretary, his son said.
“He came up in a time when there was overt racism, but he always preached togetherness. He also believed that everybody deserves a fair share. I think that’s one of the greatest things about him. He never changed his tune. He believed in a man’s worth, regardless of skin color,” Ted Jemison said Nov. 16 in a telephone interview.
Ted Jemison said his father also was a kind and giving man.
“He made so many people happy by giving up what he had, personally, and he enjoyed doing that,” the son said.
T.J. Jemison also served as president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the largest black religious organization in the U.S. from 1982 to 1994, and met with seven U.S. presidents during his lifetime, Ted Jemison said.
Jemison is credited with overseeing the building of Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tenn., the headquarters of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., during his tenure as president.
Todd Sterling, a trustee at Mount Zion First Baptist Church, said T.J. Jemison will be remembered as visionary leader.”
“The world has lost an icon in the Baptist ministry and the civil rights arena,” Sterling told The Associated Press. “He was a pioneer in race relations.”
“A lot of young people may not know much about Rev. Jemison, but all of the freedom fighters and anyone who is serious about learning the history of the Civil Rights Movement know exactly who he was and what he contributed to the struggle,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans-based community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “He stuck his neck out there and was on the front lines of the struggle for civil rights two years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He opened a lot of doors for a lot of people and forever changed the course of American history.”
The Rev. Jemison was laid in repose at the State Capitol Rotunda in Baton Rouge on Nov. 22. His wake was that night at Mount Zion First Baptist Church, 356 East Boulevard, in Baton Rouge. His funeral was held Nov. 23, at Mount Zion.