The Honor of a Lifetime: Speaking at my great, great, great grandfather’s church he co-founded 165 years ago

| April 4, 2016
Eric Hackley speaks at Mt. Calvary Church in Niles, Mich.

Eric Hackley speaks at Mt. Calvary Church in Niles, Mich.

By Eric D. Hackley

On March 20, 2016, I had the honor of a lifetime. I was asked to speak on the Underground Railroad history of Mt. Calvary Church in Niles, Mich.

Mt. Calvary was first organized in 1851 under the name of Second Baptist Church and was a member of the Anti-Slavery Baptist Association. I was also asked to discuss its co-founder, the Culpeper, Va.-born abolitionist who was my great, great, great grandfather, the Rev. John William Hackley (1807-1849).

As I was pacing back and forth trying to get my mind around this opportunity, a Fort Wayne friend, David Perry, suggested that I begin my history presentation with an appropriate scripture. Since I am to a large extent scripturally illiterate, trying to tie the Bible to the freedom of those enslaved during this period of US history was a challenge. Fortunately, I instinctively knew whom to consult.

Over the years, I’ve had numerous conversations with Virginia-born civil rights activist and historian the Rev. Dr. J.B. Pressey Jr., who presently also lives in Fort Wayne. But, I’d never had a conversation where I had to share my knowledge with a church congregation. Pressey, never at a loss for answers to biblical questions and concerns affecting black people, suggested Galatians 5:1:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (NIV)

This scripture is on point with what I wanted to share, but there still was still something that I felt was missing in my understanding, but I could not express it verbally with any coherence. “What am I not understanding?” I asked myself. “What question am I not asking that will mentally unlock my consciousness to enable enlightenment to take hold.” My intense curiosity about the meaning of this scripture is now officially on steroids.

Enter Bishop Jeremiah C. Hackley of Knoxville, Ten. Jeremiah is a Facebook friend who I have not personally met, but his Hackleys are also from Culpeper, Va., and so, therefore, we are cousins. What’s most interesting about this pastor is, not only does he talk as much about Willie Lynch as I do, he has preached about Willie Lynch and has written a book titled “The Letter,” also about Willie Lynch.

Bishop Hackley said the scripture that I had chosen “is a foundation scripture in what I like to call Liberation Theology.” Then later he said:

“Liberation Theology is symmetric with Hackley history.”

Okay, now I am indeed on track because I know this observation to be correct because of the Hackley history that I have discovered through genealogy research.

My mind has a clear understanding of this scripture’s depth and social relevance. And now I clearly remember who first planted the seeds in my mind about Black Liberation Theology—it was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In 2008, I hosted a “live” call-in talk show titled, “What’s wrong with the ideology of Rev. Wright?” This show took place at the time when Fox News and others were attacking the reverend for forthrightly expressing his views concerning the social impact of US History on black people.

The seeds of this day’s experience were sown 39 years ago at Indiana State University when my then girlfriend Brenda and I were glued to the television watching Alex Haley’s “ROOTS.” Over the past many decades, I’ve researched Hackley genealogy, and I have known about John William Hackley (also known as Billy) for quite a long time. But, it was not until cousin Valarie and I impulsively decided to leave Kalamazoo, Mich., and visit Mt. Calvary Church with the hope of learning more about our ancestor. Upon arrival, we were indeed enlightened beyond belief when we discovered that this church has a Historic Landmark designation in the state of Michigan.

This scripture contains insights that I am learning more and more about daily. The more I study, learn and think about the life and times of Free Blacks well before the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent Civil War, the more I realize the many instances that things have changed, but really haven’t.

And yes, I’ll be writing more on the scripture focus, the Rev. J.W. Hackley, Black History and the continued existence of slave mentality 151 years after Juneteenth in later editions of Fort Wayne’s Frost Illustrated newspaper.

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Category: Civil Rights, History, Local, National, Spiritual Matters

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at

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