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Washington, Paul M.(1921–2002) - Religious reformer, minister, Chronology

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Aman of righteous discontent, Paul M. Washington was the head of the Church of the Advocacy, which gained national attention in 1968 when it hosted the first national Black Power Convention. Washington was a controversial figure and social crusader who agitated for the acceptance of women in the ministry, civil rights, reparations for the descendants of slaves, prison reform, and later, partnership benefits for gay city workers. He rose from meager beginnings in Charleston, South Carolina to become known as a compassionate minister with a passion for helping the oppressed and the disaffected.

Paul Matthews Washington was born in Charleston, South Carolina on May 26, 1921, to Tom Washington, a blacksmith, and Mayme Washington, a school librarian. His only sibling was a sister. He was named Paul because Mayme Washington “so admired the courage and the eloquence of the Apostle Paul,” Washington wrote in Other Sheep I Have . His father was a hardworking man, who gave his weekly paycheck to Mayme Washington, and she issued out the money, including his car fare.

Washington’s mother was determined that he would be a minister. He was expected to join the church and work at a part-time job by the time he was ten years old. Before he reached that age, Washington’s mother obtained a job for her son with a family friend, a printer named Saxton Wilson. She took him to Memorial Baptist Church where they attended a revival meeting. Deeply moved, he asked to be baptized and to join the church.

In high school, Washington saw black Charleston’s real class structure. Since the public high schools offered classes through the eleventh grade only, college-bound blacks had a choice of enrolling at the Roman Catholic high school or at historic Avery Institute, a combined high school and teacher’s college. At Avery, the principal discouraged Washington, suggesting he lacked the appropriate background for Charleston’s black elite, and they lived in the wrong section of town—a racially-mixed section with poor whites who lived alongside working class blacks. Washington grew up with knowledge of class and race in the South.

Washington left Charleston when he was seventeen years old and headed for the historically black institution, Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania. Instead of following his mother’s prescribed course, initially Washington wanted to become a doctor. Eventually, though, he came back to the idea of the ministry. Lincoln’s Episcopal chaplain, Reverend Matthew Davis, visited Washington and persuaded him to join St. Mark’s. To the Washing-tons, this was a radical change: historically, St. Mark’s accommodated light skinned, upper-class blacks, and the Washingtons were neither. Also, Washington was raised a Baptist. Washington remained under Davis’s wing, and on June 14, 1943, he was confirmed in the chapel of the Episcopal Church on Rittenhouse Square in downtown Philadelphia. Afterward, Bishop Hart, who confirmed him, sent Washington to Philadelphia Divinity School where he was the first black seminarian to live in the residence halls (other blacks had lived with black families). As a part of the school’s requirement, Washington took pastoral training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

In 1947, Washington was ordained a priest. He had met Christine Jackson, a recent high school graduate, whom he married on August 23. The couple went to Liberia, where their first two sons were born. Washington spent six years at Cuttington College in Liberia, where he also served as the school’s business manager. With the skills he learned from his father, Washington helped to construct college buildings in the bush. In time, he became a full-time teacher and pastor of two congregations. One was English-speaking while Kru people comprised the second congregation, which he addressed through an interpreter. When the couple returned to Philadelphia in 1954, Washington was named vicar of St. Cyprian’s-in-the-Meadows, a church in Eastwick with a black congregation. Located in Philadelphia’s extreme southwestern corner, the area was thoroughly integrated both by race and by economic status. While there, Washington began a prison ministry that became an important part of his work for some time.

On June 15, 1962, Washington became rector of the Church of the Advocate. His vision was for the church to be known for its compassion and love—one that responded to human need, such as ministering to the poor, the hungry, the incarcerated, and all who were socially marginalized. This church was located in north Philadelphia which was, in those days, an area referred to by some as “the jungle.” Many interpreted the nickname as a reflection of racial prejudice and fear. Poverty, broken homes, joblessness, overcrowding, landlord neglect, and an abundance of social problems were in evidence there. There were positive aspects as well, however; proud blacks lived in well-tended row houses and loved the community. Washington began his work by taking stock of the community and its relationship to the church. With the rectory next door to the church, he put in place immediately an open-door policy. He gave himself fully to everyone, with special concern for the needy who were usually treated poorly by social agencies and others who were in position to help. In his autobiography, Washington said: “I did not come to the Advocate with an agenda for social change. I came to be a pastor.” His congregation remained small, compared to those of other Protestant churches, but the church was a focal point for many of Philadelphia’s pressing needs during the turbulent 1960s.



Born in Charleston, South Carolina on May 26


Enters Lincoln University in Pennsylvania


Graduates from Philadelphia Divinity School


Ordained as priest in the Episcopal Church; marries Christine Jackson on August 23; begins six-year stay as teacher at Cuttington College and local pastor in Liberia


Becomes vicar of St. Cyprians-in-the-Meadows in Philadelphia


Becomes rector of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia


Begins service on Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission


Hosts Black Unity Rally


Hosts first national Black Power Convention at Church of the Advocate


Begins support to agitate for black reparations


Opens church to Black Panther Party’s National Convention; receives Doctor of Divinity degree from Philadelphia Divinity School


Hosts Philadelphia ordination of eleven women to priesthood


Serves as delegate to conference on U.S. intervention in Iran


Appointed to Philadelphia Special Investigating Committee (MOVE Commission); over 1,000 supporters gather to honor his work


Retires from Church of the Advocate; takes on title of rector emeritus


Attends American Institute for International Relations in Moscow


Publishes Other Sheep I Have: The Autobiography of Father Paul M. Washington


Participates in the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.


Dies of heart failure in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 7

Watching of the Rods [next] [back] Washington, Isaiah (1963–)

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