When I arrived at Chattanooga’s Second Missionary Baptist Church, A true Southern gentleman, The Rev. Paul McDaniel, met me personally met at the door. Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Pastor McDaniel has been part of the Southern landscape and its African American community for most of his life. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he received a Masters of Divinity degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in New York. A Chattanooga resident since 1966, Rev. McDaniel is stepping down from his post at the Second Missionary Baptist Church after almost 50 years of service. A larger-than-life figure in the community, I share our conversation in his honor.
Even during his early student years, Rev. McDaniel appreciated interfaith work. Morehouse was open and fertile ground for breaking barriers and many religious leaders were invited and introduced to the students. Later, the Seminary had a long history of social action and of sharing together. Not surprisingly, Rev. McDaniel has a long history of interfaith and interdenominational work in Chattanooga. He hooked up with St. Paul Episcopal pastor and got to know the priest at OLPH (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) and developed dialogue group ties. On August 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination was announced, their group met and shared prayers and bound us together.
Pastor McDaniel spoke with some concern about the current interfaith situation. “When the Chattanooga Clergy Association opened itself to Black clergy in 1966, the group was predominately Southern Baptist. Some dropped out when they included Blacks and Catholics. When the Rabbis were admitted, the number of clergy participating was further diminished. The group had only the very liberal churches represented and even the enablers stopped coming.
Now there is no longer an interfaith clergy group.” “There are fewer interfaith and interracial relationships here than in the past 30 years,” says Rev. McDaniel. “I thought we’d move to a more integrated society. There were things done of a racial nature when his oldest was in Brainerd High School in the early seventies. Now, the Brainerd H.S. has changed totally from White to almost all Black. We fought for integration, but this isn’t it. The mass of Black population are left behind and we’ve missed an appropriate percentage of teachers of color.
Rev. McDaniel talked about his dedication to civil rights and integration given the questionable history in Chattanooga. He mentioned his father who was also a pastor and from childhood he remembers his dad as sensitive to and active in politics despite the segregation in the South. Yet, he doesn’t consider the North as a role model for the South. “I hope we’re not growing like a sophisticated Northern community where a degree of discrimination and segregation was camouflaged. In 1950s in Rock City, South Carolina, we were a small minority and had a quota of 2-3 per class (10% of the student population). We never got over 12 individuals more like 4, 5 or 6. Few Black graduated.
When he attended the University of Rochester, Blacks in 1951-54, there were less than ten Black students on campus. Housing was even more of a problem. “At first, I lived on the seminary grounds but later, it was a great challenge to get housing in the city. I applied to University housing but never heard from them. My wife called the head of the department to say I couldn’t stay at the school without housing. The Department head made it happen and we were the first Blacks to move into University housing, even in these surroundings, there were camouflaged practices.”
“I’ve watched Chattanooga grow from a small city to an urban city,” Rev. McDaniel shared. He went to express concern that relationships, particularly police relationships, remain a problem. ”Police Chiefs are structurally beholden to the powers that be”, he added. “One of our members died in police custody and his mother sued and won. She got to teach diversity in the academy. They had a memorial, but she is still anti-police. In education, we seem to be moving back to a segregated system except for the cream of the crop like athletes. The structure prevents integration. There have been some breakthroughs, but sometimes, the system itself is too ingrained, regardless who is in the position.”
He has done his share of trying to change the structure as a pastor and as an elected official. Getting elected and getting to serve on the Commission was not easy. He ran as a pastor where other pastors chose to run with non-religious titles such as farmer or teacher. The Election Board was sued for approving him as a violation of the separation of church and state. The case went to the Tennessee Supreme Court. He won the election but the TN Supreme court declared him unqualified. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court where he and other clergy won the right to run for office.
The Rev. McDaniel served on the Hamilton County Commission for 16 years and was part of the TN State Constitutional Convention. The convention studied certain articles for change and recommended certain referendum. For example, in 1977 the prohibition against interracial marriage was struck down by the TN Supreme Court, but remained in the Constitution. The interracial intermarriage prohibition was eliminated but barely, by less than 1%. The prohibition didn’t mean anything, as it was null and void by the court, but the voters wanted to show their feelings.
We went on to discuss today’s economy and the impact of the subprime mortgage mess on the African American community. “There have been a few cases where the church has assisted. Some have lost their houses and we may not have been able to save those houses beyond a temporary band aid. Some we won’t know about, they just fade away.” He currently serves as board chairman of the Westside Community Development Corporation and as chairman of the Clergy Koinonia Federal Credit Union. “It is designated as a lower income credit union. Groups invest in it with CDs and deposits and banks use it to satisfy the community investment credit required of them. The banks buy CDs and the credit union has liquidity and can offer lower rates. The credit union currently gave loans on cars, houses improvements, etc. to folks who couldn’t get loans elsewhere.”
Rev. McDaniel continues to look to a better future. He would like to see the credit union have more investment and a firmer financial basis. He wants continued work for better relationships and assistance to those who feel hurt by the injustice of the system. “Excel in spite of circumstances. Be the best you can,” he advises young people. “I believe education makes a difference, but not automatically. Much is based on who you know and who you are; the slate is not clean.” He reminds us that the need to push the haves to help the have nots has not diminished.