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Elsie Mason: A True Civil Rights Hero

Before Mason died in 1961, he would lay a spiritual foundation for the civil rights movement. COGIC ministers did not get as politically involved in the struggle as Baptists like King, but they preached, prayed and prophesied about social justice. Inherent in their Pentecostal message was the concept that the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, “washed away the color line” and made all Christians equal, regardless of race, class or gender.

It was the bedrock principle that eventually broke the power of American racism. But those early black Pentecostals—and the whites who worked alongside them—didn’t get any credit for the sweeping social changes their movement triggered.

Members of COGIC certainly supported civil rights efforts. After Mason’s death in 1961, Elsie, a very young widow at that point, gave an offering to help black sanitation workers in the city who were striking because of unfair pay. “When the sanitation workers went on strike, they met at Mason Temple COGIC and she made the first donation, $90 of her own money, to buy food for them,” COGIC bishop W.L. Porter told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis last week.

Mason did not live to see Jim Crow laws dismantled, and he had been dead seven years when King was slain in Memphis in 1968. Ironically, King’s last speech (the famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address) was given at the church named in Mason’s honor, Mason Temple COGIC in downtown Memphis. King was assassinated the next day.

In a similar coincidence, King’s widow died almost the same day Elsie Mason breathed her last. It was a fitting reminder that there are always significant “little people” behind the national icons we celebrate.

More attention should have been focused in Elsie Mason’s direction. But from her vantage point now, I doubt she cares about the applause of men.

This article adapted from J. Lee Grady’s “Fire In My Bones” column that he writes for Charisma Online. Used with permission of the author.

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Category: Church History

About the Author: J. Lee Grady is an author, award-winning journalist and ordained minister. For 17 years he worked for Charisma magazine, one of America ’s most widely distributed evangelical Christian publications, and he served as editor for 11 of those years. He is the author of several books including Set My Heart on Fire: Ignite Your Confidence, Boldness, and Passion for God (2016), Ten Lies The Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (2006), 10 Lies Men Believe: The Truth About Women, Power, Sex and God—and Why it Matters (2011), Fearless Daughters of the Bible: What You Can Learn from 22 Women Who Challenged Tradition, Fought Injustice and Dared to Lead (2012), 25 Tough Question About Women and the Church: Answers from God's Word That Will Set Women Free (2013), and The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale: Rekindling the Power of God in an Age of Compromise (2010). He founded The Mordecai Project, confronting the abuse of women globally and helping release women into ministry. Twitter: @LeeGrady LeeGrady.com

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