A man who dedicated his life to equality and had a hand in creating two churches’ historic partnership promoting racial unity has died.
Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, a South Carolina native who became a national civil rights leader, came to Louisville in the 1970s to become pastor of the West Chestnut Street Baptist Church, where he stayed for 40 years. He died at age 81.
The city honored Daniels this week with an honorary street sign to commemorate his life and legacy, calling him a great leader who was committed to being a voice for minorities and other disadvantaged citizens.
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As pastor, he spearheaded an interracial partnership with Highland Presbyterian Church that the city later honored him for with a Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 1997. A county official said at the time the two pastors and their churches “embody the hope and spirit of Dr. King’s work — to bring harmony and unity to all communities.”
Highland Presbyterian’s then-pastor wrote about the partnership in his book “Sundays Down South.”
“Our purpose was to see if we could forge a relationship between our two congregations that would speak strongly to the city on behalf of racial unity,” wrote James O. Chatham. “American society, we believed, could not afford to let its black and white communities drift into separate enclaves.”
The churches’ partnership spawned “innovative, community ministries,” according to a Louisville news release, including a court monitoring program, a reading program in the poorest elementary schools, a pulpit exchange and annual joint worship service.
The congregations also joined together to support a Girl Scout troop for daughters of imprisoned mothers and hold picnics and at least one talent show, according to Courier Journal archives.
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“It’s a ministry between the two churches to see how we can tear down the walls of racism within the institutional church,” Daniels told Courier Journal in 1994. “The Christian Church must be in the forefront of healing in order to heal others.”
During his time in Louisville, he served as leader of the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as on the local Human Rights Commission and the Jefferson County School Board. He was also the first African American arbitrator in county courts.
During his tenure on the Jefferson County school board, Daniels often butted heads with his colleagues, according to Courier Journal archives. He would cast the lone vote against proposals he thought were unfair to African Americans.
Daniels “is very courageous, an excellent leader, a man who is compassionate in terms of bringing about change in the community,” then-president of the Louisville Urban League Ben Richmond said in 1998.
In 1998, Daniels was elected as president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. He used the platform to fight against AIDS with compassion and prevention, address youth violence and support historically black colleges, according to the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.
He also pushed for boycotts against South Carolina’s use of the Confederate flag and against prisons’ incarceration of young African Americans, the Encyclopedia said.
Daniels earned a degree from Morris College in South Carolina and honorary divinity degrees from both Morris and Simmons College of Kentucky, where he served on the board of trustees along with Louisville Metro Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith.
“He provided informed wisdom and governed with a steady hand every step of the way,” wrote Sexton Smith, who sponsored the resolution calling for an honorary street sign. “Simmons College of Kentucky and our community are better today because he lived a legacy-filled life.”
Daniels’ obituary says he is survived by one daughter, four sons and three grandchildren. His visitation is scheduled for Tuesday at West Chestnut Street Baptist Church and his funeral is the following day, May 23, with a burial at Cave Hill Cemetery.
Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dctello. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/darcyc.