Marion Wheeler, minister who marched with MLK, dies at age 91
From Staff Reports

August 18, 2005 - The Rev. Marion Wheeler, the retired minister who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped elect the first black mayor in Detroit, Mich., died today following a brief illness. He was 90.

The Rev. Wheeler died at 1 a.m. at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.

“The voice of Biblical intelligence has been silenced,” said the Rev. LaVelle Hendricks, pastor of East Caney Missionary Baptist Church. “The impact he had, not only on my life personally, but this entire community, is going to be greatly missed. You don’t replace a Pastor Marion Wheeler.”

The Rev. Wheeler took an active role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and until his death was still active in the community promoting tolerance and understanding, such as he witnessed at the Juneteenth Celebration in Pacific Park this year.

“One of the best things I have ever seen or heard was in the Park last Sunday,” he wrote in a letter to the News-Telegram in June. “I was in attendance with some thousand people of many different denominations and races. Everything I saw and heard was as smooth as oil. I am extremely glad that church leaders are taking active roles in breaking down walls that never should have been up in the first place. We have learned to fly in the air like birds, and swim and dive in the water like fish; it is time to live on the Earth like brothers.”

Carolyn Malone Thomas, Sulphur Springs Independent School Board trustee and adopted daughter of by the Rev. Wheeler, said her father’s commitment to better the world around him was profound.

“I was privilieged and honored that he adopted me, not only as his daughter, but he mentored me, not only in spirituality, but in leadership, and the total involvement in our world, our community, our homes and our churches,” Thomas said. “It was incumbent on him to lay upon us the need to stand for truth, for justice — not only in our race but our community — to live a life that knows no fear when it comes to standing up for the truth.

“He knew no fear,” she said. “That’s what stands out most for me.”

Born the son of a preacher in Rusk, Wheeler grew up in Deep East Texas during a time when the Ku Klux Klan still wielded power.

“I never saw a person burned or hanged, but I’ve seen the place where they were going to hang someone,” Wheeler told the News-Telegram in a 2000 interview. “I saw it before and after. They did so many inhuman things.”

After finishing high school in Texas’s segregated education system, he sought to study religion at college, but was told there was an unwritten rule that blacks could earn nothing higher than a baccalaureate degree. Undeterred, he moved to Michigan to get his college education, then joined the Black Baptist Convention to begin his career as a minister.

He lived in Michigan for 38 years, during which time he raised three children, helped elect Coleman Alexander Young as Detroit’s first black mayor in 1973, taught at Hillsdale College, built two churches and a 100-unit integrated housing development, helped transform what he called a “dump ground” into a park and “was politically involved up to my neck.”

In the 1960s, Wheeler made a trek across the country to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., and Montgomery, Ala., and other occasions.

In 1987, Wheeler and his wife moved back to Texas to her family’s farm near Como.

Wheeler held degrees in theology and religious education. At the age of 84, he was awarded a doctorate degree from South Pacific University in Honolulu, Hawaii. He visited Jerusalem eight times and made the trek from Mount Moriah to Mount Olive across the Kadesh Valley 57 times.

He has been instrumental in the operation of Cypress Baptist Center. He has helped raise funds for several charities and needy individuals.

He also continued to preach and teach Bible classes at churches in Mount Pleasant and Hopkins County after his retirement.

“We know the wisdom that he had, tempered with his experiences, comes from a long line of ministers whose study of the word and application of lifestyle is world changing,” Thomas said. “He had such an impact on Sulphur Springs.”

One personal crusade was encouraging young African-Americans to vote. He could still remember when members of the KKK burned a neighbor’s house and terrorized his neighborhood, threatening dire consequences for their family if any blacks dared to vote.

“I was 31 when I voted for the first time,” Wheeler said in 2000. “I have a passion for voting.”

The Rev. Hendricks said those who knew Wheeler should follow his path and “continue the rich legacies in our communities.”

“The commuity will be impacted, but it will be incument on those of us that he trained and prepared for this day to come that we must continue to walk down that path,” Hendricks said. “I was one that only desired to walk in his shadow. I am deeply saddened, but rejoicing over the fact that I know where he is now.”

A revival is under way this week at the Rev. Wheeler’s church and will end Friday night.

“The words he told me were ‘Go on with the revival, go on without me,’” Rev. Hendricks said.

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