Awards ceremony June 17 to honor memory of Rev. Wheeler
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

June 9, 2006 -- On Aug. 18, 2005, a local voice "for change and inclusion" died with the loss of the Rev. Marion H. Wheeler Sr., a local religious and civil rights leader.

He may be gone, but by God, he's not forgotten.

On June 17, East Caney Missionary Baptist Church will honor Dr. Wheeler's memory and his family with the Rev. Marion H. Wheeler Elijah's Fire Awards Ceremony.

The presentation will be held at the Cypress Baptist Center, 400 Como St., where Wheeler was often heard sharing God's word and working for community unity.

The Wheeler family, along with 10 individuals, his church, at least two local businesses and four other families, will be honored for continuing Wheeler's work and ministry.

Many respected and admired Wheeler, recalling the manner in which he operated -- "prayerfully" -- with a voice that would not be silenced when speaking to the community for his Lord and what he believed was right.

His conviction and commitment have been likened by some to that of Elijah, a biblical prophet who also spoke out for his Lord with conviction of heart, even under threat of persecution.

Carolyn Thomas, a friend and fellow Christian activist in the community, said that while the Bible described Elijah as a "prophet of prophets" who literally "brought God's fiery mercy and grace down around him," Wheeler was a "minister of ministers, a historian of historians."

Wheeler also knew what it felt like to live with the threat of persecution; he also faced many trials as a result of his faith and quest to share it.

In his younger days, Wheeler marched with Dr. Martin Luther King King Jr. in Washington and Alabama for civil rights, lived through segregation and desegregation, and faced discrimination not only in his neighborhood, but also in his quest for higher education, a career in ministry and public education.

"I came up during Klu Klux in the early 20s," Wheeler said more than six years ago during an interview with the News-Telegram. "Fortunately, I never saw a person burned or hanged, but I've seen the place where they were going to hang someone. I saw it before and after. I've seen after a burning ... they did so many inhuman things."

He went to the polls and cast his ballot the first year African-Americans were allowed to vote in Texas, despite a threat of danger so prevalent the governor sent Texas Rangers to protect them while exercising that civil liberty.

Wheeler, who grew up in Rusk, graduated from high school during segregation and was told he could not study religion at at Texas college because of his color. He moved to Michigan and obtained his degree, then joined the National Black Convention, which allowed him to preach so long as he did not minister "in a non-black church."

Of his 38 years in Michigan, Wheeler raised three children, helped elect Detroit's first black mayor, Coleman Young, in 1973, built two churches and a 100-unit integrated housing development, helped develop a "dump ground" into a park, taught at Hillsdale College and "was politically involved up to my neck."

His efforts to unify the country and break down racial barriers continued when he and his wife Nora adopted a biracial baby in the 1950s, then in the 1960s when he marched in Washington D.C. and Montgomery, Ala., as well as "on several [other] occasions" with King.

In 1987, Wheeler and his wife moved back Texas to her family's farm in Como where he showed no signs of slowing down. He was instrumental int the operation of Cypress Baptist Center and coordinated the Cypress Baptist Association. He helped raise funds for several charities and needy individuals, and encourage young African Americans to vote.

He was a driving force in the strengthening of Hopkins County Christian Alliance, which now meets each Tuesday in Pacific Park, which he helped establish years ago as first a recreational area for African Americans, then as a park for everyone.

Wheeler made many strides for civil rights by standing up for what he believed in, looking past color to the person within and just being counted. 

He once noted "I do not know any man that I hate. I may hate the ways of some people, but not the man."

"That was the fire with which he did everything, by stepping up and inclusion of all people, and inspiring others through his relationship to Him[God] and community," Thomas noted. "He was a patriarch among us. He was a very inclusive person."

Such was the impeturs for East Caney Missionary Baptist Church Pastor M. LaVelle Hendricks' idea to pay tribute to and honor Rev. Wheeler and his continued legacy by recognizing those in this community who have been inspired to share and continue his vision and compassion as God's servants.

"This came about in part because of pastor Hendricks' idea and because [Rev. Wheeler] was one that he didn't let anything shut him up when he knew it was a truth and needed to be said," Thomas noted.

The Rev. Marion H. Wheeler Elijah's Fire Awards Ceremony is being held Saturday, June 17, at Cypress Center, 400 Como St. The date was chosen due to its proximity to Father's Day, to Wheeler's wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his death.

In addition to Dr. Marion and Nora Wheeler's family, the Archie Jean Davis, Preston Epting, H.W. Ridge and Rosa Rutherford families will be recognized during the 6 p.m. awards program.

Religious recognitions will go to Piney Missionary Baptist Church, deacon J.D. Franklin, the Rev. Billy Cleaver and Minister Valanderous Bell. Local dignitaries dubbed for Elijah awards are Sulphur Springs Independent School District trustee Carolyn Malone Thomas, who is also a missionary; Sulphur Springs City Council member and Mayor Freddie Taylor; Sulphur Springs City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Yolanda Williams; and former Hopkins County Sheriff Bill Dirks.

City National Bank and Hulen Photography will also be honored at the ceremony, as will Dorothy Jo Thomas, Aubrey Washington and Wilbert Roland.

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