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  • Doug Tjapkes

Black History – Pastor Gulley can tell many “Jim Crow” stories!

Pastor Rodney Chester Gulley, an inner-city preacher since 1974, can tell Jim Crow stories that’ll make your straight hair curl up into kinks! His son was murdered, his father was murdered, and his grand-father was burned alive by the Klan! As we discuss and think about Black History Month, I’d like to focus on this member of the HFP Board of Directors. Pastor Rodney Gulley’s name belongs among those whose courage and tenacity led to the eventual formation of HFP. I first met Rodney while trying to free Maurice Carter, an indigent black man who had been wrongly convicted of shooting and injuring an off-duty white cop in Benton Harbor back in the 70s. The newly-formed Wisconsin Innocence Project, helping us with the case, wanted to hold a public information session in the city where the crime had occurred. It was around the turn of the century when Pastor Gulley stepped up to offer his church for such a meeting. As the African American audience listened to an all-white group of students and professors talk about the alleged injustice, a black preacher finally blurted, “Who says this man is innocent?” The response was quick, from the store clerk and only witness to the crime. Gwen Baird, a prominent local school teacher, rose from her seat and stated, “I do!” From that point on, everything changed. By the end of that evening, the entire crowd circled the basement of New Covenant Community Baptist Church, held hands, and prayed for success in our case! I have more about this pastor. A young inner-city war vet spotted our “Free Maurice Carter” poster on a Benton Harbor pole and questioned his mother about the case. “Carter didn’t do it,” she insisted. “Uncle Tommie Lee did!” The troubled young man, feeling the need to reveal that secret to someone, called Pastor Gulley. That led to efforts uncovering solid evidence that the real shooter was not Maurice Carter. My last memory of Pastor Gulley’s involvement in the Carter saga was when legal papers were filed at the Berrien County Courthouse on a nasty November day. Chanting Carter supporters carrying placards circled the building. Then Pastor Gulley gathered the demonstrators on the snow-covered lawn, and led a public prayer beneath the Prosecutor’s Office window. Powerful! As we launch Black History Month, I proudly honor my friend Pastor Rodney Chester Gulley. I love the guy! I still recall when a tough female reporter for Dutch television, in Benton Harbor to cover the Maurice Carter story, brought her cameraman right into Pastor Gulley’s Church on a Sunday morning for some footage. When I asked her about my friend, she gushed, “He preached a helluva sermon!” I’ll bet he did!

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