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Making History Today: Mississippi Connections

Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest, James S. Currie, Executive Secretary

Recently a good friend and supporter of the PHSSW, Rev. Frank Seaman, died. Less than two months before his death he and I had a good conversation at a presbytery meeting. At that time he lent me a book on the history of Presbyterians in Mississippi, Citadels of Zion, Volume 1: 1900-1960, by Robert Winter. The former governor of Mississippi, William Winter – also a Presbyterian – wrote the Foreword. When, after Frank’s death, I offered to return the book to Frank’s son, he told me to keep it.

Frank’s first call after graduating from Union Seminary in Richmond was to the Sardis Presbyterian Church in Sardis, Mississippi. Frank went on to serve several Presbyterian churches in Texas: Odessa, Baytown, San Antonio.

It got me to thinking about others who were either from Mississippi or served churches there and subsequently moved to and served churches in the present Synod of the Sun. The state that produced such writers as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, and John Grisham also produced some outstanding Presbyterian ministers. One was Bob Walkup. He was born in Jackson, MS, but was raised by his grandparents in Senatobia, MS after his parents died (father of diabetes, mother of tuberculosis). From 1954-1964 he served the church in Starkville, MS. From there he moved to McAllen, TX, then to Memphis, TN, and then to Helena, AR. Stories about Walkup abound (fodder for another column).

Allen Craft was born in Attala County, MS and, after graduating from Union Seminary, Richmond, served churches in New Iberia, LA, Shreveport, LA, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Houston, and Sugar Land.

While born in Virginia, Mac Hart served churches in Fayette, MS and Meridian, MS as well as Wynne, AR, Little Rock, AR, and as general presbyter of Grace Presbytery.

Another multi-generational ministerial family had Mississippi roots – the McGehees. Robert Marshall McGehee was born in Liberty, MS in 1888 and served churches, among other places, in Weatherford, TX and Palacios, TX. Three of his four sons also went into the ministry. Joseph Albert was born in Magnolia, MS and served churches in Abbeville, LA, Fordyce, AR, Beeville, TX, Houston, and Pasadena, TX. Another of Robert’s sons, Robert Grafton, served churches in Mansfield, LA, Dallas, and Plainview, TX.

Fred Seay, currently pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sugar Land, Texas, was born and raised in Pascagoula, MS. He has also served churches in Harlingen, Texas; Navasota, Texas; and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Going back further, Cyrus Kingsbury was born in New Hampshire in 1786. He attended Brown University and Andover Theological Seminary. In 1817 he was appointed to be a missionary to Cherokee Native Americans in north Georgia. That same year Andrew Jackson, still in command of troops following the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War, negotiated a treaty that resulted in removing the Cherokees from Georgia to “lands west of the Mississippi.” Although opposed to the removal, Kingsbury (and others) did not resist it.

Shortly thereafter, the Presbyterian Board of Missions appointed Kingsbury to serve as a. Missionary to the Choctaws in Alabama and, in 1818, in northeastern Mississippi where in 1820 he stablished the Mayhem Mission, a boarding school for Choctaw children. Learning their language, Kingsbury established schools and churches for the Choctaws. When they were forced to leave Mississippi in 1820 because of the Treaty of Oak’s Stand, he went with them to Oklahoma. Some of the churches he established in Mississippi began as Choctaw churches and became Anglo churches (for example, the First Presbyterian church in Columbus, MS. In 1853 he established a church in Doaksville, Oklahoma.

Kingsbury remained a faithful friend to and companion with the Choctaws. He died June 27, 1870.

No doubt, there are other Presbyterians whose roots are in Mississippi who went on to serve Christ in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, but these are just a few. We are grateful for them and for their faithful witness.

The Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest exists to “stimulate and encourage interest in the collection, preservation, and presentation of the Presbyterian and Reformed heritage” in the Southwest. If you are not a participating member of the Society and would like to become one, the annual dues are $20 per individual and $25 per couple. Annual institutional and church membership dues are $100. Checks may be made out to PHSSW and sent to:

PHSSW – 5525 Traviston Ct., Austin, TX 78738.

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