by Tim Gilmore, 5/27/2017
(The Klan in Jax, part 5 of 7)
Kate Hallock never expected to move to Jacksonville. When she and her husband toured various cities warmer than the Pittsburgh they’d loved and called home for 30 years, she was surprised to fall in love with this one.
All her life the name “Jacksonville” brought to mind images of the Ku Klux Klan in their pointed white hoods standing around burning crosses.
Now editor for Jacksonville’s Resident Community News, Kate grew up hearing her father, the Reverend James Bouman, talk about leaving his Jacksonville church in 1959 to avoid trouble with the Klan.
In 1957, Bouman had become the first full-time pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church at 2730 Edgewood Avenue in rural Northwest Duval County. It was his first year out of seminary and the year after the church was founded.
Though it’s in Victorian Springfield that Jacksonville’s oldest Lutheran church worships, 1950s Florida was a “mission field” for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, headquartered in St. Louis, which sought to expand its North American base from the Midwest. The church also wanted to diversify. James Bouman had studied black churches in St. Louis while in seminary, and Sam Hoard, the only black student at seminary, was his close friend. It was no surprise then when he was one of three students graduating seminary assigned to a black church in Florida.
Bouman was in for far more cultureshock from the white South than he’d experienced eating barbecue at Sam Hoard’s home in a black neighborhood of St. Louis. Parts of the rural Northside of Jacksonville like Oceanway, Pecan Park, Callahan, and the area of Edgewood Avenue around Bouman’s new church, had long been notorious for Klan activity. The Klan’s annual membership drives outside Imeson Airport near Oceanway featured fiery crosses and attracted hundreds of people.
Willie Chappell remembered Edgewood Avenue around New Kings Road all his life. Years before four white men murdered his wife, Johnnie Mae Chappell, near New Kings and Moncrief Roads the same month in 1964 the Klan bombed Donal Godfrey’s house on Gilmore Street, his daddy told him and his brothers to duck their heads and not to peek when he drove through that wooded area.
The power of a child’s curiosity being nearly insurmountable, Willie looked. He would never forget what he saw.
Of the four white men who claimed to have gone driving around the Northside looking “to kill a nigger,” angry about Civil Rights protests downtown, Wayne Chessman, Elmer Kato, and James Davis were released with all charges dropped. J.W. Rich, who fired the shot that killed Johnnie Mae, was paroled in four years. Homicide detectives Lee Cody and Donald Coleman accused the sheriff’s office of purposely losing evidence already in police custody, including the murder weapon.
Before Willie died in 1995, when people asked him why he didn’t seek justice after his wife’s killers got off so easily, he always remembered what he saw in his daddy’s pickup truck back in the 1920s.
“Listen,” he said, “You ain’t never seen a man hung up by his neck in your lifetime. You ain’t never seen a woman’s belly split open. But I have.”
Off Edgewood Avenue, near where James Bouman would assume ministerial duties at his first church more than 30 years later, Willie Chappell saw burnt Klan crosses in the woods. He saw a black body, lynched, hanging from a tree. He said he “would never forget that feeling.”
In September of 1957, St. Paul’s Lutheran was housed in the L-shaped concrete-block building that sits now beside the large and soaring sanctuary built years later. In Reverend Bouman’s first year, his congregation grew from 40 to 110.
But the Boumans wouldn’t call Jacksonville home for long. As he writes in a private family history, “I was invited to speak at various community events and this was creating some uneasiness.” Jacksonville whites didn’t care for this white preacher heading up a black church. Several black churches received bomb threats and night visits from the Klan.
“My mother was scared out of her mind,” Kate Hallock says. Due to neighbor-hood segregation, the Boumans lived several miles from the Gardenvale / Magnolia Gardens neighborhoods around their church, but that distance made Jean Bouman even more anxious.
“We had one car and my father was often at the church until late,” Kate says. “So my mother was home alone all day and at night with three little girls, no access to a car, and for a long time, no phone. For some reason it took the city four months to get my parents a phone hooked up.”
By early 1959, a year and a half into his pastorate, James and Jean Bouman knew it was time to leave town.
The phone that had taken so long to install was now the vehicle for threats against the Bouman family. After an increase in bomb threats against black Jacksonville churches, in the midst of the 17 year period of more than 50 Klan and white supremacist bombings in Birmingham, Alabama alone, Kate’s parents concluded that their presence at St. Paul might not only endanger their family, but the congregation as well.
In his family history, Bouman writes, “Some of the black pastors in the community were warning some of our members that we might be next because of that white minister.” After personal threats against his family, Bouman suggested to the Lutheran “District president” that “for everyone’s sake, it was time for me to move so that a black pastor could be called.”
The Lutheran Church moved the Boumans immediately to North Miami Beach. In his time at St. Paul, Bouman had preached one funeral, for an infant who died of SIDS, and had loved the people of his congregation who loved him back.
“I preached my last sermon at St. Paul Lutheran Church on Feb. 15, 1959,” he writes, “and we bid one another a tearful farewell.”
cont’d Jax Klux Klan Politix