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Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins

Civil rights activist and pastor Rev. Joseph Metz Rollins, Jr. was born on September 8, 1926 in Newport News, Virginia to Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins, Sr. and Alice C. Rollins, as the first of two children. Rollins’ father was the pastor of the Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church for forty-four years, beginning just one year before Rollins’ birth. In 1970, his church had become one of the largest in the Southern Virginia Presbytery when Rollins retired.

In 1954, at the age of twenty-seven, the presbytery sent Rollins from Newport News to become the first pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida. There, Rollins was active in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott, which was coordinated by the Inter-Civic Council. Rollins served as treasurer for the group, working with civil rights activist Reverend C.K. Steele. During the boycott, many in the group’s leadership were threatened with violence. Rollins, in particular, received death threats. Despite this, he became known for his outspoken nature and unwillingness to compromise on important issues. Rollins’ activism had consequences on his career. The Florida Presbytery fired him and abandoned Trinity Presbyterian Church, which forced Rollins to take a job as a hospital orderly. His congregation, in the meantime, purchased new land and joined the “Northern Presbyterian Church,” becoming Trinity United Presbyterian. Steadfast in service to civil rights, in 1961, Rollins was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for his participation in the Freedom Rides. He was struck in the head by a rock in 1963 protesting in Nashville, Tennessee. Rollins served as Vice President of the Nashville Christian Leadership Council, a branch of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and acted as the field director for United Presbyterian’s Board of Education.

In 1964, Rollins moved to New York to work as a staff member for the United Presbyterian Church; also, he continued his work in the Civil Rights Movement. Rollins became the first Executive Director of the National Committee of Black Churchmen in 1967, an organization dedicated to advocating for racial awareness within churches. The following year, Rollins lost a race for the White Plains, New York school board. As leader of the National Committee of Black Churchmen, Rollins was involved in numerous controversies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the debate over James Forman’s “Black Manifesto,” which demanded reparations from white churches, and the National Committee of Black Churchmen coordinated “Black Referendum” on the Vietnam War. By 1972, the National Committee of Black Churchmen had 800 members, and Rollins had relocated to become Pastor at St. Augustine Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, New York. Rollins remained the pastor until 2005, when, at the age of seventy-eight, he became Pastor Emeritus.

Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 14, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.264

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/14/2007

Last Name

Rollins

Maker Category
Middle Name

Metz

Schools

Marshall Elementary School

Hampton University

Johnson C. Smith University

Collis P. Huntington High School

First Name

Joseph

Birth City, State, Country

Newport News

HM ID

ROL02

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Canada

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/8/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Hamburgers

Short Description

Civil rights activist and pastor Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins (1926 - ) served as pastor of St. Augustine Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, New York from 1972 to 2005. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement including the Freedom Rides of 1961.

Employment

Johnson C. Smith University

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Nashville Christian Leadership Council

United Presbyterian’s Board of Education

National Committee of Black Churchmen

St. Augustine Presbyterian Church

Favorite Color

Green

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes his mother's occupation and education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers segregation in Gastonia, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers segregation in Newport News, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers John Marshall Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the entertainment of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his early interest in literature

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes his experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers Marcelino Manuel da Graca

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers his ordination as a minister

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls teaching at Johnson C. Smith University

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers moving to Tallahassee, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the formation of the Inter Civic Council

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers the Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls meeting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers working as a hospital orderly

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the bus boycott in Tallahassee, Florida, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the bus boycott in Tallahassee, Florida, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls moving to Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls joining the Nashville Christian Leadership Council

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers his daughter's appendectomy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his activism in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers visiting Canada with his family

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers visiting Virginia with his family

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins talks about the National Committee of Black Churchmen

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his activism in Mississippi, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls his activism in Mississippi, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers James Forman's Black Manifesto

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes the influence of black liberation theology, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes the influence of black liberation theology, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers his opposition to the Vietnam War

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls Black Solidarity Day

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls pastoring St. Augustine Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls campaigning to join the school board in White Plains, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls advocating for prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins talks about Billy Graham

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins reflects upon his personal theology

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes the history of African Americans in the Presbyterian church

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls pledging Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers Cecil Ivory

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins reflects upon desegregation, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins reflects upon desegregation, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers Russell Anderson

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

5$2

DATitle
Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins recalls the bus boycott in Tallahassee, Florida, pt. 1
Reverend Joseph Metz Rollins remembers the Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida
Transcript
Tell us some more about the Inter Civic Council and the development of the Tallahassee bus boycott. How did that work itself out or did it work itself out?$$Well it did because the Inter Civic Council was called, was created when we decided to support the students and C.K. Steele [Charles Kenzie Steele] was, was a pastor of Bethel Baptist Church [Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Tallahassee, Florida] and, as I said, had been preaching since he was ten years old in the, in the mountains of West Virginia and in the coal mines. DuPont [King Solomon DuPont], and then we even had, most important of all, the chaplain at Florida A and M [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida] was a man by the name of Dr. James Hudson. He was the only real faculty member who ended up supporting us and his, you know, his welfare was threatened. They didn't fire him but when the investigation started and then they arrested us, I'll never forget, I was supposed to be down at court at nine o'clock in the morning and when I got downtown I found that I only had fifty cents in my pocket 'cause I had rushed out to be on time so that they wouldn't create any more problems. And so, there was a lady there, a black woman, bless her heart, she's about eighty or ninety years old and so she over--she was there attending the court session and she had heard me say something and she reached in her pocket and gave me fifty cents. I told her, I said, I'm going to the bank, I don't need this, but she said, "That's all right, you stick to your guns and do what you's got to do, Reverend," and you know so that was the way it was and, of course, the, I won't say, he wasn't a judge but he was a low, low-life lawyer and so he spent time trying to create the illusion that we had all kind of money and we have been receiving some support from the National, NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and the like, but when he was passing this case, he would talk about the fact that this wasn't the poor Inter Civic Council, that we were getting money from everywhere and we were getting some money from some places but it wasn't that much but they end up, to make a long story short, they found us all guilty, C.K. Steele, myself, K.D.S. DuPont, everybody that was on the, the board of directors on the Inter Civic Council, was found guilty.$Now let me ask you, we skipped a little talking, discussing your church in Tallahassee [Florida]. Can you tell us the name of your church and a little bit about it, Trinity [Trinity United Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well, when I started the church, I was living on 1710--no, I'm sorry, that's, that's another place, I'm sorry, but anyhow, I started, I, I had found a home to rent and we started holding services in my home. This was in 1953 and it got to the point where it was too crowded and an inconvenience 'cause this is where I was living. I used to have to clean up, set up chairs in the living room and the dining room and then, one of the interesting things was, we had one of the few televisions that we had brought, black and white, and so when service was over, we'd turn it on and some of them would stay around to watch television because some of them didn't have, hadn't seen, it was all black and white, but finally we ended up with, 'cause it was inconvenient and when we got some growth and everything, it got to the point where we, we, it was just inconvenient to have to try to clean up on Saturday night, set up folding chairs and we had people standing on the outside. And so, with some help from our white friends from downtown, they got us a rental agreement with a black school and we started worshiping in the auditorium in, and this was still part of, of the area in Tallahassee, near Florida A and M University [Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College; Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University]. And one of the things was after we moved there to the school, we had services and I had found an organist, or a pianist played for us and he taught on the faculty at Florida A and M University, FAMU by this time, by, except the legislature hadn't voted that way. And so we, we, we met at, the name of, see again, I can't remember the name of the school but I think it was Barnes School [ph.]. I'll say that, I think I'm correct, and we started holding services there and it was interesting because some of the white people from downtown came to worship with us and they were quite complimentary. Oh, you all worship just like we do, 'cause they had come expecting us to be jumping and shouting and all that kind of foolishness and I'm a Presbyterian, I'm a third generation Presbyterian minister. I probably was too careful to have, was too dignified 'cause it wasn't 'til I sort of learned from C.K. Steele [Charles Kenzie Steele] and there was a, an A.M.E. Zion [African Methodist Episcopal Zion] minister whose name was K.D.S. DuPont. Wouldn't you like to guess what the K.D.S. stood for? His father had named him King David Solomon DuPont [King Solomon DuPont] at Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church [sic. Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Church; Greater Fountain Chapel A.M.E. Church, Tallahassee, Florida]. DuPont was as tall as I was and a very well-known man in the, in the black community and he had a knack for finding out everything in terms of, 'cause we didn't have to worry what white folks were saying about us, the maids and things who went, would come to the meeting. White people thought they were deaf and then they would talk about 'em in front of them and then they'd come back and tell us what they were up to.