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City honors pastor nearly a decade after his death

In a year that many have called one of the most difficult in recent memory, a local church family still is relishing a late October honor from the City of Memphis.

Pastor Joseph H. McGhee Jr. served the historic Greater White Stone Baptist Church for nearly 38 years. Three members, in particular, have worked to have part of the South Wellington, where the church is located, renamed in Pastor McGhee’s honor.

The vision finally was realized on the fourth Sunday of October as members marked the renaming with a huge celebration.

“We have been working for years to bring this about,” said Helen Lester. “It’s a bitter-sweet moment because Rev. McGhee is not here to see it. But it was a wonderful day, nevertheless.”

Greater White Stone, like so many other churches, have been closed for much of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was the caregiver for Pastor McGhee when he was sick,” said Charles Scates, McGhee’s brother-in-law and church trustee. “We wanted to stage a tribute to the occasion of the street renaming. Pastor McGhee would have been so proud.”

Scates said he and Lester, along with Pastor Roger Brown, worked over the years to bring the honorary street naming into fruition.

Scates cared for Pastor McGhee after the pastor suffered a severe stroke, which incapacitated him in the years leading up to his death in 2011.

Brown succeeded Pastor McGhee in 2010 when illness forced Pastor McGhee to retire from the full-time pastorate. Pastor McGhee enjoyed emeritus status until his death.

“We want to continue the work Pastor McGhee started,” said Brown. “He was concerned about senior housing and affordable family housing. We continue to buy up blocks on Williams Street. We want to be the change we wish to see. That’s the work Rev. McGhee felt was important, and that’s what we are about.”

Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. helped make the special celebration happen. Smiley was on hand for the ceremony.

“Pastor McGhee was the embodiment of all things that are good in our society,” Smiley said. “He was a teacher, pastor, mentor and a friend to all. Particularly, he not only embraced South Memphis, but the community is better because he lived,” Smiley said.

Pastor McGhee, born Sept. 28, 1931, died on Oct. 23, 2011. He was a native Memphian.

He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1949, and attended Tennessee State University and Henderson Business College. Pastor McGhee earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

He retired from teaching school after 40 years with Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.

Pastor McGhee began pastoring at Oak Spring Baptist Church in Arlington, Tennessee.

During those early years in the pastorate, Pastor McGhee joined many other African-American pastors on the frontline of marches and other demonstrations to integrate public schools and other segregated facilities.

For years, Pastor McGhee served as treasurer of the Baptist International Tea, a huge fundraiser for LeMoyne-Owen College, sponsored by the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Pastor McGhee received an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force in 1953.

According to those who were closest to Pastor McGhee, he would often say, “To receive a blessing, a person must be willing to give of himself or herself; one must work while it is day because when night comes, no man can work.”

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