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SCLC Memphis President gave his all!

By Tony Jones

In some circles, the Rev. Dwight R. Montgomery’s name was a synonym for “Fighter for Justice.” The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis Chapter President – and longtime pastor of Annesdale-Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church – died Tuesday. He was 67.

“A faithful man, preacher, pastor, theologian, ‘Montgomerizer,’ community activist, child of God and the list goes on,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Stanback, president of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association, in a written reflection. “He joined the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association in 1982 and has been a fiery faithful member ever since. …Dwight Ray Montgomery, synonym for ‘Fighter for justice.’”

In July, Rev. Montgomery and SCLC Memphis hosted the SCLC national convention. Dr. Charles Steele Jr., SCLC’s national president/CEO, said Dr. Montgomery had been one of his best friends for the past 14-15 years.

“He was always there for me. There was never a doubting moment in my mind that when I called on him he wouldn’t deliver,” Steele said on Wednesday morning.

“I talked to him just this past Thursday within a few hours after he had surgery. I was in Cincinnati speaking at the National Baptist Convention and he got his assistant to get me on the phone. I said, ‘Dr. Montgomery, I know God is blessing you and our organization but let’s talk in a few days; you need to rest right now.’

“He said, ‘Just let me tell you this – we are going to have a great commemoration and acknowledgement of Dr. King’s birthday and his assassination in January and April of 2018. We are going to have a great program.’ I said I know it Dr. Montgomery but get your rest right now. You don’t need to worry about that right now.”

Steele said Rev. Montgomery replied, “‘Well, you are my president and I want you to know that I’m going to be there for you.’ That was the last time we spoke and the last words he said to me.”

Funeral arrangements had not been released at TSD press time.

Rev. Montgomery was serving as chairman of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association Crime Committee when he passed. The MBAA biography outlines his path from concerned student, community activist to pastor.

“He formed COBY, Coalition of Benevolent Youth, in 1974. COBY set the framework for many housing initiatives that still exist today. He became a board member of the Memphis Housing Authority serving in a volunteer capacity for 9 years and as chairman for 2 years. He was recognized as an Outstanding Black Young Man in America and was featured in Ebony Magazine.”

Rev. Montgomery’s career as pastor began at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. He was chosen to lead Annesdale Cherokee MBC in 1985.

He was named SCLC Memphis president in 2004.

Rev. Montgomery’s passion for social work came to light early when he formed the Coalition Of Benevolent Youth, operating out of a small office on College Street, not far from Stax Records. He attended Lane College, as did New Sardis Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr.

In a reflection shared with local media, Gray said, “He pointed out the fact that there were no African-Americans working at city hall, very few African-Americans in the police and fire departments and (that) clerks Downtown were void of African-Americans. He led that movement in the late ’60s and early ’70s and I knew then that he was a natural leader to do what he has been doing in Memphis for the last 40 years.”

In the mid-90s following the death of Orange Mound resident Jesse Bogard, who was slain by random gunfire, Montgomery organized a community cleanup of gang graffiti on the corner near Bogard’s home. It was a wakeup call to the city that gang violence was a growing into an epidemic and needed more focused attention.

He spearheaded the creation of SCLC Memphis’ Operation Takeback, a multi-prong forerunner to addressing community blight, gang violence, police and community relations, summer youth activities and other problems and needs.

WLOK radio station owner Art Gilliam was an early supporter of Operation Takeback’s Anti-Gang Initiative, allowing the station to operate an anti-gang hotline.

“His involvement over several decades in programs and projects designed to help people is an indication of his deep commitment,” Gilliam said of Rev. Montgomery. “I have been privileged to be a member of Annesdale-Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church, which he has pastored, and to work closely with him in his role as president of the Memphis Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In all of his endeavors, one consistent trademark has been his enduring concern for people.”

Stevie Moore, founder of the Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives (F.F.U.N.) “Stop The Killing” campaign, worked with Montgomery on SCLC’s anti-blight campaigns.

“Dwight and I were working to try to bring change to the community long before Operation Takeback, was formally established,” Moore said. “We worked together for more than 20 years. He was a tireless fighter in this community, not just in the political spectrum, but for community concerns. He was a down to earth person that was a fighter for all people. If he thought it was a just problem, he would step forward to fight for it, that’s just how he was.

“I will never forget a rally we did at Airways School in 2007 to try to bring attention of what we need to fight youth violence,” Moore said. I don’t think people realize how much he is going to be missed.”

Officials in the national SCLC office late Wednesday said they will help break ground on a brick and mortar monument to honor the life, legacy and spirit of Rev. Montgomery.

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