A. T. Powers

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Austin Toliver Powers, usually known as A. T. Powers (June 26, 1896—October 14, 1975), was a leading figure from the 1930s to the 1970s in the theologically conservative American Baptist Association, based in Texarkana, Texas. He served as ABA president from 1957–1959, having been initially elected at the annual conference in Fresno, California.[1]


Contents

Background

Powers was born to James H. Powers and the former Mary Eliza Cole in Comanche near Brownwood in West Texas. He was descended from veterans of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. James Powers was the oldest son of Samuel Hopkins Powers, an Indian fighter who surrendered late in life to the Baptist ministry, with his spiritual undertakings confined to rural churches. Samuel and James Powers were both tenant farmers. A. T. Powers recalled that despite modest circumstances, his father was civic-minded, self-educated, and among the best read men in the community. Mary Powers was the oldest daughter of William H. Cole, a slaveholder, preacher, and a soldier in the Confederate States Army who had been born in Cass County, Texas, but settled further west in Comanche. In his autobiography, Powers indicates that his Grandfather Cole was "a general", but the rank has not been confirmed.[2][3]

After residing in Comanche, the Powers family lived in several other Texas locations, including Lamesa in Dawson County and Port Lavaca in Calhoun County on the Texas Gulf Coast near Victoria. Their constant moving was spurred by James Powers’s efforts to find good drinking water.[4]

After high school, Powers entered the United States Army during World War I. However, a lifelong knee injury occurred while he was on duty in Hawaii and led to a prompt honorable discharge from the military. On August 3, 1918, he married the former Ida Lee Chapman (April 17, 1899—March 1980), the daughter of Andrew Berry and Willie Chapman, in Mangum, the seat of Greer County in southwestern Oklahoma, where James Powers had relocated his family. Ida was a dimunitive woman in size in striking contrast to her husband, who was physically large, 6’6" tall, and wore a size 16 shoe.[5][6]

Pastor on the move

While A.T. and Ida Powers were residing in Greer County near the town of Hester, Oklahoma, they attended a revival meeting featuring the Southern Baptist evangelist J.R. Caviness, who preached "Justification by Faith" from the Book of Romans, a message that during the Reformation had prompted Martin Luther to demand unfulfilled reforms in Roman Catholicism. Spurred by that sermon, Powers declared that he had found salvation in Jesus Christ and was baptized by immersion, the only method accepted by Baptists. After a short period of farming on a rented 140 acres near the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, Powers underwent the call of the ministry. He and Ida joined the Pleasant View Baptist Church in nearby Ledessa, which later entered the "New Convention" of Oklahoma, one of several founding bodies of the ABA. In October 1919, Pleasant View licensed Powers to preach.[7]

Upon receiving the call to the ministry, Powers attended from 1921-1925 the Missionary Baptist College in Sheridan in Grant County, south of Little Rock. With assistance from the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918, he received his Bachelor of Theology degree. At Missionary Baptist College, Power became a close friend of the clergyman Conrad N. Glover (1895–1986), whose father, Robert W. Glover (1866-1956), had been a member of both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly prior to 1912. Powers and Glover were the only two individuals ever named moderator-emeriti of the ABA.[8] Missionary Baptist College closed in 1934, and Missionary Baptist Seminary thereafter opened in Little Rock through the auspices of the pastor and evangelist Ben M. Bogard of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.[9]

Powers was a pastor while in Sheridan and then from 1925-1936 at the Promise Land Missionary Baptist Church in Hamburg in Ashley County in southeastern Arkansas. In 1931, while in Hamburg, he was granted an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Missionary Baptist College. From 1936-1939, he was the pastor of the Pauline Missionary Baptist Church in Monticello, the seat of Drew County, also in southeastern Arkansas. The Pauline congregation consisted primarily of blue collar members who worked for low wages in a cotton mill. The church paid Powers only $12.50 per month; therefore, he sold burial insurance to support his family during the height of the Great Depression. At the time, no Missionary Baptist pastor earned more than the $100 per month paid to Benjamin Marcus Bogard, a leading figure in the denomination, by the Antioch church in Little Rock.[10]

Powers then moved to the Main Street Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff (now known as the Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church), where he served from 1939-1943. He was the pastor at Oak Lawn Missionary Baptist Church in Hot Springs, the seat of Garland County, Arkansas, from 1943-1948.[11]

Leader in the ABA

In 1948, Powers became the secretary-treasurer of missions for the ABA in Texarkana, Texas, a position that he filled until 1952, when he accepted a call to become the pastor of the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Henderson in Rusk County in east Texas. He remained in Henderson until 1956, when he became the dean of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary in Minden, Louisiana, where his service extended until 1961. While in Henderson, Powers had taught at the Texas Baptist Institute and Seminary, which opened in 1949.[12] LMBIS was founded in 1952 by Powers’s colleague, L. L. Clover, a native of Clark County, Arkansas, who was pastor of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Minden from 1948-1964. The faculty in these institutions is drawn from among area Missionary Baptist pastors. In 1957, Powers accepted the pastorate at Eastside Missionary Baptist Church in Minden after the death of the founding pastor, Charles Samuel. Powers worked closely with Clover during their five years together in Minden. In 1961, Powers returned to Texarkana to become the pastor of his last congregation, the West Lawn Missionary Baptist Church in Miller County, Arkansas, a position that he held until his retirement and Mrs. Powers’s diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.[13]

While with the ABA, Powers wrote Sunday school literature and co-authored with Conrad Glover, The American Baptist Association, 1924-1974, known as the Landmark Association.[14] The findings of Glover and Powers are cited in Samuel S. Hill’s Religion in the Southern States: An Historical Study and also in Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, published in 2002.[15]

Elected unexpectedly as ABA president in Fresno in 1957, Powers gave his acceptance speech in shirtsleeves because of the heat in the convention hall. He vowed never again to appear in public except in coat and tie, for he did not know when he might be called upon to speak.[16]

On June 24, 1958, Powers delivered a stirring address at the AMA convention in Fort Worth, Texas, where the delegates, called "messengers," elected him to a second term as president. In a speech entitled "The Freedom and Sovereignty of a New Testament Church," Powers decried

"These days of religious pussyfooting, fence-straddling, complacency and inertia on the part of the religious world [and called on Missionary Baptists to be] more energetic and aggressive toward old-time, fundamental truths. "No truth is more precious to Bible-loving Baptists than [that] a New Testament church is free and sovereign. . . . in sending forth missionaries and in fulfilling the commands of the Lord to go 'into all the world.' . . . Baptists have been ostracized, persecuted, maligned, called narrow-minded bigots for preaching this, but they have steadfastly clung to this truth. Our churches believe this and shall preach it until Jesus comes." [17]

On June 13, 1959, at the downtown Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium, Powers delivered his second and last ABA presidential address. He rejected the label "Protestant" and declared that the history of Missionary Baptists begins, not with the Reformation, but on the Jordan River with "John, called the Baptist, and to our Lord, who started us on our way. In spite of our glorious history, we still face needs, supreme needs. We must realize these are to be found only in the mercies of God and faith in His Son. . . ."[18]

Family, death, and legacy

A.T. and Ida Powers had a son, James Berry Powers (March 9, 1921—August 3, 1992), former pastor of County Line Missionary Baptist Church and an ABA official in Texarkana, and five daughters, Mildred P. Alder (1919–2007) of Richmond in Ray County in northwestern Missouri; Alice P. Vining (1923–2005) of Malvern in Hot Spring County, Arkansas; Austilene P. Porter (1925–2001), who lived with her engineer-husband in both Venezuela and Florida, Miss Opal Margaret Powers (born 1928), a retired ABA bookkeeper from Texarkana, Arkansas, and Coy P. Green (born 1931), a former county employee from Greenville, east of Dallas, Texas.[19]

Powers died at a hospital in Texarkana, Texas, at the age of seventy-nine from complications of a fall. The couple and their son, who subsequently died of cancer, are interred at East Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Miller County, Arkansas.

I. K. Cross, one of Powers’s colleagues at the ABA headquarters, wrote a biography of his friend entitled Austin T. Powers As I Knew Him. Recalling Powers's unique manner of preaching, Cross writes:

He was equal to any occasion, and you could count on an unusual message when he stepped on the platform. He also had an inexhaustible supply of personal illustrations. These were not something he had read in a book. That is what made them so valuable. They all happened to him or to someone he knew. He always had one that fit the occasion. . . . He seemed to have experienced more unusual situations than the average man. He also never forgot an event.”[20]

References

  • 1.^ Billy Hathorn, "Austin Toliver Powers and Leander Louis Clover: Planting the American Baptist Association in Northwest Louisiana during the Middle 20th Century," North Louisiana History, Vol. XLI (Summer-Fall 2010), p. 127
  • 2.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover", p. 129
  • 3.^ There is no reference to a General Cole of Texas in Generals in Gray, Lone Star Generals, or The Handbook of Texas.
  • 4.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover", p. 129
  • 5.^ Family records of Opal Powers of Texarkana, Arkansas
  • 6.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," pp. 129-130
  • 7.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover", p. 130
  • 8.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," pp. 130-131
  • 9.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," pp. 132
  • 10.^ Hathorn, Powers and Clover, p. 133
  • 11.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover", pp. 132-133
  • 12.^ "Texas Baptist Institute". tbi.edu. http://www.tbi.edu/history.php. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  • 13.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," pp. 134-135
  • 14.^ Samuel S. Hill, Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Bogard Press, 1979; reissued Paris, Arkansas: Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2005. http://books.google.com/books?id=yx2EarrpKGUC&pg=PA53&dq=Austin+Powers+%2BHistory+of+American+Baptists&lr=. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  • 15.^ J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann. Religions of the World. Greenwood Press. ISBN 1-59884-203-X. http://books.google.com/books?id=F4YYAAAAIAAJ&q=Austin+Powers+%2BHistory+of+American+Baptists&dq=Austin+Powers+%2BHistory+of+American+Baptists&lr=&pgis=1. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  • 16.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," p. 127
  • 17.^ A.T. Powers, "Freedom and Sovereignty of a New Testament Church,” Presidential address at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, Fort Worth, Texas, June 24, 1958
  • 18.^ "The Needs of the Hour," Presidential address at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport, Louisiana, June 13, 1959
  • 19.^ Hathorn, "Powers and Clover," p. 136
  • 20.^ I. K. Cross, Austin T. Powers As I Knew Him, Little Rock: Bogard Press, 1989, p. 26
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