When Emanuel Williams read the 2008 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, he could not believe who he saw peering back at him from the pages of history — Cornelia Jones Robertson, his childhood pastor! Mother Jones was one of the featured pioneers in the article, “Known and Yet Unknown: Women of Color and the Assemblies of God,” written by Jessica Faye Carter.
Emanuel contacted me (I serve as the magazine’s editor and as the director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center) to express his appreciation for the article. I was thrilled to find someone who was a close friend of not only Mother Jones, but also of her “grandson,” Bob Harrison (Harrison was a close family friend of Mother Jones, though not related to her by blood).
Mother Jones became, in 1923, one of the earliest African-Americans ordained by the Assemblies of God. Harrison is best-known for breaking the color barrier in the Assemblies of God in 1962, when General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman invited him to become an ordained minister, thus overturning a policy, instituted in 1939, denying ordination to African-Americans.
Emanuel serves as the representative for all Assemblies of God healthcare chaplains and therefore makes regular trips to Springfield, Missouri, where the Assemblies of God Headquarters and the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center are located. On one of those trips to Springfield, May 12, 2008, I interviewed Emanuel, recording this important oral history for posterity. Emanuel also deposited priceless photographs of Mother Jones and her church at the Heritage Center. (See photo of Cornelia Jones Robertson holding a guitar.)
The oral history interview of Emanuel Williams may be heard on the Heritage Center podcast website.
Emanuel knew Mother Jones and Harrison better than any other living person. His recollections are invaluable and will aid historians, church leaders, and people in the pew to better understand the history of inclusion of African-Americans in the Assemblies of God.
Emanuel’s own story — he was one of the first Assemblies of God African-American hospital chaplains — is important. I was particularly struck by how Emanuel decided to seek the endorsement of the Assemblies of God as a chaplain in 1988, despite having been told that he could not attend a revival at an Assemblies of God congregation in Georgia in 1962 on account of his race. It was a very humbling moment for me, when I realized that not only had Emanuel experienced discrimination at the hands of a white Assemblies of God pastor, but that Emanuel also showed incredible grace by not writing off the Assemblies of God at that moment. I honestly don’t know, if I stood in Emanuel’s shoes, that I would have shown the graciousness that he has demonstrated.
Thank you, Emanuel, for enriching the Assemblies of God by your life of service and, in particular, by contributing your sacred stories to our ministry of remembrance!
Posted by Darrin Rodgers