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Civil Rights Leader-Community Activist-Pastor

Rev. Dr. John R. Porter dead at 87

The Reverend Dr. John R. Porter, Ph.D., (87) has died after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He passed away in his South Side home in the Hyde Park community of Chicago on Monday morning, April 8. The Celebration of Life for Dr. Porter will be held on Saturday, April 20, at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, 3566 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago. The wake will be at 10 a.m., with the service following at 11 a.m. Parking is available in the adjacent lot as well as on the street.

A MEN’S DAY Celebration at Christ United Methodist Church was the occasion as Porter was joined by (from left to right) Charlton Thomas, Alma Smith, Tommy Burns and Richard Dunn.

Dr. Porter was a highly acclaimed pastor in the United Methodist Church, a Civil Rights leader, community activist, motivational speaker and the author of seven books, including “Autobiography of Black Male Violence” (2009) and “Interpreting the Spiritual and Cultural Meaning of Death for African-Americans And Others” (2012).

Porter founded the first Chicago chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) at Christ United Methodist Church in Englewood and worked closely with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on civil rights activities in Chicago. Porter was one of the founders of what is now known as the Rainbow Push organization. He served as the Dean of the Chicago Center for Black Religious Studies, a pilot program that had offices at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the early 1970s.

Porter was born on April 2, 1932, in Mineral Springs, Arkansas, to Steve Porter and Retha Hendricks-Porter. In 1939, his family moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he completed public elementary and high school. He received his Associate of Arts degree from Kansas City Junior College in 1953, attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, for one year, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1954 where he served at Ft. Bliss in Texas; Ft. Smith in Arkansas; and Ft. Carson in Colorado. In 1955, he served overseas in Ulm, Germany, until August 1957 when he received an honorable discharge.

SURROUNDED BY SONS, John (1st on the left) and Joseph (2nd from right, back row), and a few of his grandsons (clockwise from left to right): Jerome, Keenan, Jeremy, Jahlil and Jahbril, Porter is shown after a speaking engagement, circa 2007.

Porter returned to the United States, enrolling in Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, where he graduated in 1959 with his B.A. degree in Sociology and minors in Religion, Philosophy and Education. He was awarded a three-year fellowship to explore the Christian ministry at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. During his seminary experience, he co-organized the local CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) chapter in 1960. Under his leadership, the chapter protested at Woolworth stores in support of the Southern Student Sit-In Movement. In 1961, he became the first African American elected as President of the Dempster League. In 1962, he received his M.A. degree in Divinity from Garrett Seminary. Porter was appointed and served as assistant pastor, with Rev. Harry Connor, at the Normal Park United Methodist Church in Englewood, and then as full-time pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in the same community.

REV. DR. JOHN R. PORTER (far right) with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (center) and Bayard Rustin (left) at a Get Out the Vote rally hosted in Chicago’s Englewood community in the mid-1960s.

In August 1962, Porter joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and thousands of non-violent protesters at the SCLC’s first mass anti-segregation demonstration in Albany, Georgia. He was arrested and jailed for six days due to this activism. In August 1963, he attended the March on Washington; in 1965, he assembled 80 Chicago residents to attend the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. In the spring of 1964, Dr. King and the SCLC leadership gave Porter permission to launch the first Chicago chapter of the SCLC. He mobilized ten thousand Englewood residents for Dr. King’s “Get Out the Vote Rally” on October 29, 1964. Porter’s church in Englewood served as one of the rallying points for a series of anti-segregation marches into all-white neighborhoods at the time that the Chicago Freedom Movement invited Dr. King and his staff to spend the summer of 1966 in Chicago.

From 1968 to 1970, Porter served as an adjunct professor at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies. In 1970, he taught an African-American History course at George Williams College in Downers Grove. From 1971 to 1974, he served as Dean of the Chicago Center for Black Religious Studies. He then served as Urban Vice President for Young Life International from 1974 until 1979. He also earned his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Sociology from Union Graduate School (now Union Institute & University) in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1975.

WIFE OF 56 YEARS, June Porter and Dr. Porter.

Porter is the author of seven books and has received numerous honors for his commitment to social and racial justice. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, June, and their six children, 13 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

To learn more about the background of this iconic history maker, civil rights leader, pastor, community activist and mentor,  visit the following:

History Makers:

Chicago Freedom Movement:

Kwame John R. Porter

International Chicago House at the University of Chicago: rev._dr._john_r._porter.

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