Rev. Dr. Raymond R. Wilkinson
Roanoke, Virginia's Civil Rights Pioneer
HILL STREET BAPTIST CHURCH
Hill Street Baptist Church in the 1950's - 1960's in Gainsboro on McDowell and Peach Road, NW Roanoke, Virginia.
As the young Rev. R.R. Wilkinson settled into his new role as a minister, he and his family began to travel on the road through Virginia's countryside taking different preaching assignments in several towns. While traveling on the pastor's chitlin circuit Rev. R.R. Wilkinson served as pastor of Little Union Baptist Church and Good Hope Baptist Church in his hometown of Amelia County, Virginia. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson also served as the 5th pastor of Mount Nebo Baptist Church of Nottaway County in Blackstone, Virginia for 6 years. At this time Rev. R.R. Wilkinson was making $14.00 a week pastoring.
ROCKY MOUNT, VIRGINIA
Times were hard during the 1950's for the Wilkinson family but nevertheless his unyielding faith in God and his love for his family gave him the strength to carry on. In the summer of 1956, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson was called to become the Pastor of First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The Wilkinson's received a nice warm welcome by the church congregation. Meanwhile, Mrs. Euphesenia Wilkinson became a substitute teacher while serving as the new First Lady of First Baptist Church.
A 1956 newspaper photo of Rev. R.R. Wilkinson with his wife Euphesenia and two daughters Nadine (left) and Cassandra (right) in Rocky Mount, Virginia.
Above is a published article written by Rev. R.R. Wilkinson in the Roanoke Tribune newspaper on August 4th, 1956. The Rev. Fleming Alexander also known as the Rev. F.E. Alexander who owned and founded the Roanoke Tribune chose Rev. R.R. Wilkinson to be Associated Editor of his newspaper. The Roanoke Tribune was the first and only black owned newspaper in Western Virginia.
The newspaper brought attention against Jim Crow laws in Roanoke and Western Virginia which championed black representation on Roanoke's public boards and better schools for black children in the segregated south. Rev. R.R. Wilkinson wrote weekly articles to inform African Americans on Civil Rights issues regarding equal rights; or what progress were being made to end segregation in Virginia. He also wrote encouraging the black community to get involved, to step out on faith, and stand up against inequality and unjust laws. This was the beginning of Rev. R.R. Wilkinson involvement in Civil Rights.
In 1958 the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson was called to be the pastor of Hill Street Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia. As the family started to settle in Roanoke, the young couple became extremely popular as Pastor and First lady of Hill Street. Their reign was extraordinarily successful. The Wilkinson's arrival at Hill Street had a profound impact on the whole congregation especially throughout the Gainsboro community of Roanoke, Virginia. The Wilkinson's became the "Black Camelot" of Hill Street Baptist Church which was located on the hill of McDowell and Peach Road, NW in the Gainsboro neighborhood. News of the young couple begin to spread. On January 16th, 1959, the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson and Euphesenia third daughter Danita was born. As the Wilkinson family grew, so did Hill Street's congregation. Hill Street Baptist Church membership began to increase under the spiritual guidance of Reverend R.R. Wilkinson.
The First Lady of Hill Street Mrs. Euphesenia Wilkinson (left) and the Reverend R.R. Wilkinson standing with Mary Elizabeth Shepherd Allen (right) at a Hill Street Baptist Church Banquet Ceremony in 1958.
The Rev. R.R. Wilkinson was a strong fiery larger than life pastor whose powerful booming voice echoed throughout the halls of the church and captivated people's attention. His wife Euphesenia was a talented, creative, outspoken First lady of Hill Street. Euphesenia Wilkinson could sing and play the piano. She was a member of the Senior chorus and was asked often by the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson to sing her signature song "How Great Thou Art". The first lady of Hill Street was also a Sunday school teacher and Director of the church's Vacation Bible School. She would also oversee Hill Street popular annual Christmas pageants. Mrs. Wilkinson was a fashionista known for wearing larger than life John Hancock hats. Since the young couple were highly proactive in their church ministry, the Wilkinsons had no problems attracting the youth to Hill Street. Hill Street was also known for their NAACP meetings when Rev. R.R. Wilkinson became NAACP President of Roanoke in 1959. For 33 years under Rev. R.R. Wilkinson's leadership, Hill Street Baptist Church thrived.