By KIM MILLER
Pinelake honors civil rights champions with scholarship
Last month, Mississippi’s largest Southern Baptist church donated $200,000 to establish an endowment fund at Jackson State University to create a scholarship honoring John and Vera Mae Perkins, two of the state’s oldest living civil rights leaders.
John Perkins is thrilled that Pinelake, a predominantly white congregation, is teaming up with the black community in Mississippi to provide a scholarship at the historically black university.
“God is reconciling our hearts to each other,” Perkins said. “This scholarship will help put knowledge in the minds of young people who might not otherwise have access.”
Fifty-one years ago, John Perkins suffered a severe beating by a white deputy in Brandon that almost cost him his life. As he recovered in the hospital, Perkins struggled with bitterness but chose love instead.
Senior Pastor Chip Henderson of Pinelake said, “Dr. Perkins has taught me what it looks like to show grace, forgiveness, and love to people who have hurt you deeply. Some people talk a good game, but rarely live it. I’ve watched Dr. Perkins teach a message of grace and live it out without demands or accusations. His example makes me want to be a better man and a better Christ-follower.”
Shawn Parker, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, appreciates Perkins’ courage and compassion.
“Dr. Perkins is truly a hero that should be celebrated by both the black community and the white community. He demonstrates the love of Jesus in ways that bring the races together,” Parker said. “I hope this scholarship becomes a lasting tribute to Dr. Perkins’ courage and Christian compassion.”
John Perkins had many reasons to hate. As a teenager, he deeply admired his brother Clyde, who was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army after serving in World War II. His brother’s life was cut short in 1946 when a deputy shot him. The officer had commanded moviegoers outside a theater to “shut up.” When Clyde continued to talk to his girlfriend, the officer clubbed Clyde on the head with a stick. His brother grabbed the stick, and the deputy shot him twice in the stomach.
During the 1960s, Perkins was beaten, kicked, and spat upon while he participated in civil rights boycotts. In February 1970, the beating that almost killed him happened after he went to check on 19 young men who had been arrested at a march in Mendenhall. Law enforcement officers in the Brandon jail beat and tortured Perkins so severely that two-thirds of his stomach had to be removed.
Despite enduring horrific injustices, Perkins chose to put aside bitterness and show God’s love to his fellow man.
“I seldom talk about the details of that beating because I don’t want to use it in a prideful way to punish whites,” Perkins said in “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love.”
“After that beating, I spent a good deal of time in the hospital. I was broken in body and in spirit. I came to understand that my reaction of anger, hate, and bitterness was as bad as the action of the white jail guards who had beaten me. At that point I was able to see my own brokenness.”
Pastor Henderson admires how Perkins has allowed God’s love to shape him.
“Our desire is to honor the legacy of love Dr. Perkins has given us,” Henderson said. “This scholarship is to help first-generation college students. Dr. Perkins wants it to be awarded to students who have a desire to stay in Mississippi and develop better communities here.”
Perkins hopes others in Mississippi will consider helping young black people receive a college education.
“This scholarship is a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds that grows quite large,” said Perkins.
Parker agreed. “I hope it will be an example and challenge for other white Christians to follow. If other churches follow suit, it will have a lot of value in continuing the conversation.
Those interested in the John and Vera Mae Perkins Scholarship or any other scholarship at JSU can apply at jsums.academicworks.com. The JVMP scholarship will be awarded annually starting in 2022.