A preacher and community giant

By Bill Kirby Jr.

On Sunday mornings at the red-brick church along Moore Street in downtown Fayetteville, they still feel his presence. Not only at First Baptist Church, but throughout this city.
“We celebrate the life of a giant,” the Rev. Reginald Wells, pastor at Falling Run Missionary Baptist Church, would tell mourners who filled the First Baptist Church sanctuary on August 28, 2017, to remember the Rev. Chancy Rudolph Edwards, the church pastor from 1953 to 1990. “He was not selfish with his time. He was not selfish with his influence. Not only was he a statesman, he was a pastor par excellence.”


The Rev. C.R. Edwards towered in the pulpit, and church members will tell you the good preacher stood as tall as the church steeple.


He preached the gospel with authority. “Hallelujah!” church-goers would exclaim.


He preached the gospel with purpose. “Amen!” church-goers would exclaim.


Let there be no doubt, the Rev. C.R. Edwards was a presence, and his footprints are deep in this community still, from his involvement in the 1960s Civil Rights movement and unrest downtown to the old Fayetteville City Board of Education to the state legislature.


“Dr. C.R. Edwards has finished his long and illustrious work for us,” the Rev. Cureton Johnson told mourners on that August day. “Today, we celebrate a life well spent.”
A native of Nash County, the Rev. Edwards was the youngest of 12 children born to his tenant farmer and Baptist preacher father. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from Shaw University and found himself at First Baptist Church in 1953, succeeding the Rev. Thomas H. Dwelle, when the church was located on Maxwell and Franklin streets.


The church grew and prospered and found its new home on Moore Street in 1963.


“Dr. Edwards made such a big imprint in the Fayetteville area because he showed so much love to so many people through his service as a clergyman and as a community leader,” the Rev. Johnson says. “At 6-foot, 4-inches tall, he commanded respect physically, but more-so, spiritually and intellectually. He was a giant in our community.”


“Yes, he was a great servant leader, but he was nobody’s footstool,” says the Rev. Johnson, who succeeded the Rev. Edwards in 1990. “He often said, ‘I’m nobody’s ‘ram in the bush,’ meaning he did not want to be someone’s afterthought or secondary option.”

More Than a Preacher
The Rev. Edwards didn’t just perform wedding vows for young brides and grooms setting out on marriage unions of their own at First Baptist Church on Moore Street or pray for the sick or counsel the troubled or eulogize those lost.


He involved himself in this community and stood as tall as that church steeple that overlooked the civil rights of black men and black women in the early 1960s, when they were denied access to restaurants, motels, hotels and relegated to “Balcony Only” in movie theaters and told to drink from “Colored Only” water fountains.


The unrest was difficult.
Dr. Edwards was tempered and steadfast. He was wise and prudent and rational. All men and women, he believed, were created equal and, no matter the color of their skin, there was no excuse for compromise.


“You can’t come in here,” he stood on the church steps when two, young black protestors once sought refuge from city police in the throes of the Civil Rights protests in downtown Fayetteville.
“If I am not mistaken, my father was a student at Fayetteville State University at that time,” says the Rev. Victor Davis, who grew up along Barges Lane and later Eccles Park under Dr. Edwards at First Street Baptist Church and now serves as a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. “There were several young men who found refuge at the church. Dr. Edwards stood on the steps with his hands in his pockets.”


And just as young black protestors rejected the Market House then and its history of selling black slaves, the Rev. Davis says, Dr. Edwards would not deny a historical landmark and its place in city history.
The Rev. Davis is a disciple of his lifelong mentor.


“It’s a part of our history,” the Rev. Davis says. “What does tearing down a Confederate monument or the Market House do? You can’t erase they sold liquor on Barges Lane, either.”
When Dr. Edwards was elected to the N.C, House (1982-1990), and later the N.C. Senate (1990-1994), the Rev. Davis worked with him in the General Assembly and remains grateful for all of his life’s lessons.

“He treated me as if I were his surrogate son,” he says. “He gave me my mentorship as my pastor and spiritual leader. Dr. Edwards was one of those leaders who spoke truth to power, even at the King’s table.

And just look, the preacher says, at so many today who stand out in this community because of the influence of the Rev. C.R. Edwards.

Yes, for certain, the Rev. Johnson says. “I was amazed at how many people found good jobs or got better jobs in the city and county because of Dr. Edwards,” the Rev. Johnson says. “Teachers and principals galore can thank him for their positions and rise in rank. He was a man of tremendous influence.”

A Physician …
“Dr. Edwards was extremely integral in my becoming a physician,” says Dr. Roxie Wells, president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital. “My husband, Dr. Reginald Wells, met him in the early 90s. Dr. Edwards took interest in our family.”

One telephone call from the Rev. C.R. Edwards to the dean of the University of North Carolina Medical School, and Dr. Wells’ health care future was afoot.

“Dr. Edwards knew that my college career and my work history as a teacher and my desire to serve as a physician in a rural community in North Carolina made me a perfect candidate for the ECU School of Medicine and suggested that I concentrate on attending medical school there because they were preparing physicians for rural North Carolina communities was the mission of the school,” Dr. Wells says. “I received notice that I was accepted into the school and successfully completed my medical education.”

Her husband was a recipient of the Rev. C.R. Edwards’ guiding hand, too, serving as a three-term commissioner in Duplin County and working with Bev Purdue in her successful campaign bid for governor.

A Judge …
Judge Patricia Timmons-Goodson will tell you that Dr. Edwards played a significant role in her life, too, from the pulpit and beyond.


“First and foremost, in my faith,” says Timmons-Goodson, a member of First Baptist Church on Moore Street since 1981. “He helped me in thanking and praising the Lord in good times as well as bad times. I think of him to this day when things don’t go my way.”


And it was after law school at UNC-Chapel Hill, when Timmons-Goodson says she was working in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, and when she first gave thought of serving on the District Court bench.

Dr. Edwards, she says, championed her vision.
He championed her way.

“He was instrumental,” says Timmons-Goodson, whose judicial career includes appointment in 1977 by Gov. Jim Hunt to the N.C. Court of Appeals and in 2006 by Gov. Mike Easley to the N.C. Supreme Court.
“He was a huge leader in this community,” Timmons-Goodson says. “He was my pastor; he was my mentor, and he was my friend.”
A Neighbor …
“I and my family are fortunate to have known personally C.R. Edwards my entire life,” Ricardo Morgan says. “Not only in the community and as our pastor at First Baptist Church on Moore Street, but as our neighbor and community leader. He exemplified concern for humanity, compassion, humility and God’s love and amazing grace. His leadership by example for individuals, our congregation, our neighborhood and this city and state are the stories that legends are made of.”
Jewyl Edwards Dunn is pictured at First Baptist Church on Moore Street, where her father was pastor for 37 years. (Photo by Tony Wooten)


And Grandchildren, Too
The Rev. C.R. Edwards also touched the life of a Westarea Elementary School teacher.
“When I would sit and listen to him or watch him from a distance or speak to someone about him, I would always say, ‘That’s my granddaddy,’ ” says Jeweyln Dunn, a music teacher. “I am still learning of all of his accomplishments. He did things because he believed they were supposed to be done and because he had a heart for the people.”
He touched the life of a grandson.
“He cared genuinely about the well-being of his community,” Ohmar Dunn says. “He touched those in ways that it mattered and that would be lasting. He was always teaching through his life so that others could be better.”
The Rev. C.R. Edwards was a presence, and his footprints are deep in this community still.


Remembering A Father
For Jewyl Dunn, the Rev. C.R. Edwards was all the more in her life.
“This ‘Giant of a Man’ was always my father,” she says. “He was tall in stature, but he was also tall in grace. Humanity and doing for others was important to him and he worked hard to preserve it. We moved to Fayetteville from Washington, North Carolina when I was 2-years-old because of the call from First Baptist to be their pastor. That was, for him, the ultimate assignment. He loved First Baptist Church. First Baptist was always a consideration before he did anything.”


The Rev. C.R. Edwards was a disciple of his Lord and savior first, a man of fair play, equality and justice for all, too.

“The Civil Rights Era was obviously a crucial time,” Jewyl Dunn says. “First Baptist was a beacon of light for the movement. We protected and fed the marchers and those involved. I was under the age of 16 at its height and was not allowed to march and protest, but I remember the threats to our family, the name calling, the cross burning in front of our house, and the specific instructions for going downtown to the movies and shopping. I knew what to do ‘in case.’ He and my mother prepared me well.”

Jewyl Dunn is proud to be the daughter of Luella and the Rev. C.R. Edwards, one who made a difference in this community. She is proud to say the Rev. C.R. Edwards was and forever will be her father.


“Growing up as his daughter brought out a lot of pride,” says Mrs. Dunn, who resides in Raleigh. “I was proud that he worked the Civil Rights movement, that he was the first black Fayetteville City school board member, that he was the first black on the state school board, that he was the first black to represent Cumberland County in the General Assembly, both in the House and Senate. That he worked for the governor and was friends with former governors.”

Epilogue
The Rev. Chancy Rudolph Edwards died August 23, 2017.
He was 92.
“One of the great men,” former Gov. Jim Hunt told The Fayetteville Observer. “He wasn’t an ordinary legislator. He was a man of great character, very informed about the issues, very involved in helping us improve education and raise teacher pay and build the economy of North Carolina. I thought so much of him and counted so much on him. I’m just thankful that God gave him to us, and he did so much to build our state.”


And a daughter’s final word today on a father to remember.

“My father’s riches came in seeing that people were treated fairly, and as a result, he received honor in life and continues to receive it in death,” Jewyl Dunn says. “He lived a long fruitful life, and we talked a lot about the things that mattered. He loved the Lord, and he loved his family unconditionally. He has left a legacy for me, my children, and my grandchild. All that came in contact with him became the fruit of his being, and we will ever be blessed because of him.”


Contact Bill Kirby Jr. at bkirby@CityViewnc.com, billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. Read more of his columns in our weekly Insider Newsletter. Subscribe at cityviewnc.com or text CityView to 22999.
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