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Photo by Don Mooney

Story behind the story: How a busy weekend turned into front-page news

The behind-the-scenes narrative of our deadline coverage of the memorial events for Jack Evans Sr.

TERRELL, Texas — Over the weekend, and on deadline for our December print edition, I made a 42-hour trip to this town 30 miles east of Dallas. 

My mission: to cover the memorial events for Jack Evans Sr., the trailblazing longtime president of Southwestern Christian College.


Related: ‘Daddy, it’s all right. I’ll see you a little later’


Generally, I was pleased with my piece and a related column by our wonderful correspondent Hamil R. Harris, not to mention excellent images captured by freelance photographer Don Mooney.

But ever since I hit the publish button, I’ve kept remembering little details I neglected to include. 

Partly, I left them out because even though we started the story on Page 1 and jumped our coverage of Evans’ death to two full inside pages, we had a finite space. Also, I omitted many because I had a full notebook and an overloaded brain. Some compelling facts and quotes escaped my memory in the heat of deadline.

Readers sometimes tell me they enjoy hearing the story behind the story of what gets published in the Chronicle. I thought this might be a nice opportunity to do that — and maybe assuage my guilt by mentioning a few more people.

An early wakeup call

My adventure began at 4 a.m. Friday. 

That’s when my alarm sounded because I needed to leave for the airport by 4:30 a.m. to catch a quick flight to Dallas Love Field. My wife, Tamie, agreed to drive me, even though she always groans when I schedule trips at that unfortunate hour. Really, who can blame her?

I can drive to Dallas in under four hours, so I usually don’t fly there. But in this case, I was picking up brother Harris — who was flying in from Baltimore — so it made sense to meet him at the airport. 

My 6 a.m. flight made it to the Big D by 7. I picked up our rental car and ate breakfast at a nearby Chick-fil-A while waiting for Harris’ flight to land at 9. He got in a few minutes early, and I had no trouble spotting him on the sidewalk outside the terminal as I pulled up. That’s one advantage of flying into and out of Dallas Love: It’s relatively small, especially when compared with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

We had several hours before we needed to be in Terrell, so I asked Harris if he minded going to Fort Worth and meeting my parents, Bob and Judy Ross, for lunch. This was Harris’ first trip to the D/FW Metroplex, and he said he’d love to meet Mom and Dad. He seemed to enjoy familiarizing himself with the area, including asking various questions about the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963.

My friend and colleague Hamil Harris joined me in Texas to cover the funeral of longtime Southwestern Christian College…

Posted by Bobby Ross Jr. on Sunday, November 17, 2019

At some point as we maneuvered through the Dallas traffic, we started counting Whataburgers because, well, Texas has a lot of Whataburgers. I think we stopped keeping track at 12 or something like that.

But we met Mom and Dad at 54th Street Restaurant and Drafthouse, a casual diner with a lot of choices. When I found out that Harris was not familiar with chicken-fried steak, I all but insisted he sample this regional delicacy. 

Hamil R. Harris, then a writer for The Washington Post, with his daughter Alana and the Obamas at a White House Christmas party for print media in 2015.

Hamil R. Harris, then a writer for The Washington Post, with his daughter Alana and the Obamas at a White House Christmas party for print media in 2015.

A talented minister and journalist

Harris is a devoted man of God with many talents. He preaches for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland, outside the nation’s capital. He teaches journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore. 

Prior to all that, he worked as a reporter for the Washington Post for 24 years. And he has lots of stories to tell about his experiences with major political figures — including both President Bushes, President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.

Mom and Dad really enjoyed the time with Harris, who lavishly praised them for their 25 years of service at a Christian children’s home (they retired from that in 2007). Meanwhile, Harris loved the chicken-fried steak. And honestly, who wouldn’t appreciate that gravy-covered slice of heaven on earth? (Note to brother Harris: Now that you’re back home, get back to the salads and lean meat!)

 

By early afternoon, we were back on the highway and headed toward Terrell. 

But as we drove through the heart of Dallas, Harris asked about the home church of Botham Jean, the faithful Christian whose shooting by an off-duty police officer made national headlines. We were only about 10 minutes from the Dallas West Church of Christ, so we drove by there. (Minister and elder Sammie Berry wasn’t at the building at the time, but I did get to say hi to him at the Evans service at Southwestern that night.)

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs convicted murderer and former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs convicted murderer and former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement.

Our arrival at Southwestern

At mid-afternoon, when we made it to Terrell, we drove straight to Southwestern, the only historically black college associated with Churches of Christ. 

We were pleased when we stopped by the administration building and found that James O. Maxwell, Southwestern’s longtime vice president of institutional advancement, was free to talk to us.

I always love seeing Maxwell, who has welcomed me to Southwestern several times and invited me to visit the Roswell Church of Christ in Kansas City, Kan., when he served as the minister there. I wrote a few times about the Roswell church’s effort to transform a one-time dry cleaners into a multifaceted resource center for ex-convicts.

Maxwell attended Southwestern with Evans Sr. and worked with him for nearly half a century, so the Nov. 1 death of his friend and colleague hit him hard.

“I shed some tears,” Maxwell said of the day he learned the news. “We were very close.”

After we talked for about half an hour, Maxwell took Harris and me to tour a special room at Southwestern that includes photographs and biographical sketches of about 50 pioneering African American preachers, including Maxwell and Evans Sr.

The room is named in honor of the late Roosevelt “R.C.” Wells, a barnstorming, globe-trekking preacher who served the Harlem Church of Christ in New York. Wells, who shared the Gospel for three-quarters of a century, died Jan. 3 at age 84.

A crowd of church members from across the U.S. gathers in Harlem to remember R.C. Wells.

A crowd of church members from across the U.S. gathers in Harlem earlier this year to remember R.C. Wells.

‘The art of being a Christian’

Before we left to check into our hotel, Harris spotted and introduced me to Russell A. Pointer Sr., senior minister for the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ. 

The Southwestern alumnus recalled his experience at the college, including joining Maxwell and Evans at debates where they defended their faith.


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“We were ministerial students,” Pointer said. “We went to all of brother Maxwell’s debates. We went to all of brother Evans’ debates. 

“So we had a chance to see them debate all kinds of people — different religions, different faiths, different walks of life. They taught us not only the art of debating but also the art of being a man. The art of being a Christian. The art of being an example to draw people to you.”

Celebrating the life of Jack Evans Sr.

The celebration of Evans Sr.’s “life, labor and legacy” began at 7 p.m. Harris and I showed up at 6 because we wanted to make sure we could get a parking place. 

In the lobby of the Graham-Kennedy-Farmer Auditorium, I was blessed to run into Andrew Hairston, who spent nearly 56 years as minister for the Simpson Street Church of Christ in Atlanta. I interviewed Hairston on the telephone last year for the Chronicle’s 50-year anniversary report on a two-day national meeting on race relations he hosted in 1968. Hairston told me he has written an in-depth tribute to Evans Sr. that will be published soon.

The Atlanta meeting made the front page of the July 5, 1968, Christian Chronicle. Read the original story HERE.

The Atlanta meeting made the front page of the July 5, 1968, Christian Chronicle. Read the original story HERE.

Inside the auditorium, I ran into Harold Redd, minister for the Midtown Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., and a Chronicle trustee; Victor Norris Sr., minister for the Richmond Avenue Church of Christ in Fort Worth and local coordinator for the 2019 national Crusade for Christ; and other kind brothers and sisters whose names escape me at the moment.

Most of those who came were African American, but a few white faces were scattered throughout the auditorium. Harris, who is black, jokingly kept asking me the names of the white people, as if I know all of the white preachers in the world. I did recognize David Burks, the retired longtime president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark.

Another white brother there was my friend Jeff Jenkins, who preaches for the Lewisville Church of Christ in the Dallas area and serves on the board of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. 

During personal tributes later that night, Jenkins noted that Evans Sr. came to preach at his dad’s Alabama church years ago. For 44 years, Jerry A. Jenkins served as minister of the Roebuck Parkway Church of Christ in Birmingham, Ala., and host of the “The Living Word” television broadcast, the longest-running religious broadcast in Alabama. The elder Jenkins died at age 74 in 2010.

Jeff Jenkins said he was blessed to grow up in a church — the one where his father served — where race didn’t make a difference, and people were embraced regardless of whether they were black or white. He offered condolences to his friend Jack Evans Jr. and the rest of the family on behalf of FHU.


Related: ‘A giant has fallen’: Longtime Southwestern Christian College president Jack Evans Sr. dies at 81


Sitting directly in front of me was Terrance McClain, minister for the University Church of Christ, a predominantly black congregation in Cleveland. During the tributes, McClain read one on behalf of the family of brother James Wilson, who attended the Nashville Christian Institute — a Tennessee school for black boys and girls — with Evans Sr. in the 1950s.

After McClain sat down, I asked him for a copy of the tribute, and he made a special trip to retrieve the portrait of Wilson’s words so I could snap an iPhone photo of it. In my deadline rush, I ended up not quoting Wilson in my story, and I felt bad about that.

Jack Evans Jr., the oldest son of longtime Southwestern Christian College President Jack Evans Sr., preaches his father’s funeral. “I don’t have to eulogize him,” Evans Jr. said. “His life is his eulogy. Your presence … is his eulogy.”

‘Jack the Giant Killer’

Evans Sr. liked poetry, and Lovell C. Hayes, minister for the East Jackson Church of Christ in Jackson, Tenn., read a poem he wrote called “Jack the Giant Killer.”

“Many other giants could be called to the stand to testify to the powerful work of this great man,” read part of the poem. “Alas, one more giant is standing, waiting in line. His name is death, and he’s claimed Jack at this time. But on resurrection day, death and the grave will stop on this side of the river and say, ‘Even we could not kill him. Jack’s a giant killer!’”

By the time the Friday night celebration of Evans’ life ended, it was after 10 p.m. Harris had been up since 2 a.m. Central time, and both of us were tired. But we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Fortunately, there was a Whataburger — open 24 hours — right by our hotel.


Related: ‘Queen Mother’ of Southwestern Christian College Patricia Evans dies at 77


The funeral service was scheduled for noon Saturday. 

So when we got back to the room at about 11 p.m., I set my alarm for 8:30 a.m. But at 6:30 a.m., I heard Harris talking on the phone, and I, too, was awake for good then. (By the way, did you know that church members call ministers such as Harris at all hours?)

We went down to the lobby at about 7:30 a.m. to take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet. On the way to the elevator, we ran into Leonardo Gilbert, minister for the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ in Chicago and the new national director for the Crusade for Christ. He was returning from a five-mile run while I was preparing to eat biscuits and gravy. (In 2006, I wrote a Chronicle column on the warm welcome Gilbert gave me and my son Keaton, then 9, when we visited the Sheldon Heights congregation on a Sunday night.)

Christians hold hands as they pray at the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the host congregations for the Crusade for Christ.

Christians hold hands as they pray at the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the host congregations for the Crusade for Christ in June 2019.

Knowing that parking would be at a premium given the big crowd expected at Evans Sr.’s service, Harris and I made it back to Southwestern by 10 a.m. That turned out to be an outstanding decision as the auditorium kept filling up. 

I was particularly pleased when Mooney, a member of the West Vickery Church of Christ in Fort Worth and a professional photographer, showed up. I knew he — unlike me — would take pictures that would do justice to the service. And he didn’t disappoint.

“May it never be said again that Churches of Christ gospel preachers cannot come together.”

O.J. Shabazz, minister for the Harlem church, introduced the various speakers. I met Shabazz in 2009 when I covered an “a cappella at the Apollo” singing during the Northeastern Lectureship. Noting the size of the funeral crowd, Shabazz declared, “May it never be said again that Churches of Christ gospel preachers cannot come together.”

“I know that many of you have planes to catch and pressed schedules, but I invite the Church of Christ to take this historical moment to look at the impact of Dr. Jack Evans upon the lives of gospel preachers,” he added. “Would all gospel preachers stand to your feet?”

Literally hundreds of preachers rose.

Shabazz moved Evans Jr., who delivered his father’s eulogy, forward in the schedule as various speakers’ “two-minute tributes” kept expanding to 10 and 15 minutes.

Jack Evans Jr., the oldest son of longtime Southwestern Christian College President Jack Evans Sr., preaches his father’s funeral. “I don’t have to eulogize him,” Evans Jr. said. “His life is his eulogy. Your presence … is his eulogy.”

Football and deadline

Shortly before 3 p.m., Harris and I slipped out so that we could make his 6 p.m. return flight from Dallas Love Field. We had just enough time to grab a late lunch at Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.

We made it to the terminal by about 4:30 p.m., but both of us were running on fumes by then, and my brother left his cell phone, which had a dead battery, sitting in the passenger seat. I noticed this as I was driving away from the airport to refuel, return the rental car and then go wait for my own 9:30 p.m. flight. So I pulled back around to the terminal, and a kind security officer went inside to catch up with Harris and tell him I had his phone.


Related: Fare thee Wells


Later, I pushed my big suitcase through the Southwest-emblazoned doors and toward the security screening line. My wife likes to joke that I pack more than any woman who travels, and I’m afraid she’s right, especially when “bags fly free,” as they do on Southwest. 

Federal rules and regulations for luggage must be obeyed.

Federal rules and regulations for luggage must be obeyed.

The good-natured TSA officer took a look at my luggage instead of my boarding pass and ID and noted that it slightly exceeded carry-on limits. I glanced down and began apologizing at once. I fly frequently, but obviously by now I was running low on mental energy. 

By the time I made it through security on my second attempt, it was almost time to watch my favorite college football team, the Oklahoma Sooners, play the Baylor Bears. I was excited when I was able to get the ESPN app on my phone to let me watch the game. As the Sooners fell behind, 28-3, I was regretting that.

However, I kept watching, and the Sooners began a comeback for the ages. When I finally boarded my flight, which was running a few minutes late, Oklahoma had tied the game, 31-31, with two minutes left. But then I had to turn off my phone before takeoff. So I — and most of the people on the flight — waited eagerly to see how the game turned out. There were lots of happy Sooners fans when we landed in Oklahoma City and learned OU had won, 34-31.

On Sunday morning, I went to church and helped teach the kindergarten class, as I normally do when I’m in town. Then I grabbed a quick lunch to-go and headed to the Chronicle office to work on my story. When I realized my brain was still tired, I began typing my notes and decided I’d write first thing Monday. I diverted my attention to spending time Sunday night with my 1-year-old grandson, Bennett.

By 5 a.m. Monday, I was back in my office chair writing my story and mostly done with it by 10 a.m. Next, I began editing my brother Harris’ column. The rest of the day proceeded smoothly as we wrapped up our 40-page issue and met our 5 p.m. deadline to get PDFs of our pages to the printer.

It was as easy as that.

And that, my friends, is the story behind the story.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Christian journalism Dallas Hamil R. Harris Inside Story Jack Evans Sr. journalism National Southwestern Christian College Texas Top Stories Travel Reports

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