Carter's impact on Thomasville profound
Chief Apostle James Carter used to drive through Thomasville delivering packages for UPS, asking God what could be done to help get poor children off the streets.
Once the answer finally came, Carter's life changed forever.
“Whenever I prayed to God to send someone to Thomasville to help get the kids off the street, the answer always came back 'what's wrong with you?'” Carter said. “I wasn't interested at the time, but the Lord kept pressing that upon me. I came back and promised the Lord I would do it.”
That was more than 40 years ago.
Carter's impact on the Chair City since his move to Thomasville in 1975 has been profound. His ministry and civic contributions have helped change the lives of generations of families, spiritually and otherwise.
Cornerstone Church of Christ, a place of worship Carter molded from an old garage, plans to honor their founder during its 11th annual Leadership Conference.
“There are so many things he has done historically in Thomasville and has never been recognized,” said Marie Allen, the conference coordinator. “This year, we're going to recognize him.”
This year's three-day conference centers around Carter and his wife Cynthia and the role the couple played to reshape race relations during a time when Ku Klux Klan demonstrations and the “N' word were commonplace.
Carter, now the longest tenured pastor in Thomasville, started preaching on some of the city's most notorious streets, with nothing more than a guitar, a microphone and desire to touch as many lives as possible.
“I started ministry on Hunter Street,” Carter said. “My first congregation was two drunks and a dog. I started consistent visits there every Saturday. Hunter Street was a difficult, tough street, and some of the police officers didn't even like going down there.”
As Carter's persistence started to pay off, two drunks and a dog eventually turned into a much bigger congregation – Cornerstone Church of Christ. Carter started the church on Jacob Street before moving it in 1979 to its current home at 1102 Short St. Carter knew the building well, having delivered packages to it during his time with UPS.
He also knew that turning the former garage into a place of worship would not be easy.
“It was a typical garage, with jacks and grease on concrete floors,” said Carter. “We went on hands and knees and cleaned up the building.”
During the next two decades, Cornerstone grew in size, inside and out. The church added a new fellowship hall and a sanctuary, and currently has more than 100 members, including some who are fourth generation followers.
“He has helped raise a lot of young people in that church,” Allen said. “A lot of people were saved under his ministry.”
Carter didn't come to Thomasville to start a church. He came to make a difference, to change a culture of indifference and segregation.
“There was quite a bit of prejudice and racism when I came here,” said Carter. “It was a different atmosphere and was quite surprising to me. The 'N' word was used very loosely here. One of the problems that seemed to be prevalent was we lacked the leadership. I wanted to be a part of making a difference in the community to try and help correct some of the detrimental problems that I saw.”
Bringing community leaders together proved to be one of Carter's contributions. His ability to get people on the same page, to start caring about about what went on their community, laid the groundwork for change.
“One of the problems we had was getting support for some of these issues,” Carter said. I ran into opposition with some of my own folk. Support was limited. People would complain about the situation but were quite hesitant to get involved. We were able to bring the community together and resolve a lot of issues. It was very negative and detrimental to the city. Its been almost a total 180 degree turnaround as far as the race relations from when I came here. I've seen it change quite a bit for the better. We have some areas that still need to be worked on.”
Carter's reach extends beyond Cornerstone Church of Christ. He was a driving force in getting the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday recognized in Davidson County. He's worked closely with five police chiefs, Thomasville City Schools, City Hall, Habitat for Humanity, the NAACP and various other churches and civic organizations.
“We've seen a lot of changes taking place over the years and I've been a part of a number of them that have made the community a better place,” Carter said. “I love this city.”
Cornerstone's three-day conference begins on April 10 with a sermon from Pastor Cory Graves from White Oak Missionary Baptist Church. The James Carter appreciation celebration will take place on 7 p.m. Friday, April 11, with Bishop Terry Young from Morning Star Baptist Church serving as the host. An appreciation luncheon is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 12.
For more information, call Allen 991-9289.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.