Dr. Jefferson P. Rogers

Obituary
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  • "RiP Dr. Rogers, It was a pleasure working with you at the..."
    - James Harper
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Pastor, Scholar, Civil Rights Activist
spent years in Miami

Jefferson P. Rogers, born January 24, 1917 in Quincy, Florida, passed away on August 1, in Daytona Beach at the age of 97. Rogers graduated from Florida A & M University in 1940 with a BA in history. The Rev. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, President of Morehouse College arranged a scholarship to Howard University for him to study for ministry. Dr. Mays also wrote a letter to his grandmother and sent for him so that he could persuade him to accept the scholarship. The young Mr. Rogers yielded and earned the M.A. degree in religion and philosophy from Howard in 1943, where one of his professors and mentors was Dr. Howard Thurman. After graduating from Howard and serving as director of Christian education at Jones Tabernacle AME Church in Philadelphia, Rev. and Mrs. Rogers (née Mary Grace Harris) decided to continue their education at Yale University from 1945 to 1947. She received the MA degree in sociology, while he earned a third degree, this one in social ethics. Rogers' keen interest in racial issues, theology, and social justice led him to Cleveland, where in 1947 he became Race Relations Secretary of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, headquartered in Cleveland. The Rogers' lived on Parkside Road in Glenville, and remained close to many in the community even after they left for Washington DC in 1953, when he was called to pastor Plymouth Congregational Church. Rogers became well known there for his scholarly, intellectual and spiritual presence, and for his devotion to promoting integration, and his participation in the civil rights movement. In 1957 he founded the Church of the Redeemer in September 1958, serving as its pastor until 1970, and where his eloquence led The Washington Post referred to him as one of Washington's "gifted preachers" and the Washingtonian Magazine to recognize him in December 1969 as one of the city's "Golden Dozen", i.e., best preachers. Rogers quietly became a member of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s brain trust, and served as head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC]. His home often served as a center for strategy sessions with Dr. King, Rev. Andrew Young, Dr. Wyatt T. Walker, Jesse Jackson, and many other stalwarts of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1970 Rogers became president and executive minister of the Black Ecumenical Commission in Boston. In 1972 he was called to Hollis Presbyterian Church in Hollis, New York, as that congregation's first African American pastor. Around 1980, Rev. and Mrs. Rogers moved to Miami where both he and Mrs. Rogers joined the faculty of Florida Memorial College (now University), where he also directed the Center for Community Change. The Rogers worked together to foster educational, economic and social development projects in Miami, partly through a popular Distinguished Lecture Series that drew audiences from the whole community to the campus. His success in bringing tennis great Arthur Ashe, of whom he was a longtime friend, mentor, and counselor, to the Florida Memorial as a member of the Trustee Board with a vision of elevating the institution to greatness garnered national coverage in the July, 1986 issue of Ebony magazine. While in Miami, the Rogers also established the New Birth Corporation, Inc., as early as 1981, which eventually acquired, renovated and continues to preserve of Thurman's childhood home in Daytona Beach. The Rogers eventually relocated to Daytona Beach where, in partnership with Stetson University in nearby Deland, FL, he established the Thurman Lecture Series, which ran from 1996 to 2011. As in Miami, the series featured outstanding scholars, authors, and civil rights stalwarts, including Professor Derrick Bell, Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael), Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, author Taylor Branch, and many others. One of the last New Birth projects that Rev. Rogers strongly encouraged and endorsed is the new collaborative effort between New Birth Corp. and Bethune-Cookman University. The President of Bethune-Cookman, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, and B-C's Distinguished Professor, the Rev. Dr. Reginald Bracey, Jr., have embraced the collaborative effort. In April 2014, New Birth and Bethune-Cookman held a Roundtable discussion on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline phenomenon that has ensnared countless African-American and Hispanic youth, beginning in childhood and continuing to adulthood. Rogers is survived by three children, Anita Rogers Howard (Richard Andrews) of Cleveland Heights, OH, Qasim Abdul-Tawwab (Najwa) of Daytona Beach, and Weldon Rogers of Atlanta; a niece, Barbara Anders (James) of Miami; a nephew, Byron Jones of St. Petersburg, Florida; eight grandchildren; and thirteen great grandchildren. Mary Grace Rogers, his wife of more than 70 years, predeceased him in April 2012. A memorial service for Rev. Rogers will be held on Saturday, August 16 at 11:00 A.M. at the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church located at 580 George W. Engram Blvd in Daytona Beach.

Published in Daytona Beach News-Journal on Aug. 10, 2014
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