After 46 years of being an unrepentant voice for the voiceless across the nation’s capitol, Rev. Willie F. Wilson is retiring as the pastor of the Union Temple Baptist Church in southeast D.C. and will be succeed by his daughter later this year.
Rev. Wilson, who became pastor of Union Temple on February 25, 1973, has grown his church from a gathering of 25 people to a membership of 8000 and along the way he has been at the apex of the most significant movements in the city’s history from the political comeback of Mayor Marion Barry to organization of the Million Man March.
“I am unapologetically in love with my people. There is no people who have gone through so much,” Wilson said in an interview. “We like to say that at Union Temple it’s a family affair in the African tradition: everybody was family and brothers and sisters.”
Under Rev. Wilson’s leadership, Union Temple has been a “Mecca,” for black pride in terms of civil rights and social justice movements and over the years it has hosted many speakers and worked on many events that pushed for the liberation for people of color with names like Rosa Parks, Dr. Dorothy Height, Rev Jessie Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan.
In many respects Union Temple was down town of the Pan African village with men and women proudly wearing African attire to receive the head of African nations that included Presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kaffour of Ghana, the president of Benin as well as ambassadors of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia.
Rev. Wilson visited with President Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Winnie Mandela and both spoke at Union Temple on several occasions.
In 1992 in the nave of the church sanitary, Rev. Wilson
commissioned the 19” x20” mural depicting a black Christ and his disciples depicted as historic and significant African American. The mural is the only one of its kind in America and perhaps the world. During that same year,
Rev. Wilson was ordained as a Wolof priest in The Gambia, West Africa and an Ashanti sub chief in Ghana. Rev. Wilson was the executive producer of many national movements including the historic MILLION MAN MARCH (MMM) under the leadership of the
Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
For more than 17 years Wilson and his members hosted Unifest, which brought thousands to Anacostia community over a two day period with vendors and entertainment stages featuring gospel, go-go, jazz, R&B, hip hop, GO-GO and other popular music. The event featured. musical stars that included Beyoncé, Yolanda Adams, and the legendary Clark Sisters.
Wilson has authored three books. SPIRITUAL DYNAMICS: THE GENIUS OF JESUS REVEALED, which was an expansion of his highly regarded mentor Dr. Howard Thurman’s classic volume JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED. Rev. Wilson’s most current book, “THE BIRTH OF THE BIBLE,” uncovers the stolen African traditions that ultimately shaped the formation of the bible, and point to Africans as the authors of the original texts.
As a political activist who has helped to shape the political landscape of the District, Rev. Wilson was very instrumental in leading former DC Mayor Marion Barry in arguably the greatest comeback in the history of American politics. In 1992, President William Clinton presented Wilson with the PRESIDENTIAL SERVICE AWARD, the highest civilian award given by the White House for community service.
In terms of social justice, Wilson said he is concerned about too many ministers today focus “making money and prosperity theology and as result this has really hurt the black church.”
Rev. Wilson said he plans spend more time teaching, writing, lecturing and as he shared, “…most of all continuing to fight in the city, nation and world for the least among us.” Following in his footsteps at Union Temple will be Rev. Anika Wilson Brown, Wilson’s eldest daughter, who completes her doctoral studies in June from Loyola University of Maryland.
“Sometimes we don’t train young people to follow up. My daughter has finished her PhD and I have groomed her to take over and she is ready,” said Wilson, 75. “Some people stay in a position so long because they have too, I don’t want to be like that.”
Wilson said in addition to being a “ dynamic leader, teacher, preacher and counselor,” his daughters is a visionary. “She plans to hold mediations to help people connect with the creator and we talked to the owner of the new Bus Boys and Poets in Southeast about having services once a week. A lot of young people go to brunch on Sunday’s at 11 am the church is not relevant so she wants to take the church to them.”
“As I step into the path of legacy leadership, I’m honored to carry this torch to fulfill the destiny ahead of me and the church,” Rev. Anika Wilson Brown said in a statement. . “We are blessed there have been many trailblazers before us – our ancestors and living legends – that have served as a roadmap for the creation of a better future. I’m most grateful that my father is one of those trailblazers who has given his life to reshaping the course of history for African Americans. His leadership in Washington DC and beyond has inspired and empowered so many of us to fight for social justice and speak for the voiceless in our communities.”
Members of Union Temple BC and the DC community will honor Rev. Wilson’s commitment and service during a series of events and activities planned for his retirement celebration. The events will culminate in a star-studded Gala on Sunday, November 3, 2019 at 4 pm at the CAMELOT.