Fayetteville’s well-known pianist and organist Jonathan Story has been presenting classical and sacred music concerts to benefit the restoration of the historic St. James Church at 5 North Willow, built in the 1870s. "I love the history of this church," Story said. "St. James, a historically African-American congregation, is the oldest continuously serving Methodist Church in North Arkansas. It was built partially with bricks left over from the construction of Old Main. Over its history it was attacked twice by the Ku Klux Klan, and it served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement in Fayetteville. There were many, many important meetings held at St. James. Fayetteville in turn became the first city south of the Mason-Dixon Line to integrate its schools in 1954.”
The St. James Methodist commitment to racial and social justice continues under the highly regarded civil rights leader Rev. Charles Lee White Jr., a former Director for the Southeast Region of the NAACP and National Director for Field Operations for the NAACP. Reverend White served as one of the principal pallbearers at the Rosa Parks memorial service, but he also made civil rights history of his own in South Carolina, fighting discrimination by the Buffalo Room in 1993 that led to strengthening the state's public accommodation laws.
"I am stepping up my effort to raise money for the project, and I will continue giving benefit concerts until the building is completely restored and hopefully designated a National Historic Landmark. Last year I gave one benefit concert in Little Rock and one in Fayetteville, and I plan to do several this year," Story said.
We like this Story, because it is about a committed local citizen and political commentator contributing his artistic talents to preserve local historical landmarks, a labor of love that began when Jonathan was but a young tyke and led the effort to save the Ozark Opera House. "I've just been presenting concerts anywhere they'll have me to help restore the old church. So much history there, and it needs to be preserved."
Last month Story presented a concert in Rogers, and we will keep you posted on future benefit concerts in our area. We hope that you will attend the performances and give generously to preserve our heritage.