Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, July 21, 1990. Interview A-0335. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The North Carolina Orange Presbytery forces Jones out of First Presbyterian in Chapel Hill

Jones was expelled from his position as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill because he did not espouse the Article of Faith. He thinks the expulsion also had to do with his decision to allow black people to attend the church, though the Presbytery never admitted this factor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, July 21, 1990. Interview A-0335. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
Would it be fair to summarize the conflict by saying that you were too liberal for the congregation at that Presbyterian Church?
CHARLES M. JONES:
Oh my Lord, no.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, why did they jump on you?
DORCAS JONES:
It wasn't the local church. It was the Presbytery.
CHARLES M. JONES:
A fellow named T. Henry Patterson, [a church executive].
JOHN EGERTON:
Of the North Carolina Presbytery or whatever. What did he do to initiate the conflict?
CHARLES M. JONES:
I don't know what would be fair to say. I think he really started it.
DORCAS JONES:
Well, I don't what you would say to that. It was just a combination of liberal things. One was race. This church was the first one to let blacks come.
JOHN EGERTON:
What year was this, that the trouble really kind of came to a head?
DORCAS JONES:
When the Presbytery finally took all the power away from the church and didn't let its officers act, and they [Presbytery] took contol of controlled everything, that was in 1952.
JOHN EGERTON:
When did the trouble with the Presbytery really start, as you look back on it, when did you first begin to feel that you really had a problem on your hands?
CHARLES M. JONES:
I guess when Patterson came.
DORCAS JONES:
I'm sure there were feelings and grumblings and all kind of things for some period of time, but the real situation, I think, didn't happen too long before that. There's a book here that's written on that whole situation. It's a thesis done by a Presbyterian minister.
JOHN EGERTON:
Would it be in the library at the University?
DORCAS JONES:
No. I'm sure it would be in the University of Virginia library, and then I think there's one at the seminary.
JOHN EGERTON:
I'd love to see it.
DORCAS JONES:
I meant to review it. It's been so long since I've read it now. I've forgotten a lot of it, but he did his whole thesis on that situation.
CHARLES M. JONES:
Read the preface to that, give you an idea.
JOHN EGERTON:
I'll just read this aloud so it'll be on my tape. "My first knowledge of Charles M. Jones was in 1952 when, as a teenager of thirteen, I became fascinated with the newspaper accounts of the controversy in Chapel Hill. I did not understand the complexity of the situation but generally believed, along with most of my friends and my local minister, that Charles Jones was a heretic and was getting his just reward. I lost interest in the controversy because it was concluded and assumed that Jones was eventually tried for heresy and conflicted. Such an impression for a thirteen year old can be excused, but the same impression was also held by numerous people who should have known better. My interest in the Jones controversy was rekindled by Professor Paul M. Gaston of the faculty of the University of Virginia when he asked me to consider writing an account of it. Since the initial inquiry for material about the case, I've traveled several thousand miles, interviewed many of the principles, including Jones, and have discovered that the controversy is still very much alive in the minds of many people. I also found that there still exists much confusion as to what actually took place twenty years ago in Chapel Hill. This study is an attempt to unravel the confusion which still surrounds the controversy between the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, Orange Presbytery, and Charles Jones." I need to read that, [the thesis] I think.
DORCAS JONES:
Yeah, I think that would give you the whole . . . It might be possible for you to get a little one. Joe Straley has made copies.
CHARLES M. JONES:
You can call up Joe.
DORCAS JONES:
He was a person in the Presbyterian Church, and one of the main ones in Community Church later.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, just to summarize, the Presbytery, which, of course, in the Presbyterian Church there is a hierarchy unlike the Baptist Church, that has some authority over local congregations, and they exerted authority over you, ultimately forcing you out. Did they actually put you on trial for heresy?
CHARLES M. JONES:
They called for it, but [higher church authority] wouldn't do it. They went so far as to go to the Synod and ask for a trial, but . . .
DORCAS JONES:
The only trial they would have allowed was for the same Presbytery to have had it. So they wouldn't be accusers, judges and everything. At that point, I think, Charles decided to leave.
JOHN EGERTON:
But really, their purpose all along was just to force you out, wasn't it?
CHARLES M. JONES:
Oh yeah.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was their whole objective.
DORCAS JONES:
Yeah, because earlier they had told him that if he would just go somewhere else, they'd recommend him.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did it ever come out in the public debate that race was one of the issues involved in all this?
CHARLES M. JONES:
No, I don't thik so.
JOHN EGERTON:
They kept it on a theological plane, so to speak?
CHARLES M. JONES:
They called it a high plane.
DORCAS JONES:
They wanted a "real Presbyterian."
JOHN EGERTON:
But you're pretty much convinced though in your own heart that race was one of the factors?
CHARLES M. JONES:
Yeah, also, if they'd done it openly and right. I did not believe in the Confession of Faith. I didn't hold to this, but they knew it. But they wouldn't have a trial . So it forced me to make a statement which I made at the end of that thing, why I was leaving.