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E.V. Hill remembered as conservative African American pastor, civil rights leader

LOS ANGELES (BP)–E.V. Hill, the pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church is Los Angeles who became a leader in the civil rights movement and was honored by Time magazine as one of the seven most outstanding preachers in the United States, died Feb. 24 at age 69.

Raised in poverty in Texas, Hill grew to be an early confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and a close friend of Billy Graham. He also served as a leader in the National Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest grouping of black churches, and in 1972 was elected as the youngest president of the California State Baptist Convention. Hill was co-chairman of the Baptist World Alliance and associate professor of evangelism for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In 1971, he was one of eight black clergymen whom Graham took to the White House to speak privately with President Richard Nixon.

Hill would have celebrated his 42nd anniversary as pastor of Mt. Zion this month. Under his leadership, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 26, Hill’s congregation became a center of political and social activism in Los Angeles that drew visits from presidents and preachers.

The Times said on one occasion, Graham arrived unannounced so he could hear Hill preach, and President George H.W. Bush visited Mt. Zion in the days following the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

A Republican, Hill gave the inaugural prayer for President Nixon’s second term during Watergate and twice led clergy committees for Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the Times said. Hill spoke often at Promise Keepers men’s rallies across the nation and aligned himself with Christian conservatives such as Jerry Falwell.

“Located in the heart of the Watts section of L.A., Dr. Hill served as an important mediator between factions there,” Falwell said in a release Feb. 25. “Even in the darkest times in that community, Dr. Hill always pointed people toward their only real hope — Jesus Christ.”

James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, counted Hill as a dear friend and example in the faith. In his “Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide,” Dobson answers a question about the ways men need their wives by giving an example of Hill and his first wife, Jane Edna Hill, who died in 1987.

As a struggling young preacher, Dobson said, Hill had trouble earning a living and decided to invest in the purchase of a service station. His wife knew he lacked the time and expertise to oversee his investment, and soon the station went broke and Hill lost everything.

“It was a critical time in the life of this young man,” Dobson writes. “He had failed at something important, and his wife would have been justified in saying, ‘I told you so.’ But Jane had an intuitive understanding of her husband’s vulnerability. Thus, when E.V. called to tell her that he had lost the station, she said simply, ‘All right.’

“E.V. came home that night expecting his wife to be pouting over his foolish investment,” Dobson continues. “Instead, she sat down with him and said, ‘I’ve been doing some figuring. I figure that you don’t smoke and you don’t drink. If you smoked and drank, you would have lost as much as you lost in the service station. So it’s six in one hand and a half-dozen in the other. Let’s forget it.'”

Hill went on to write two books late in his ministry, one called “A Savior Worth Having” in 2002 and another called “Victory in Jesus” to be released in May. In “A Savior Worth Having,” he told about being one of five children raised by a single mother during the Great Depression in rural Texas. A woman he called “Momma,” who was of no relation to him, announced to her church when he was in the ninth grade that, “My boy is gonna finish high school.” Most young black men in rural Texas dropped out of school in the 10th grade and started working for $2 a day. But Hill finished high school just as “Momma” said he would. Then she said he would go to college, so she bought him a bus ticket, a suit, a couple of pairs of blue jeans and some shirts, took him to the bus station, gave him $5 and said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Hill said he had $1.83 left when he pulled in to Prairie View, Texas, and he spent 25 cents of that to catch a city bus to the Prairie View A&M campus. As he stood in line at the registrar’s office, he noticed a sign that read, “$83, cash, cashier’s check or money order.” Hill didn’t have $83 and didn’t know what to do. As Satan whispered into his ear that he had no business being there, he remembered “Momma’s” promise, “I’ll be praying for you.” So he stayed in line.

As he was just about to step up to the counter, someone put a hand on his shoulder and asked, “Are you Ed Hill?” The man then told him to get out of line, and as they walked off to the side, the man said, “Son, didn’t you get our letter? We’ve been trying to contact you. We are giving you a four-year scholarship. It will pay your tuition, room and board and give you $35 a month for spending money.”

Hill said he heard “Momma” saying, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Hill is survived by his second wife, La Dean, whom he married in 1992; a son, E.V. Hill II, pastor of Calvary Temple Pentecostal Holiness Church in North Hollywood, Calif.; a daughter, Norva Rose Kennard, a Boston attorney; three grandsons; and a stepson, Lawrence Anthony Donald of Orlando, Fla.

He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was admitted Feb. 8 with what an aide said was an aggressive form of pneumonia complicated by other medical conditions, the Times reported.

Funeral services are pending.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: E.V. HILL.

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  • Erin Curry