2007-02-08 / Front Page

'God-sent preacher and teacher of the Gospel of Christ'

Rev. Albert T. Zellars (1904-2004) UNSUNG HEROES OF WILKES COUNTY
By REV. ED ANDERSON

Rev. Albert T. Zellars (1904-2004)
UNSUNG HEROES OF WILKES COUNTY

REV. ALBERT ZELLARS as a young minister (left) and later in life. REV. ALBERT ZELLARS as a young minister (left) and later in life. Distinguished African American Baptist minister and educator, Rev. Albert Theodore Roosevelt Zellars was born August 8, 1904, in Lincoln County, Georgia, to George Pierce Zellars, a farmer, and Emma Louise Hawes Zellars, a homemaker. He was educated in the public/church schools of Lincoln County. He then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, which later became the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luthur King, Jr.

A lifelong member of Harmony Church Baptist Church in Lincoln County, Rev. Zellars returned to Lincoln and Wilkes County after college where he taught in the public schools for many years. However, his primary "calling," which he accepted at age 16, was to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While he pastored numerous churches in Lincoln and Wilkes Counties, most noteworthy are his 47 years of service at Mulberry Baptist Church in the Sandtown Community and his 21 years at New Ford Baptist Church in Danburg.

During his first pastorate at New Ford Baptist Church (1935-1943), which partially coincided with the years of his pastorate at nearby Mulberry Baptist Church, New Ford grew and was a meaningful and viable spiritual, social, and educational force in the Danburg community. With the able support and assistance of such outstanding deacons as Charlie Cofer, Willie Cofer, J. C. Brewer, D. J. Bradley, John R. Bradley, Cap Robinson, Gordon Walton and many others; New Ford Church School was expanded and became the only school in northeast Wilkes County to have a junior high school for African American children. Another outstanding young recent Morehouse graduate, Professor John Henry Jackson, was called to serve as principal of the junior high and elementary school. His wife, Hattie Jackson served as a teacher in the New Ford Elementary School. They are the parents of the current Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School principal, Andrew Jackson.

During the concurrent tenures of Zellars and Jackson at New Ford, they influenced the lives of hundreds of students of color who successfully studied at the elementary and junior high school. Graduates of New Ford Junior High School include present and former Wilkes Countians such as Veola Cofer Anderson, Gartrel Robinson, Arthur Danner, Carrie Hudson Mays, Ethel Mae Anderson Johnson, Regina Cofer Burnett, Lee Cofer, Willie T. Cofer, Herbert Chennault, Bertha Jackson Singleton, Jesse Jackson, Mary Lee Dunn, Elizabeth Sims, and many others. These junior high school graduates gained further education and training elsewhere and made an impact in their community and their world. The children and grandchildren of many of them are college graduates and professionals. Zellars pastored New Ford a second time from 1960 until 1973 and continued his superb Christian example, service, and commitment to doing the will of God.

Rev. Zellars spent 47 years (1938- 1985) as pastor of Mulberry Baptist Church in the Sandtown Community. Among his members in 1978 was Deacon Albert Rucker, chairman of the deacon board. Rucker had been a member since he was a lad of seven or eight years of age. He recalls when he would sometime begin the six- or seven-mile trek from his home to Mulberry for Saturday church conference and Zellars would often come along and give him a ride in his car. Few people of color owned cars in those days, so it was really a treat to be offered a ride by Pastor Zellars.

Rucker recalls what history now records as Zellars' finest hour of Christian leadership at Mulberry. It occurred in 1978 when three young white teenage boys, after an evening of intoxication, set fire to Mulberry Baptist Church and three other historic African American churches. Upon receiving word of the destruction by fire of Mulberry, Zellars simply wept. After a while, he composed himself and responded to Rucker, who had brought the awful news to him, by simply saying, "The Lord will provide." The community reached out to help. New Ford, a "fourth Sunday" church, immediately made its sanctuary and other church facilities available for Mulberry's "third Sunday" worship services.

The three young men were arrested and confessed to burning the churches. Rucker recalls that after several weeks of prayer and meditation, Zellars said to him that the Lord had revealed to him that he and Mulberry Church should forgive the young men for burning the church. While Rucker says that he declined to respond at the time, it did not take him very long to remember that he and his wife were the parents of several children and if one of them got into trouble, he would want someone to have compassion on them. He immediately gave his full support to Zellars by presenting the proposal for church forgiveness of the young men to the church body at conference. The Mulberry church family unanimously agreed to forgive.

Zellars went a step farther. He appeared in court and asked the judge to be merciful on the young men. Reports of this magnanimous act of love and forgiveness soon appeared on the local, state, and national news. Rucker's phone began ringing day and night. People from all races, regions, religions and vocations wanted to know what they could do to help rebuild Mulberry. The first contribution of $4,000 arrived from West Virginia. Other generous contributions followed. Rev. Albert Huyck, Jr., and other local religious, business, and political leaders began a "Rebuilding Fellowship Fund" and encouraged people from Wilkes and surrounding counties to contribute financially.

Mulberry hired an architect, Henry Whitehead, who also agreed to serve as foreman for a three day construction "blitz" on March 16- 18, 1978. Rucker states that he left home on the morning of March 16, 1978, expecting to put in a long day's work with just a few people. But to his amazement, at the prescribed time more that 150 men from as far away as Missouri converged on the site. Some were carpenters, brick masons, plumbers, and electricians. Many were semiskilled. All "had a mind to work" and got the job done.

The beautiful edifice they erected during that glorious three day period stands today to the glory of God, the Father.. Its construction is a testament to the power of love over hate, the power of forgiveness over unforgiveness, and the power of good over evil.

When God called 99-year-old Rev. Albert T. Zellars home on April 28, 2004, He summoned one of His sincere "servant leaders" who had left for us, the living, a legacy of love, forgiveness, service, commitment, integrity, scholarship, and living peaceably with ones' fellow man.

Of Zellars, Rucker says that "he was my pastor, my teacher, my preacher, my mentor, my counselor, and my friend to the very end. He was a God-sent preacher and teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ." The Wilkes and Lincoln County community would agree that Rev. Albert T. Zellars was indeed a God-sent man. The community would agree, as well, that from 1939 until 2004, Zellars could have had no better friend, deacon, or student than Albert Rucker. As long as Rucker or any of his sons live; as long as the present pastor of Mulberry, Rev. Robert Crawford, lives; as long as the many preachers of the gospel and members of Mulberry and New Ford who sat under the teachings of Zellars live; then Zellars lives - for indeed, he touched us all with his love and with the teachings of Jesus.

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