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Fri, 02.24.1905

William Holmes Borders Sr., Minister born

William H. Borders Sr

*On this date in1905, Rev. William Holmes Borders was born. He was a Black minister and activist, and writer.

Born in Macon, Georgia, he was the son of Leila Birdsong and the Reverend James Buchanan Borders, who pastured the Swift Creek Baptist Church. After graduating from high school, Borders left home for Atlanta, where he attended Morehouse College. Despite running out of money after only two years, many sympathetic professors invited him to continue taking classes. College president John Hope allowed the young man to graduate on the condition that he later repay the school. Borders attended Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University on scholarship.  He was exposed to the social gospel greatly influenced his commitment to social justice.

He continued his courtship of Julia Pate, a graduate of Spelman College who was then attending the University of Chicago. The two were married in 1931 and later had two children, William Holmes Jr., and Juel Pate. He completed his bachelor of divinity degree the following year and then accepted the pastorate of the Second Baptist Church in Evanston. In 1936 he earned a master's degree from Northwestern while serving as pastor. Borders accepted an invitation to return to Morehouse as an instructor. A year later, in 1937, he was offered the pastorate at Wheat Street Baptist Church. This is a position he would hold for over 50 years.

In 1939, Borders was responsible for pressing Atlanta to hire Black policemen. His influence politically helped Black voters increase from 6,000 to 12,000 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1945, he led the Atlanta Black community in raising $11,000 to bury four Monroe, Georgia, lynched victims and to offer a reward for the apprehension and conviction of their killers. Borders also led the movement in Atlanta that resulted in the hiring of Black bus drivers in 1945. Borders also wrote sermons and poems, for which he sold more than 100,000 copies. He also had a weekly talk radio show. During the first half of the 1960s, a generational rift in Atlanta's black community emerged. As chairman of the Student-Adult Liaison Committee, Borders attempted to bridge the divide that separated old-guard conservatism from student activism.

Although he was more successful at this task than some of his peers, Borders' influence in the movement gradually diminished. The old guard ultimately ceded its authority to younger and more assertive activists. Perhaps due to the black community's political paradigm shift, Borders was defeated when he sought a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1965, 1970, and 1972. Despite his electoral defeats, Borders remained active in Atlanta's public life until his retirement in 1988.

He earned critical acclaim for portraying Jesus Christ in a 1968 production of Behold the Man at Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium. He also represented the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon on two trips to Japan in the 1970s. He continued to speak regularly at public events throughout the city well into the 1980s and served on the boards of numerous municipal, religious, and philanthropic organizations. Borders died of heart failure in Atlanta on November 23, 1993.


Sweet Auburn


Wheat Street Baptist Church
365 Auburn Avenue
Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic District
Atlanta, Georgia

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