Rev. Naaman Haynes carried the torch of freedom
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
This photo of the Haynes family includes Rev. Haynes, his mother, and all of his brothers and sisters. Pictured on the top row, left to right, are Naaman Haynes, Sr., Christine Haynes, Junious Haynes, Earlene Briggs, and Mack Haynes. On the bottom row, left to right, are Rowland Haynes, Lula Haynes, the matriarch of the family, (Lula Haynes Plaza Apartments in Fresno are named after her.) Oscar Haynes (a cousin — a retired educator in Fresno — Edison High School) Sarah Smith, Bruce Haynes, and on his lap, Buster Haynes.
Readers have probably seen that article about the history project that has some eighth grade students digging into Madera’s past to recover the story of the town’s African-American community. The young sleuths are searching the old newspapers for information, and they are interviewing descendants of Madera’s first African-American residents to understand their experience. One individual who has emerged from the search is the dynamic community leader, the Rev. Naaman Haynes. In addition to his ministerial duties at Madera’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Rev. Haynes was vice president of the Madera Ministerial Association, president of the Sierra Vista School PTA, a member of the board of the American Red Cross, education chairman of the American Cancer Society, president of the Madera branch of the NAACP, and vice chairman of the Madera City Human Relations Commission.
The African-American minister was born and raised in Mississippi. By the fifties, he was living in Madera and in 1959, was installed as the pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church. This placed him in a position of leadership in the 1960s, a pivotal decade in the civil rights movement.
By the summer of 1963, Madera had taken note of Haynes, and not all of it was positive. In July, the Madera Tribune published a letter from Haynes in which the minister attacked racial discrimination. A Fresno reader answered with one of those hackneyed responses that were so often seen in print.
Addressing Haynes, the reader wrote, “Mr. Haynes, will the Negro please take the chip off his shoulders? He complains of oppression by the white man, and makes demands of the white man because of that.”
“Mr. Haynes, the Negro was not the only one brought here as a slave. The Chinese were, too, and they are of another race. But the Chinese, instead of holding a grudge, continued forward, made many sacrifices on himself, worked hard, and denied himself many luxuries until he proved himself equal to the white man.”
“Mr. Haynes, instead of demanding from the white man, demand from your own people to improve themselves. It’s a long, hard climb, but you can make it. Forget the past and live for the present and future. This town of Madera is a great town. Everybody is willing to give all people regardless of race, creed or religion an equal chance. It is up to us with the help of almighty God to continue from there.”
If this rebuff had any effect on Haynes, it never showed. He didn’t slow down one iota in his pursuit of equality for Blacks. After the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963, Rev. Haynes went public with his own “I have a Dream” speech at a Freedom Day rally at the Second Missionary Baptist Church.
“I have a dream,” intoned Haynes, “that more of you will be elected student body president as was Albert Wilburn. I have a dream that some of you will someday serve in important positions in our local government. I have a dream that some of you will serve as tellers in our local banks. I have a dream that the pursuit of happiness will become a fact. I have a dream that discrimination will be lost behind the hills of education and understanding. I have a dream that the American dream will become a living reality right here in Madera.”
Eleven days after Haynes gave that speech, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
The next two years were watershed milestones in American history. In July 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in 1965 the debates that led to the Voting Rights Act began in Congress. While that was going on, King organized the march to Montgomery, and his appeal reached Madera.
On March 21, 1965, some 2,000 people set out from Selma, Alabama for the state capital in Montgomery. They were marching for voting rights for Blacks. After walking 12 hours a day and sleeping in fields along the way for the first three days, the marchers were met by 50,000 supporters from all over the country for the final push into Montgomery. One of those supporters was the Rev. Naaman Haynes from Madera’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
On March 24, Haynes joined the historic march. He continued with the demonstrators to the capitol building on the next day. For him, it was an “indescribable experience.” Having been born and raised in the deep South, Haynes knew very well the nature of the society he was trying to change. He was to say later that “going to Alabama was like leaving the United States. Federal guards wore Confederate patches on their sleeves, and the capitol building flew the Confederate flag atop its dome.”
When Haynes flew home on March 26, he gave a compelling account of the final days of the march. “Imagine being afraid to go across the street to get a drink of water,” Haynes said. When they reached the outskirts of Montgomery, the elderly residents of the Negro districts were praying in their doorways and saying “Thank you for coming,” with tears streaming down their faces. One of those who marched with Haynes was a man with just one leg.
Haynes said that the white residents of neighboring poor districts expressed gratitude just as those from the black neighborhoods had, but from the well-to-do white sections came jeers and catcalls. Most of the jibes, Haynes said, were aimed at the white marchers, particularly at the ministers who were sought out as particular targets. He said the locals believed that all who wore the collars of clergymen were Catholic priests, and for those they showed “especial hate.”
On the Sunday following his return to Madera, Haynes was the main speaker at an afternoon rally of the NAACP at his church. He had by then earned his reputation as a community activist and leader.
Rev. Naaman N. Haynes died in 1985. One wonders how he involved himself during the last two decades of his life. Perhaps we can find out.