“Calvin Miles Thompson and Kentucky Baptist Progress”
By Adam G. Winters
Adapted from address delivered at J. H. Spencer Historical Society meeting, November 12, 2018.
Calvin Miles Thompson directed the Kentucky Baptist state mission board for nearly 17 years, during a pivotal era that saw Southern Baptists organize to more efficiently support their shared denominational and missionary interests. Thompson took the helm of Kentucky Baptist missionary efforts around the time that the Cooperative Program was introduced as a bold new venture to raise money for a diversity of Baptists causes. As Southern Baptists extended their missionary outreach across the world, Kentucky Baptists redoubled their efforts to reach the residents in the mountains of their own commonwealth. Thompson not only oversaw the finances and logistics of the State Board, he also took time to respond personally to a plethora of daily requests and queries. Despite his significance, extensive historical treatments of his work, thought, and influence are sorely lacking in Baptist scholarship.
Thompson was born in Muskingom County, Ohio on November 9, 1866. His family moved to Louisville during his youth, and Thompson attended Louisville’s Male High School. He pursued a ministerial calling at a young age.
Louisville’s Walnut Street Baptist Church, under the pastorate of Thomas Treadwell Eaton, licensed Thompson to the preaching ministry on February 4, 1885, while Thompson was only eighteen years of age. Three years later (June 24, 1888) the church ordained him to the ministry, with Eaton preaching the message, William H. Whitsitt presenting him with a Bible, and a prayer offered by J. W. Warder (then-Corresponding Secretary of the Kentucky Baptist State Board of Missions).1
When Thompson entered into the ministry, the Walnut Street Church was in the midst of a surge in membership additions and strategic mission church planting across Louisville. Eaton, who had accepted the pastoral call to Walnut Street in 1881, led not only the church but the entire regional association in strides toward greater financial giving toward Baptist denominational and missionary causes.2
As Eaton’s assistant, Thompson worked heavily with the congregation which is known today as Third Avenue Baptist, but originally known as the “B Street” mission church.3 Thompson
1 George Raleigh Jewell, “Thompson, Calvin Miles, Sr.” in Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville: Broadman, 1958), 2:1415. Victor Masters, “Kentucky’s Friend Gone,” Western Recorder, July 27, 1944, p. 4.
2 Adam Garland Winters, “T. T. Eaton and the Politicization of Baptist Ecclesiology,” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2016), 65–79.
3 Jewell, “Thompson, Calvin Miles, Sr.” 2:1415.
married Clara Bell Morrison in 1888, and together they had six children.4 Thompson first matriculated as a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the 1886-87 academic year, but after two years at the seminary, his formal studies were interrupted on account of acceptance of a church pastorate out of state.
Thompson spent some short stints as a pastor in Clayton, New York, and Clarksburg, West Virginia, before returning to Louisville in 1895 to serve as pastor of the Portland Avenue Baptist Church and re-matriculate into Southern Seminary. Thompson changed pastorates to the Baptist Tabernacle of Louisville the following year, and, sometime after that, the First Baptist Church of Newport, Kentucky. Thompson earned two concurrent degrees from Southern Seminary, the Th.G. (Graduate in Theology) and Th.B. (Bachelor in Theology) degrees in 1898; the following year he completed credits necessary to receive the full graduate Th.M. (Master in Theology) degree.5
Thompson left Kentucky again for ministerial calls, this time in Denver, Colorado, but he ultimately returned to Kentucky to become pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paducah.
After T. T. Eaton’s sudden death on June 29, 1907, Thompson succeeded him for nearly two years as editor of the Western Recorder, the most prominent weekly Kentucky Baptist newspaper and also as president of the Baptist Book Concern (according to Victor Masters, he was Eaton’s hand-picked successor for the role).6 Thompson’s editorial tenure at the Recorder began with the November 7, 1907 issue and lasted until June 24, 1909.
In his stint over the Western Recorder, Thompson’s editorial focus centered upon the two themes of doctrinal fidelity and denominational mobility in regards to missional giving. In one of his earliest editorials, he emphasized the vitality of doctrinal preaching:“Perhaps never in the history of the world was the need of a revival in doctrinal preaching so great as at the present time. Almost every day a religious fad is ushered into being and no matter how eccentric or devoid of common sense it always has a ready, and in some instances, a numerous and noisy following. . . . The Body of Christ is to be built up and ‘the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God’ is to be attained. . . . The need of the hour is a Biblical stability and that, of course, must come from the Bible. . . . Let the grand old doctrines be explained, emphasized and reiterated and there will come a transformation in the home life and a corresponding elevation of the social circle. The business integrity of our fathers’ grew out of a steadfast belief in the sacred Scriptures. To stand where they stood and believe what they believed will never weaken legitimate commercial activity or bring ruin to the world of finance. The fact of sin, the certainty of punishment, the justice of God and all other great doctrines that are basal in character
4 Victor Masters, ‘Dr. Thompson Retires as Mission Secretary,” Western Recorder, July 14, 1938, p. 8.
5 Jewell, “Thompson, Calvin Miles, Sr.” 2:1415. Catalogues of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1887-1900.
6 Masters, “Kentucky’s Friend Gone,” Western Recorder, July 27, 1944, p. 4.
building should be proclaimed with becoming reverence and loyalty. Such proclamation will honor God and bring great and lasting strength to Zion.”7The following week, he pushed for Baptist benevolent giving to fund the totality of Southern Baptist denominational missionary boards:“The Baptists of the South have money enough in their keeping to make splendid and ample provision for the work of all their Boards. The revenue should be the largest when the need is greatest and surely that is the case at the present time. The missionary efforts of our Southern Zion have largely been committed to the Home, Foreign, and State Mission Boards. They stand ready to carry out with alacrity the commands of the churches, but these commands must be reinforced by timely and sufficient funds. When the list is prepared of those to be remembered with Christmas gifts see to it that the Foreign Mission Board, the Home Mission Board, and also the Board of State Missions are included. In this way cheer the workers and strengthen the work.”8Doctrinally, Thompson shared much in common with his mentor T. T. Eaton and other Southern Baptists raised in the 19th century. Thompson was Calvinistic, strict in church polity, and held (at least to some degree) to belief in church succession theory. He rooted his definition of a New Testament church in both identity and action:“A New Testament church is a body of baptized believers, voluntarily associated together for the maintenance of the worship of God, the keeping of the ordinances, and the preaching of the Gospel. No church is carrying out the expressed will of God that does not do all these things. Jesus the Great Captain of our Salvation, the one Law-giver in Zion, plainly and specifically teaches and commands these things.”9Far from stifling his missionary impulse to evangelize the lost, his high view of divine sovereignty and strict standards of ecclesiology motivated his evangelism, as he wrote in a 1908 editorial, the fundamental beliefs of Baptists and their divinely-appointed mission must be the same in the 20th century as it had been in the 1st century:“Wherein does [Baptist] mission differ today from that of a thousand years ago? In the beginning they were commissioned to go and disciple all the nations. They were to emphasize and stress the fact that ‘as many as received him to them gave he the power to become the sons of God.’ The burden of their teaching was to be, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any many should boast.’ In this we are to present Jesus as the only and all sufficient Saviour and, at the same time, show that this salvation was all of Grace and became the eternal possession of those who put their trust in Him.”10
7 C. M. Thompson, [editorial], Western Recorder, December 5, 1907, p. 8.
8 C. M. Thompson, [editorial], Western Recorder, December 12, 1907, p. 8.
9 C. M. Thompson, [editorial], Western Recorder, May 14, 1908, p. 8.
10 C. M. Thompson, [editorial], Western Recorder, April 16, 1908, p. 8
Thompson argued that Baptists, of all Christian denominations, must be no respecter of social standing, but must extend their missionary efforts to people of all status:“The Word of God recognizes but two classes of human beings and these are the saved and the lost. Other distinctions are artificial and, for that reason, are passed by. Thus, it will be seen the Baptist mission is to the masses and not the classes. Man is to be presented with the Gospel message not because he is rich or poor, wise or ignorant, but because he is a lost sinner. And when Baptists turn from the masses to the classes, no matter what their name or sign, they face a setting sun and their day of opportunity will speedily give place to the darkness of oblivion.”11Thompson left the Western Recorder’s editorial chair to enter into a long-term pastorate with the First Baptist Church of Hopkinsville (June 13, 1909 – October 31, 1918) in the Bethel Association.12 First Baptist Hopkinsville reported over 740 members the year prior to Thompson’s arrival, by far the largest in the Bethel Association, with a meeting house valued around $37,500.13 In 1910, 71 members transferred away through letter, many presumably to help establish the Second Baptist Church of Hopkinsville, yet Thompson’s church continued to grow numerically with most additions coming by baptism in the subsequent years.14 By 1912, his church’s membership exceeded 800, and in 1916 it surpassed 1,000 members.15 When Thompson departed Hopkinsville in 1918, the church’s property value estimated $75,000, thus it was no surprise that the church was in financial position to voluntarily subscribe over $118,000 to the Southern Baptist Seventy-five Million Campaign.16
Thompson’s most notable career contribution to the Baptist cause in Kentucky came through his appointment as the Corresponding Secretary of the Baptist State Board of Missions, succeeding O. E. Bryan on September 1 1921. Immediately prior to heading the State Board, Thompson had resided in Winchester working within the Boone’s Creek Association for about two years as pastor of Winchester’s First Baptist Church. First Baptist Winchester grew to over 500 members under Thompson’s pastorate and had subscribed nearly one hundred thousand dollars to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Seventy-five Million Campaign by 1919.17
As the new chief administrator of Kentucky Baptists’ State Mission Board, Thompson became the chief contact person for answering all queries from Baptist missionaries, churches, and district associations regarding financial appropriation and ministry appointments. He followed in
12 William T. Turner, History of First Baptist Church, 1818-1993 (Hopkinsville, KY, 1993), 35-36.
13 Minutes of the Bethel Baptist Association, 1908 (Journal Printery, Pembroke, 1908).
14 Minutes of the Bethel Baptist Association, 1910.
15 Minutes of the Bethel Baptist Association, 1912-1916.
16 Minutes of the Bethel Baptist Association, 1918-1920.
17 Designated total of $96,415 total listed in Proceedings of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1919, 117.
a long line of men who, like O. E. Bryan, energetically collected missionary monies across the state. During the first six months of the Seventy-five Million Campaign (inaugurated May 1919), Kentucky Baptists gave $455,101.61, and pledged a five-year goal of $6.5 million. By the time of the state convention’s 1920 annual meeting, the collected total had climbed to $1,412,165.92.
The Seventy-five Million Campaign, which officially ran from 1919 to 1924, was the denomination’s most ambitious endeavor (prior to the Cooperative Program) to encourage the autonomous churches to pool their financially resources to fund the various affiliated missional and educational entities. Responsibility for stirring up support for the Campaign fell to the individual state conventions and their respective leaders; eighteen such conventions at the time. While initial pledges promised more than $92 million dollars, financial strain across the nation resulted in a collective total of just under $58.6 million.
The Kentucky state convention had an ambitious goal of raising $6.5 million for the five-year campaign, the fourth highest goal in the nation behind Texas, Georgia, and Virginia. Although Kentucky Baptists pledged as much as $7,454,000, they too were affected by the financial strains of an economic downturn brought about by the devaluation of cotton. The convention’s Executive Board report for 1921 totaled the Campaign collection at only $1,055,099.36, an annual shortfall of $175,000, and commented that “we are now in the midst of the most trying part of the Seventy-five Million Campaign. . . . not in thirty-five years has the country faced such financial conditions.” During the 1922 annual meeting of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, after the first full year in his new role, Thompson is reported to have “represented the interest of the 75 Million Campaign. A great speech encouraging us to trust God and go forward. God is in it all.” Throughout his official correspondence as the State Board’s corresponding secretary, Thompson continued to press the burden of the 75 Million Campaign on local association pastors and missionaries, and endeavored to have a man represent the interest of the State Board and the Seventy-five Million Campaign at every annual meeting of each of the state’s local associations.
Thompson pulled no punches in his assessments, and he lamented that capable churches did not give as much as their means should allow. In a 1922 letter to Olus Hamilton (Mt. Sterling,
18 William Dudley Nowlin, Kentucky Baptist History, 1770-1922 (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1922), 160-61.
19 Ibid., 160. Proceedings of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1920, 22-23.
20 James Duane Bolin, Kentucky Baptists 1925-2000: A Story of Cooperation (Nashville: Southern Baptist Historical Society and Fields Publishing, 2000), 67.
21 Ibid., 68.
22 Ibid., 68-69.
23 Proceedings of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1922, 38.
Kentucky), Thompson wrote that Mt. Sterling, as the leading church in the Bracken Association, set a poor example in Great Commission faithfulness in regards to 75 Million Campaign work.24
Kentucky Baptists nobly managed to collect $6,225,499.14 by October 31, 1924, which was about a mere quarter of a million dollars less than their initial Campaign goal of $6.5 million.25 After the Seventy-five Million Campaign concluded in 1924, the Southern Baptist Convention implemented the Cooperative Program as a permanent means of funding all the denomination’s entities and ministries. Thompson pressed the Cooperative Program with similar vigor as he had the Seventy-five Million Campaign.
Thompson and the State Board continued to work closely with the Western Recorder and the Baptist Book Concern as means to publish reports and statements and as a referral service for the dissemination of denominational literature. Thompson made frequent and intense appeals to local churches (especially those strategically located in the more financially rich regions) to make strong collections toward the mission causes.26
Despite some difficulties and setbacks, Thompson was thoroughly convinced in both the rightness of the Kentucky Baptist Mission Board cause and the effectiveness of its success. Thompson also used his influence to campaign for various moral causes, such as temperance campaigns and anti-gambling causes. Writing to a Winchester, KY man in 1921, Thompson boldly suggested he sell his $25,000 stock interest in the Kentucky Jockey Club "for anything you can get out of it for we, Kentucky Baptist Calvinists, are going to put the Jockey Club out of business."27
23 Although Thompson’s early career in the pastorate entailed multiple short tenures at various churches, once he came to the State Board, he was resolved to see the work through until the end of his career, although he received calls to return to the pastorate. In a 1922 letter, Thompson stated that he was convinced "I am where the Lord wants me" despite invitations to "two of the most attractive pastorates in the South."28
Fundraising for State Missions often came with controversy, as not all Baptist churches and leaders readily embraced the State Board’s aims and the Cooperative Program strategy. J. S. Ransdell, a State Board field worker in Georgetown communicated with Thompson regarding perceptions of some Baptists trying to sabotage the effort of fundraising in the region. Thompson’s role was to make the case, either personally or through proxy, that the strength of Baptist churches would grow through collective missionary funding.29
24 C. M. Thompson to Olus Hamilton, March 24, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, KBC.
25 Lewis C. Ray, “Seventeen Years of Constructive Achievement,” Western Recorder, July 14, 1938, p. 12.
26 C. M. Thompson to J. S. Rogers, December 31, 1921, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 3, KBC.
27 C. M. Thompson to H. G. Garrett, October 17, 1921, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 9, KBC.
28 C. M. Thompson to A. W. Hill, July 11, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 8, KBC.
29 C. M. Thompson to J. S. Ransdell, June 25, 1925, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 1, Folder 26, KBC.
Thompson advised Baptist missionaries to contend for the truth making their case from Scripture, but to do so with sensitivity to their contexts. In a letter to Kentucky Baptist missionary Z. Ferrell, he advised careful and respectful conduct that would always keep the minister above reproach from those who might wish to smear his reputation:“Be circumspect and discreet in your relations with the sisters. Treat them courteously. Be careful to do nothing that would suggest to onlookers undue familiarity and act that your enemies shall find no occasion to call either into question"30
Kentucky Baptists brought special attention to the Appalachian mountain work as the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board was forced to retreat from direct involvement in schools on account of the Great Depression. Despite the establishment of Home Mission Board schools, it did not always lead to the establishment of permanent Baptist churches in those communities. Many converts were drawn away into other religious traditions.31 For the Baptist churches which did exist, many could not afford a full-time pastor, and thus churches limited their regular service offerings.32
According to one study, the percentage of religiously-affiliated persons in the 190 counties comprising the Southern Appalachian region was only 34.03% in 1926, compared with 47.07% of the rest of the United States.33 With the cooperation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Home Mission Board, Kentucky Baptists carried the mantle for Christ into the destitute regions of eastern Kentucky.34
One Baptist preacher in West Liberty, D. P. DeHart, wrote at length to Thompson about the difficulty of the work in the Kentucky mountains:"These folk have been led to believe that real service for the Lord is straining at useless terms of doctrine, and keeping out of the church heresies which never make their appearance, and consequently have no time left with which to serve the Lord with their talents and means . . . we have begun regular business meetings for the church. . . . I am using every means possible to visit and locate the entire membership within reach of the immediate field. . . . there are quite a number of fine men who attend regularly the
30 C. M. Thompson to Z. Ferrell, August 8, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 18, KBC.
31 M. Wendell Belew, “ Southern Baptists in Appalachia,” in Southern Baptists in Appalachia, ed. M. Wendell Belew (Department of Associational Missions, Home Mission Board, SBC, 1960), 2.
32 Paul Debusman, “The Churches in Their Social Setting,” in Southern Baptists in Appalachia, ed. M. Wendell Belew (Department of Associational Missions, Home Mission Board, SBC, 1960), 16-18.
33 Belew, “Southern Baptists in Appalachia,” in Southern Baptists in Appalachia, 4.
34 C. M. Thompson to Lewis W. Martin, September 8, 1934, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 1, Folder 8, KBC; Lewis W. Martin to C. M. Thompson, September 20, 1934, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 1, Folder 8, KBC.
p. 22services that are unsaved; which ones as well as some good women too, who, if saved, will mean untold help to the church. The membership at present is mostly women and children, and about four men, but I believe that the Lord will give us some of these fine men for the church as a result of our revival meeting, which also will help to solve the deacon problem."35In eastern Kentucky’s mountain fields, Southern Baptist ministers and missionaries had to contend with the influence of various other religious traditions, including Primitive Baptists, some of whom discouraged pastoral financial support, which made it difficult for the State Board to fill pulpits regularly.36
More than simple doctrinal fidelity, Thompson urged all State Board employees to press the cause of evangelism. In the field of Egypt, Kentucky, Baptist missionaries faced stiff opposition. Thompson, communicated with Z. Ferrell that preachers could not oppose Board work and expect to receive financial assistance from the Board.37
Thompson advised Ferrell to win support through advancing an explicitly evangelistic cause:"Evangelism; that is the One Word that enlists the sympathetic co-operation of the people in that section of the State; bear that in mind and they will follow you but if you call it stewardship or something else they will refuse to go forward."38As to those who opposed the financial endeavors of the State Board in Egypt, Thompson recommended that "the best and speediest way to stop the unwise opposition of certain preachers in various quarters is to let them know that they cannot oppose our organized work and then receive help."39
At times, Thompson was called upon by churches and field missionaries to vouch for the qualifications of active ministers.40 He called upon field workers to stress the importance of the work for the advancement of the Kingdom of God; in one such correspondence letter he declared, “our people everywhere must be trained to appreciate their financial obligations to the Kingdom of God. Our workers can render no greater service than to lead the people into a just appreciation of their responsibility in this matter.”41
In a peculiar instance near Willowtown, Kentucky, Thompson suggested testing the spiritual gifts of a preacher (unaffiliated with the State Board) claiming extreme charismatic abilities. In response to a letter from concerned Baptist woman Mrs. Ida Hunt, Thompson advised that Hunt
35 D. P. DeHart to C. M. Thompson, December 30, 1928, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 20, KBC.
36 Luther Bach to W. S. Farmer, November 7, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 18, KBC.
37 C. M. Thompson to Z. Ferrell, March 17, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 18, KBC.
38 C. M. Thompson to Z. Ferrell, December 15, 1921, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 18, KBC.
39 C. M. Thompson to Z. Ferrell, March 24, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 18, KBC.
40 C. M. Thompson to M. E. Staley, November 3, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 3, KBC.
41 C. M. Thompson to C. W. Jones, July 18, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 7, KBC.
test the claims of a man claiming the ability to drink poison and work miracles to prove himself by doing exactly that!42
Thompson asserted that the man and his wife were surely not in sympathy with Baptists, and that they should not be permitted to teach Sunday School at Hunt’s church.43 He encouraged Mrs. Hunt to "stand fast for the truth of the Gospel" and "do what you can to put this man and woman straight."44
Integrity and Encouragement
Thompson carried to the Kentucky mission board his strong doctrinal expectations, so evidently on display during his newspaper editorship. His busy schedule did not prevent him from emphasizing Baptist doctrinal identity. He recommended the New Hampshire and Philadelphia confessions as characteristic of orthodox Baptist tradition and emphasized the New Testament as the proper basis for Baptist church activities.45 In an exchange with L. S. Sizemore (Sooville, Kentucky), Thompson applied his doctrine to a local church controversy. Thompson advised Sizemore that even if a majority of members at a Baptist church might deviate from the biblical standard on questions of apostacy, salvation by works, and baptismal regeneration, that they would effectively forfeit their claim as a true Baptist church, a fact that any court judge should be able to affirm.46
On the question of whether a Baptist should fill the pulpit of a Free Will Baptist church, Thompson believed it could be an opportunity for doctrinal instruction to correct prevalent errors about Arminianism, open communion, and open membership.47
In addition to answering frequent questions about pressing business, Thompson also provided pastoral advice to missionary preachers in new fields. He charged W. M. Smith, newly installed pastor at Ashland, KY: "don't scold the people . . . regard the entire community as your field of labor . . . visit all the sick . . . Whether they belong to any church or not"48
He encouraged ministers laboring in difficult fields. To F. M. Jones in South Corbin, he wrote “you are doing a great work in a most trying locality. Your success therefore will be all the more glorious and far reaching for the cause. Persevere; 'all things', will come by and by."49
Thompson insisted that pastors laboring in trying ministry circumstances persevere so as to become good examples for other men in difficult fields, and he sometimes warned that an abrupt
42 C. M. Thompson to Mrs. Ida Hunt, May 29, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 8, KBC.
43 C. M. Thompson to Mrs. Ida Hunt, June 20, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, KBC; Thompson noted, "they are not Baptists and are not in sympathy with the things for which Baptists stand."
44 C. M. Thompson to Mrs. Ida Hunt, undated, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, KBC.
45 C. M. Thompson to L. S. Sizemore, July 24, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 3, KBC.
46 C. M. Thompson to L. S. Sizemore, August 2, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 3, KBC.
47 C. M. Thompson to W. T. Hutton, Sr., May 2, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, KBC.
48 C. M. Thompson to W. M. Smith, December 30, 1921, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 2, KBC.
49 C. M. Thompson to F. M. Jones, April 4, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 7, KBC.
departure of a Baptist minister from a pastorate could have calamitous results that would “discourage men in trying to right the wrongs of our denomination.”50 When ministers labored through ill health or suffered the loss of family members, Thompson extended Christian sympathy. Writing to Hopkinsville minister D. W. Kitchen, Thompson offered sympathy on the death of Kitchen's wife; he recommended Kitchen read Romans 8:28 "and remember that that applies to you now."51
In one especially tense situation, Thompson served as a confidant and receptive ear for a Clay County pastor who suffered through a year of life-threatening terror. In April of 1932, Manchester Judge C. T. Stivers was murdered on Main Street by a drive-by shooting. Judge Stivers had been one of two witnesses to the murder of an African-American man, Alfred Neal, in the same spot of town two months prior. The murder of Stivers left only one surviving witness to the murder of Neal, First Baptist Manchester pastor Francis R. Walters. Walters confided to Thompson: "this whole county is in arms and stirred as I never witnessed in life. . . . I will have to stay close for some time, it may endanger me, I can't know.”52 Thompson advised Walters scale back his work for the purpose of safety and only hold protracted religious meetings in an adjacent state when opportunity presented itself:"The situation there must be extremely trying. It will call for both prudence and courage on your part. Be careful about exposing yourself needlessly.”53Walters was so fearful of being the next target of lawless men that he spent little time in town and hesitated to travel at night, and he even asked Thompson to recommend another field of ministry for him.54 Thompson, however, exhorted him to remain strong for the long-term edification of the community:“Continue to act as you have been doing up to the present time. Keep your own counsel, stay indoors and be careful about your visitors. I think you are going to be greatly strengthened in your hold on that community as a result of this experience."55In May, Walters again wrote to Thompson after the occasion of a disastrous fire of unknown origin:“This has been the trial of my life so far I have done the best I knew under these conditions. . . . I do not want this field surrendered at all, it is a needy field. . . . There is a spirit of fear and unrest over the people that is hard to overcome. My family and my
50 C. M. Thompson to W. M. Wood, March 16, 1922, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 17, KBC.
51 C. M. Thompson to D. W. Kitchen, December 30, 1921, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2 Folder 17, KBC.
52 Courier-Journal, “Four Indicted in Slaying of Judge, 2 Held,” April 23, 1932, p. 1; F. R. Walters to C. M. Thompson, April 22, 1932, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 23, KBC.
53 C. M. Thompson to F. R. Walters, April 29, 1932, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 23, KBC.
54 F. R. Walters to C. M. Thompson, April 30, 1932, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 23, KBC.
55 C. M. Thompson to F. R. Walters, May 20, 1932, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 23, KBC.
relatives are uneasy about me. I am perfectly at rest in my soul. I feel the Lord will take care of me and all the devils can't kill me unless the Lord so permits.”56Walters ultimately endured at Manchester, despite his concerns. In August of that same year, Rev. Walters was able to testify as a witness for the prosecution that he and the late Judge Stivers witnessed the murder of Neal at the hands of three men.57 Walters continued to serve the Baptist cause at his Manchester church and throughout the Booneville Association for nearly four more decades before passing away in 1970 at the age of 91, having earned the reputation as “The Shepherd of the Hills.”58
Retirement and Legacy
Thompson’s tenure as the Kentucky Baptist Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer ended with his resignation on June 30, 1938, citing failing health. The state convention’s executive board acted upon a resolution to provide Thompson with at least $100 in monthly payments for the remainder of his life, in appreciation for his 16 years of service to Kentucky Baptists, weathering the financial storm of the introduction of the Cooperative Program amid the Great Depression and pressing the Baptist interests into some of the most difficult regions of the state.59 J. W. Black succeeded Thompson at the Kentucky Baptist state convention. Thompson remained a member of Walnut Street Baptist Church and resided in Louisville until his death at the age of seventy-seven on July 17, 1944.60
The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s archives office houses ten boxes of Thompson’s official records and correspondence from his career as Corresponding Secretary, an estimated 12,000 items. As of August, 2019, 3,799 items of the collection have been indexed, and are available to researchers upon request.
56 F. R. Walters to C. M. Thompson, May 19, 1932, C. M. Thompson Papers, Box 2, Folder 23, KBC.
57 Courier-Journal, “Hornsby Denies Slaying Negro,” April 12, 1932, p. 1.
58 Annual of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, 1970, 202.
59 Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky (Louisville: Kentucky Baptist Historical Society, 1953), 529.
60 Western Recorder, July 20, 1938, p. 1.
[From Donald R. Houston and Ben Stratton, editors, The Spencer Journal, Vol. 11, September, 2019, pp. 15-25. By permission of the author; Dr. Winters is the Archivist at SBTS and a member of the J. H. Spencer Historical Society. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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