I haven’t often attended the Southern Baptist Convention, but received a call from our pastor, Tommy Kimball about a week prior to the convention in June, 1991 asking me if I wanted to go that year. He was attending the meeting in Atlanta with our associate pastor, and another member who was a pilot that would be flying us there. Ronnie Woods owned a beautiful Beechcraft Bonanza and was an excellent pilot; so transportation would not be a problem. These conventions were always well attended, and a reservation at such a late date usually meant our hotel would be 8 to 10 miles away from the convention site. Ronnie was a seasoned traveler, and through his many connections found a hotel in downtown Atlanta within easy walking distance of the convention center. We were elated to have been so fortunate. We would not have to get a rental car with all that involves, and our only transportation problem was getting back and forth to the airport. Ronnie solved that problem by also arranging with the hotel to have a limo waiting for us. Ronnie was told that our hotel, The Barclay, was under new management, and had recently been remodeled. We were going to be one of their first guests since their grand opening was one week earlier. He was also told the hotel was located on Luckie Street. We resisted the thought that we were “lucky” to have found such a good deal. What I failed to remember from my internship days in Atlanta 25 years earlier, was that whenever we heard the police were bringing a patient to Grady Memorial Hospital ER from Luckie Street, it was usually a gunshot wound or a stabbing victim.
The limo from The Barclay was waiting for us at the airport, and I felt like a real dignitary from South Arkansas. Our limo driver was a very large Black-American named David, dressed in a neatly starched white uniform. The stark contrast of his skin color with the uniform, made him appear even larger. His limo was a new, white Lincoln Continental, which heightened my already high expectations for our stay in Atlanta. On arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by 2 doormen, also Black-Americans in white uniforms, and our luggage was moved quickly into the lobby. The lady at the check-in desk was an elegant Black woman named Esther, and she was very polite and efficient in the check-in process. As I looked around the nicely appointed lobby, all the hotel employees were Black-Americans dressed in similar white uniforms, and upon asking them their names, they responded with Biblical names.
I was rooming with the associate pastor, Ben Wasson and when we were settled in the room, we noticed an expensive leather folder on the coffee table. The folder had a letter of welcome to us as guests of the hotel and other material that explained some of the history of the acquisition of this property. The property was now owned by an organization called the Nation of Yahweh and the president of the organization was a man named Yahweh ben Yahweh. The folder had numerous photographs depicting the history of the organization and the man who founded it. It was mentioned in the history that the Nation of Yahweh was an all-black organization founded to improve the lives and the work potential of the black race all across America. One of their programs involved purchasing hotel property in poverty-stricken metropolitan areas primarily in the South, and making major improvements in order to promote economic renewal.
When I called Cathy to tell her we had made it safely, and the hotel was nice and clean; I also told her it was in a very rough area of downtown Atlanta. She said she was really worried about us, because she had just seen a special on ABC News, and it was an expose on the Nation of Yahweh! It mentioned that in some of the cities where the organization operated facilities, there were acts of significant violence associated with the inner workings of the organization, and even murder charges involving decapitation that had been filed. They were awaiting trial dates for the crimes. This news combined with what we had read in the folder, made us a little uneasy about our safety over the next 2 days, but since our arrival we had been treated with such courtesy and respect by the entire staff that we decided to stay put. They told us when we needed to go to the convention, they would be glad to drive us in the limo. They made it clear that if we walked the 3 blocks, we should go in pairs, or even all four of us together would be even safer. For small town guys from a peaceful community, that was very intimidating!
One evening at the close of the day’s meeting, we decided to dine in a well-known restaurant in downtown Atlanta, and took a cab over from the convention hall. When preparing to return, we told the cab driver we needed to go to the Barclay Hotel. “Where is that,” he said. “It is on Luckie Street.” He turned around and looked directly at our pastor and said, “Do any of you have a pistol?” Our pastor laughingly said, “ No, we have Jesus!” The driver said as turned around and began driving, “It’s good that you have Jesus, but a pistol plus Jesus would be even better!”
Throughout the night hours during our stay at The Barclay on Luckie Street, we heard intermittent sounds of the sirens of police cruisers, and on one occasion, we thought we heard the sound of a single gunshot. Not once during our convention experience however, did we think we needed a pistol for protection. There were some heated arguments on the convention floor between delegates, but as the love of Jesus prevailed between them, no other remedies were necessary. As for our experience with the accommodations and the staff at The Barclay, I would have recommended them at that time, if one were seeking a unique experience; however I would have also advised that you request having Yahweh David beside you whenever you were outside your room.