Retired U.S. Ambassador Bridgewater Launches “Neutral on Nothing” – The Social Activism of Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester

Filed under: DIASPORA,HEADLINES |
Forefront, Ambassador Pamela E. Bridgewater (Rtd.)
(Left) Rev. Lawrence A. Davies (Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, Old Site – 1962-2012)

Fredericksburg, Virginia – April 25, 2019

Shiloh Baptist Church, (Old Site)

Former U.S. Ambassador Bridgewater Launches Grandfather’s Biography

Former U.S. Ambassador and retired State Department veteran Pamela E. Bridgewater today proudly launched her grandfather Reverend Dr. B.H. Hester’s biography at a ceremony held at the Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), the church Rev. Dr. Hester pastored for four decades (1922 to 1961).

Neutral on Nothing highlights the social activism of the Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester and is a retrospective on an African American minister’s effort for equality during some of the most difficult decades African Americans experienced in America. The large-format, lavishly illustrated, 64-page book is a tribute to his courage and a timely example to be emulated. It is available at http://www.shiloholdsite.org/book.html

Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) Archives Committee, The Committee Honoring the African American Experience in the Rappahannock Region, The Committee of the Arts and Cultural Council of the Rappahannock, and notable Fredericksburg native Mr. Xavier Richardson sponsored the event attended by several other notable natives and regional leaders.

Launching the book, Ambassador Bridgewater first paid tribute to her mother who diligently preserved Rev. Dr. Hester’s records.

I want to first thank my mom who kept all the records. She sent me to every shop in town to look for the proper kind of plastic containers to preserve the sermons. Without her, none of this would have happened. Every time I read through the materials used for this book, I couldn’t stop reading. I read the sermons, eulogies of so many people, including the last black person who was sold on the slave block on William Street. Through this process I learned so many more things in terms of what my grandfather meant to so many. All of you have a story, your families have stories; those stories need to be shared and told because they empower us, they strengthen us.

All of us are connected in such a great way of mutuality, and I hope that this work will show us what we can do collectively if we are committed, if we believe in each other, if we believe in ourselves, if we believe in our God, because my grandfather was driven first and foremost by faith.”

The Rev. Dr. Aaron L. Dobynes, Sr., tenth and current pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) commented on the book and its subject as follows:

Neutral on Nothing is a ‘must read’ chronicle… The Rev. Dr. Hester gave himself fearlessly, despite potential threats, to make the entire community a better place, and to lift the race. Influenced no doubt by the faith and tenacity of those among whom he ministered; he never gave up in his pursuit of those things that would strengthen others. The Rev. Dr. Hester’s work and legacy lives on because he believed ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ – (Luke12:48)

The heroic stories of African Americans like The Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester come into sharp focus especially in this year – 2019 – when Africa and African Americans commemorate an important milestone in history – 400 since the start of slavery. The first African “bondsmen” arrived in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Since then, they fought the injustices of slavery, discrimination, and inequality; won major battles; and continue to count their triumphs 400 years later.  

Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester

B.H Hester was born on August 31, 1895 in Oxford, North Carolina. He was one of five children born to a freed colored father and mother, John Henry Hester and Nancy Hester. He graduated from Mary Potter Memorial in 1914, at age nineteen, and at age twenty-three (1918) received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Biddle University, now Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He followed up to study theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1921.

In 1922, at age twenty-seven Reverend Hester was called to Pastor Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, succeeding the Rev. John C. Diamond. Throughout his tenure as pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) played a strong role in working to see that as many local African Americans as possible were qualified to vote in local, state, and national elections. Through its night classes for adults, the church promoted greater literacy to overcome unjust obstacles to voting that had been imposed by the state. Despite the financial hardships involved, the church also actively promoted the paying of the capitation (poll) tax that was necessary to participate in elections in Virginia.

In January 1925, Reverend Hester initiated a newsletter called The Shiloh Herald. Although it was published by Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), it provided a wide range of local news to the black community: who was ill, who was recovering, who had died, who had married, who had been born, who had had out-of-town visitors, who had recently traveled north, and so forth.

The Shiloh Herald was also instrumental in providing a strong African American perspective on important justice issues, a voice that was otherwise not available in the local media. Its motto, published in every issue, was “For all things beneficial and uplifting; against all things injurious and detrimental; neutral on nothing.” Reverend Hester, who served as editor-in-chief, explained at one point that he believed a responsible press should work “to change conditions in America and make them what they should be.” Courage was required, he said, because a truthful and responsible press needed to “stand before demagogues and damn their treacherous flatterers without winking.”

In March 1925, the Reverend Hester single-handedly brought about a major change in the text and headline style of a major Richmond, Virginia, newspaper–the News Leader. Writing on church letterhead in his official capacity as pastor, the Reverend Hester addressed the editor of the News Leader, objecting to that newspaper’s repeated use of “derogatory” and “un-Christian” language in describing people of color. He particularly objected to the use of such terms as “darkie” and “coon,” which the paper had commonly used until that point. After some consideration of the Reverend Hester’s position, the editor of the newspaper wrote him at Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), agreeing with his reasoning and announcing that from that time forward, those terms would no longer appear in the pages of the News Leader. In 1946, Virginia Union University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Neutral on Nothing highlights the Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester’s exceptional contributions to society and his extraordinary accomplishments, especially as an African American during the Jim Crow era. After his retirement in 1961, he continued to serve as pastor emeritus of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) until his death in 1972.

About the Author Ambassador Pamela E. Bridgewater (Rtd.)

Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater (Rtd.) was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is the only grandchild of the Rev. Dr. B.H. Hester, the subject of the book. Prior to joining the U.S Department of State in 1980 as a Foreign Service Officer, she was a professor of political science at Voorhees College, Bowie State College, and Morgan State University. Her thirty-four-year diplomatic career included assignments in Brussels, The Bahamas, and Washington, DC where she served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. At various times in her career, she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Benin, Ghana, and Jamaica. Ambassador Bridgewater has the distinction of being the longest serving U.S. diplomat in South Africa during the transition from apartheid to a non-racial government. She helped establish a critical relationship between the United States and Nelson Mandela.

In addition to her earned degrees from Virginia State University and the University of Cincinnati, she holds honorary doctorate degrees from Virginia State University, the University of Cincinnati, Morgan State University, and the University of Mary Washington.

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