Tony and Tommie Lee

I hired Tony as a custodian a few months after I came to South Highland Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Nell told me I had to hire him – that he was a solid worker and would do things right the first time. Tommie Lee was a kitchen worker and had been at the church forever – all work at the church stopped Wednesdays at noon so everyone could get some of Tommie Lee’s rolls (one of the best perks I’ve ever had).


On a Thursday morning in winter, Tony came into my office first thing. He said that the night before, he gave Tommie Lee a ride home. They had locked up the church and left after dark. Tony said that a block from the church his car was stopped by three police cars. The cops drew their guns and told Tony and Tommie Lee to get out. The cops wanted to know why two Black people were leaving a white church. With guns still on him, Tony said they were employees of the church. He looked in his wallet and found a pay stub with the church’s name on it. The cops accepted that explanation and left them.


By the end of that day I created ID cards for my African-American staff. The white staff didn’t need them, not in Birmingham. I had never before or since created ID cards for church staff. On a couple of occasions after that, my staff had to show their IDs.


Lead On!



  1. Dell Shiell says

    Thank you for sharing, Steve!

  2. Deannine H. Shipman says

    I don’t think I ever knew you had to do that …. but I sure remember Tony and Tommie Lee 🙂 deannine