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November 16, 2000, ATLANTA, Ga. – Late this afternoon, the National Council of Churches General Assembly took time out from its agenda to hear a poignant announcement by the NCC’s President, Andrew Young. With tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, Young broke the news to the Assembly that his long-time friend and colleague, civil rights leaders Hosea Williams, had just died.

"I just got word that Hosea has gone on to glory," he said, his voice cracking. Regaining his composure, Young continued, "It is a moment of sadness, but it is also a moment of celebration."

He recalled his service together with Williams and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, mobilizing the civil rights movement across the South in the 1960s.

"Even though we were all seen as rabble-rousers and were sometimes kept at a distance by ‘respectable Christians,’ I was there as a United Church of Christ minister, Hosea on the Presbyterian Church payroll, others as Baptists, Methodists, Catholics," united around the cross "at a time of life and death," Young noted.

Williams, who died of cancer at age 74, was prominent in the civil rights movement long after King’s death. For three decades, Williams was also known for his annual holiday dinners for the poor, which fed 30,000 last year in Atlanta.

Young, the NCC’s President for 2000-2001 who presided over the General Assembly’s Nov. 14-17 annual meeting, brought the news as the delegates were about to adjourn for a reception in Young’s honor. A light supper followed, with recognition of outstanding ecumenical leaders and programs – and an offering, spontaneously designated for Williams’ "Feed the Hungry" program.

"Everyone saw the harsh, protest side of Hosea," Young said at the evening program. "It’s his ‘Feed the Hungry’ program that lets us see his grace."


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