King, Willis Jefferson


Willis Jefferson King was born of humble beginnings in 1886 at Rose Hill, Texas, the son of Anderson W. and Emma (Blackshear) King. With a burning desire for enlightenment, he entered Wiley College where he completed his undergraduate studies. He then attended Harvard and Boston Universities, and earned the doctor of philosophy degree from the latter. Later Boston University conferred an honorary doctorate upon him.
Having served pastorates in Texas, Boston and New York, Bishop King spent twelve years as Professor of Old Testament and Christian Sociology at Gammon Theological Seminary before going to Austin, Texas as president of Huston-Tillotson College. After four years he returned to Gammon as its president for sixteen years. From this post he was elected to the Episcopacy and assigned to Liberia, serving from 1944 through 1953. He returned to the United States, where he became resident bishop of the old New Orleans Area, comprising five conferences in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. He served this assignment until his retirement in 1960.
Widely recognized as a scholar, Bishop King was a Fellow of the Julius Rosenwald Fund for research in Oxford University and Palestine under the auspices of the American School of Oriental Research. He represented the black students of the World’s Student and Christian Federation in Peking, China, and was a Knight Commander of the Order of African Redemption. He held numerous other honors both international and denominational.
His first marriage was to the late Parmella J. Kelly to whom three daughters were born, namely, Velma, Elouise and Grace. Only Velma King Bannerman, a faculty person at Edwards Waters College, still lives. Bishop King’s second marriage was to Emma Arnold of Atlanta, Georgia in 1944.
Bishop King departed this life June 17, 1976, followed closely by Mrs. King, who passed June 29, 1976. At the time of his death Bishop King was the oldest living United Methodist bishop, and was so honored by his colleagues at the 1975 Council of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. Bishop King’s rather extensive library was bequeathed to Gammon Theological Seminary. His remains are interred in the Arnold Plot, Southview Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia.
Source: Journal Louisiana Conference 1977, p. 170 By Robert F. Harrington

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