William Owens, Sr., a black pastor and veteran of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, spoke at the National Press Club on Tuesday to announce that a group he founded, the Coalition of African-American Pastors, is leading the charge against President Obama's recently announced support of gay marriage.
As CNS News reported, CAAP's “Mandate for Marriage” campaign is "a nationwide effort to urge black voters to refrain from supporting President Barack Obama unless he retracts his support for gay marriage."
Five additional black pastors joined Reverend Owens at the press conference. According to CNN, the group says over 3,700 black pastors are part of their initiative.
In an emotionally charged speech, Owens vowed that his group would vigorously oppose the President so long as he supported gay marriage:
The President is in the White House because of the Civil Rights movement, and I was a leader in that movement.
And I didn't march one inch, one foot, one yard for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman.
So the president has forgotten the price that was paid, where people died, where they suffered, where they gave their blood to have equal rights in the United States.
Owens, who resigned his position as pastor at a Memphis Church of God in Christ three years ago to devote himself full time to CAAP, told Breitbart News of his days as a student leader in the famous Nashville sit-ins of 1960, a key turning point in the civil rights movement.
I'm a native of Memphis. I attended Tennessee State University in Nashville from 1958 to 1961. At that time Tennessee State was the only state school a black student in Tennessee could attend. I was there at the same time as Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph. Olympian Ralph Boston was there too. He played on the basketball team.
While I was there, we held civil rights marches in Nashville, and I was one of the student leaders. We would start our march at TSU, go over to Meharry Medical, the black medical school, then on to Fisk and then to downtown Nashville. We closed downtown Nashville several times.
In those early days, the civil rights movement wasn't as structured as it is today. There were lots of groups. There was lots of energy among the students. Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. came to Nashville and spoke several times. I didn't know Martin Luther King, Jr. as a personal friend, but I did know Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, who was the pastor at the First Baptist Church in downtown Nashville and a real local leader in the civil rights movement.
President Obama was born in 1961, more than a year after Reverend Owens helped lead the student groups that spearheaded the successful Nashville sit-ins.
While many African-American pastors have expressed opposition to President Obama's support for gay marriage, polling so far indicates that the African-American community continues to support the President at very high levels. Though that overall level of support is not likely to drop between now and the election, the President's position on gay marriage may be one of several factors that contribute to a possible lower turnout among African-Americans.