They had booked their wedding far in advance. The invitations had been sent, the programs printed. But one day before Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson were to be married at the Mississippi church they frequented, they said a pastor told them they would have to find another venue — because they were black.
There has never been a black wedding at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., since its founding in 1883. According to Pastor Stan Weatherford, some church members objected so strongly to breaking that precedent, they threatened to oust him from his pastorship.
Rather than risk his job, Weatherford, who is white, said he decided to marry the pair at a black church down the road.
“My 9-year-old was going to the church with us. How would you say to your 9-year-old daughter, ‘We cannot get married here because, guess what sweetie, we’re black,'” Charles Wilson told ABC’s affiliate WAPT-TV.
Outrage over the wedding’s forced relocation swept the Jackson suburb of about 5,000 into a media firestorm.
The vast majority of Crystal Springs residents, blacks and whites alike, were “blown away” by the church’s decision, said Theresa Norwood, 48, who was born in Crystal Springs and has lived there her entire life.
Norwood said she believes Weatherford should have married the Wilsons regardless of the risk to his job.
“That church was their home,” she said. “What would Jesus have done? He would have married them, without a doubt, because it’s the right thing to do. We’re all God’s children.”
While the Wilsons were not members of the church, they often attended services there, and Te’Andrea’s uncle is an employee of the church, and her father is a member. Charles Wilson told WAPT that the couple had planned to join as members after their wedding, which was held July 20.
Weatherford told WLBT-TV in Jackson that he would have liked to marry the couple as planned, but he decided to perform the ceremony elsewhere as a compromise to ensure that the Wilsons could be married while “addressing a need within our congregation.”
Norwood, who is black, said her nephew came to worship at First Baptist Church while he was temporarily living with her, having been evacuated from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The church “made him feel at home,” she said, but now she wonders whether he would return there when he visits Crystal Springs.
The church is now holding internal meetings to figure out how it should respond to future requests by black couples to be married there, Weatherford told WLBT-TV.
For her part, though, Norwood, who is dating a white man, said that if she and her boyfriend decide to get married, they will likely look for a different venue.