Longtime Chattanooga minister, civil rights advocate and political leader the Rev. Paul McDaniel died Sunday morning, according to a statement released by the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. He was 91.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger confirmed McDaniel's death.
"Reverend McDaniel's groundbreaking leadership and integrity has had a lasting impact on our community," Coppinger said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."
McDaniel came to Hamilton County in 1966 to serve as pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church. In 1969, he and other Black leaders in the Chattanooga area founded the Unity Group, which later helped get John P. Franklin elected as the first Black city commissioner. In the early 1970s, he became the first Black minister to serve as president of the Clergy Association of Greater Chattanooga, and in 1977 he won a U.S. Supreme Court case enabling him to hold public office as a member of the clergy.
The following year, in 1978, McDaniel was elected to the Hamilton County Commission. He held a spot there for 20 years, when he retired, and served as chairman five times.
After his retirement from the commission, McDaniel helped start the Church Koinonia Federal Credit Union, made up of mostly Black churches, in 2000. The financial institution operated until 2013 when it merged in good standing with the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union.
The Tennessee Human Rights Commission honored him in 2018 for his work toward civil and human rights.
Throughout it all, McDaniel continued to preach every Sunday at Second Missionary Baptist Church. When he eventually retired in 2014, the more than 1,000 members at the church lamented the loss.
Doris Ervin, whom McDaniel baptized as a child in 1969, told the Times Free Press she would tear up at the thought of him leaving.
"There will never be another Paul A. McDaniel," she said.
Ronald Harris, a pastoral assistant at Second Missionary who credits McDaniel with inspiring him to pursue a career in the faith, also felt McDaniel was irreplaceable.
"He is on my Mount Rushmore of ministers," Harris said in 2014. "No question about it. He does more than preach the gospel, he experiences it. He's not just preaching at you, he's preaching for you and with you."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete late Sunday.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at [email protected]