Staff photo by Doug Strickland Family and friends file past the casket during the funeral service of civil rights pioneer James R. Mapp on Saturday, June 27, 2015, at Orchard Knob Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. Mapp, who was 87 when he died on June 19, was the former president of both the Chattanooga and Tennessee NAACP.

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Many gather to celebrate Mapp's life

A diversity of skin tones filled the pews of the Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday morning for the funeral service honoring James R. Mapp.

The civil rights advocate, businessman and community leader died in his sleep on June 19 at the age of 87. His funeral was a time of celebration in the sanctuary bursting with flowers and echoing with songs voiced by a crowd of people dressed in their Sunday best.

"Because of his life this is a better Chattanooga, a better state and a better world," the Rev. William Washington said at the beginning of the service.

Many community members and leaders spoke about Mapp's service and his unrelenting fight for equality in Chattanooga through decades of leadership of the NAACP in Chattanooga and Tennessee. He was also remembered for the 26-year lawsuit he won to desegregate Chattanooga schools.

Former state Rep. Tommie Brown, UTC Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Brown and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke were among those who recalled Mapp's life and legacy.

"Mr. Mapp was a man of integrity. The social compass of the community," Richard Brown said.

Several family members spoke about Mapp's impact on their lives and his leadership in the community.

The Rev. Jewell Jones, Mapp's nephew, remembered how his uncle could laugh through the good and hard times. Jones said Mapp taught the family the important lesson of hanging on and not being deterred from a goal.

"Now he has earned the right to hang out with Jesus," Jones said as the crowd clapped and cheered.

The Rev. Keith Hackett, Mapp's grandson, spoke about the integrity that governed his grandfather's life, and how Mapp's fight for justice and equality came from the absence of that justice in his own childhood.

"Thanks for showing us how to live a life of integrity and a life of influence," Hackett said, pointing toward the flower-bedecked casket resting at the front of the sanctuary.

Mapp's son, Jon Mapp, thanked everyone who had influenced and encouraged his father. He also thanked the state elected officials who worked with Mapp, joking that his father did not always tell them what they wanted to hear.

"In another life my dad would have been named James R. NAACP," Jon Mapp said, laughing, and thanking the organization for the influence and platform it gave his father.

The Rev. Carlos Williams, pastor of Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist, ended the service talking about the call of God in Mapp's life, which gave him the strength and purpose he needed to fight for civil rights.

"We need young men and women to take this torch, as the fight must continue," Williams said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at or 423-757-6592.

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