Chattanooga took Thursday afternoon to honor and celebrate the life of one of its most impactful citizens, the Rev. Paul McDaniel Sr., a lifelong advocate for civil rights and a humble faith leader in the community.
More than 20 speakers — spanning McDaniel's decades as a pastor, political leader and activist — recounted the ways in which he changed their lives or worked for the betterment of the community.
Col. Paul Phillips III, McDaniel's nephew, said those gathered must carry on McDaniel's legacy and ensure his story is not forgotten.
"We celebrate the life and especially the going home of Paul A. McDaniel," Phillips said. "His watch is over as he is before the Lord and he hears these words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.'"
Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, in 1930, McDaniel moved to Chattanooga in 1966 to lead Second Missionary Baptist Church as the church's 20th pastor. He was instrumental in founding the Unity Group, a local advocacy organization focused on issues of equity for Black residents and electing Black candidates.
In 1977, McDaniel was elected to help reimagine Tennessee's laws to be more equitable during the statewide Constitutional Convention. As part of that process, McDaniel won a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed him to hold public office as a member of clergy, something that was prohibited in the state constitution.
He went on to become a Hamilton County commissioner for 20 years, starting in 1978.
In 2000, McDaniel helped start the Church Koinonia Federal Credit Union, made up of mostly Black churches, which later merged with the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union in 2013. He remained pastor emeritus at Second Missionary after stepping down from leadership in 2014.
McDaniel, referred to as "Reverend Mac" by many, died on Aug. 22 at age 91.
The Rev. Rheubin Taylor, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church who served alongside McDaniel on the Hamilton County Commission, said the pastor would listen first but always command attention and respect when he spoke.
"No matter what environment, circle or gathering he was in, he was always called 'Reverend,'" Taylor said. "People didn't call him anything else, wherever he was, other than 'Reverend,' which speaks of his character. Not just his reputation but truly his character."
Other political leaders, including Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, Councilwoman Carol Berz of Brainerd Hills and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, offered their own reflections on McDaniel's impact on the area.
"Those present helped make Hamilton County a better place, and no one did a better job of that than Rev. Paul McDaniel," Coppinger said.
Faith Edwards, who was McDaniel's final campaign manager, said McDaniel worked tirelessly to help those in need, often without seeking recognition for himself.
"If you wonder why there were different things you were trying to do, different jobs you were trying to get, different obstacles that were in your way and then all of a sudden they were gone? Pastor Mac was working on your behalf in the background," Edwards said. "He never said anything. He never publicized it. He never let it be known. But he was always working and fighting for the rights of people in our community."
Delivering the afternoon's eulogy, the Rev. Riggins Earl Jr., professor of ethics and theology at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said faith and a constant desire to learn helped McDaniel maintain perspective. McDaniel was not afraid to ask tough questions of God, Earl said, nor would he hide from the suffering of others or the suffering he faced.
McDaniel remembered always that his time on earth was limited, Earl said.
"He and I used to talk about it, how it is that we are just passing through. This is temporary," Earl said. "And because it's temporary, that's why he worked like he did, sacrificed like he did, served God like he did, because he knew that our days are fleeting."
Near the closing of the service, the church projected an interview with McDaniel in which the iconic pastor talked about serving others.
"You serve your present age. You take that which is eternal and yet make it fit into the present situation," McDaniel said. "I think that's the responsibility of one who has been blessed, exposed. You have to share it, whether people take it or not. But somebody will. Somebody will."
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.