THE LORD'S DAY MAN: James Pickett Wesberry
by James C. Bryant
(Adapted from the Spring 1992 issue of Sunday, the journal of the Lord's Day Alliance).
NOTE: In the 19th century, the National Reform Movement led out in the effort to recognize the Sabbath Day. In the 20th,
it has been the Lord's Day Alliance, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
''The retirement of Lord's Day Alliance Executive Director, James P. Wesberry, in February 1992 marks the end of a second
career for one of the great religious leaders of America and a lifetime accomplishment which staggers the imagination. Wesberry
first retired at age 69 in March 1975 after pastoring Atlanta's Morningside Baptist Church for 31 years. He expected to spend
the autumn years writing and preaching. Within seven months, however, he was seated in an office suit of the Atlanta Baptist
Center as executive director of the Lord's Day Alliance of the United States. Now 16 years later at age 85, Wesberry plans
to retire from a second career . He has given the Lord's Day Alliance more exposure than it has ever had, and he has brought
it a wider base of support than any of his predecessors in the 103- year-old organization.
Dedicated to preserving Sunday as a day of rest and worship, the Lord's Day Alliance moved its headquarters from New York
City to Atlanta in 1970 for the convenience of its board of managers and to attract wider support in the Bible Belt. The 79-member
board, representing 25 denominations, meets twice a year to plan strategy and make decisions affecting the organization's
work and mission. It is made up of men and women, black and white, of all ages.
During Wesberry's administration the board has been diversified to include ministers, missionaries, theologians, evangelists,
preachers, teachers, educators, college presidents, a former seminary president, a former Miss America, an astronaut, business
executives, owners of large businesses, builders, realtors, bankers, lawyers, former governors, former Congressmen, physicians,
authors, judges, editors, a general, an admiral, bishops, archbishops, and homemakers. Wesberry has not only broadened the
support base and diversified the board membership, but he has also redirected the approach to winning public favor for preserving
the Lord's day .
Wesberry, a forward-looking leader who never takes his eyes from the goal, has mapped out a new strategy for the nineties.
"I am thoroughly persuaded that our best approach is an educational one," he said, "and more and more we must
encourage denominational publications to emphasize the Fourth Commandment and teachings of Jesus concerning the Lord's day
in their literature." Part of the educational strategy to preserve a day of rest and worship involves an appeal based
less on legalism and more on science and psychology. Alluding to the findings of a Task Force to suggest strategies for preserving
the traditional Lord's day in America, Wesberry said: "We need basic facts to build strong and convincing arguments,
physiological, psychological, and economic arguments in the movement of Sabbath reform. There are convincing arguments that
all society needs a day of rest. Such a day is demanded for the physical, mental, industrial, political well-being of humankind."
The alliance announced its strategy for the future during the centennial observance in 1988: "Blessing in the integrity
of God's creative order and in the redemptive power of the risen Christ to which the Holy Scriptures bear faithful witness,
the Lord's Day Alliance, upon entering its second century of service, renews its commitment to encourage, within the Christian
community, celebration of Sunday as the Lord's day, and to communicate to all of society the unique benefits of a common day
The centennial celebration was held in the Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where the alliance started [in
1888]. At the 100th anniversary the board of managers and friends of the alliance gathered on the steps of the United States
Capitol for a service of prayer, thanksgiving and praise. Senator Wyche Fowler of Georgia greeted the group and commended
them for their work. Later they heard Norman Vincent Peale at a banquet in the Church of the Pilgrims.
Earlier in his administration, Wesberry expanded the alliance's office publication, Sunday magazine, and increased its
circulation to a record high. He changed the format, added lively news articles relative to Sunday Observance, and printed
photographs of celebrities and ordinary people engaged in supporting the aims of the alliance. Increased circulation won new
friends and donors. The educational mission was further strengthened by an individual donation which made possible the production
of a motion picture called The Lord's Day. It was shown worldwide.
As he prepares to end his tenure with the alliance, Wesberry senses more support and enthusiasm for the future than ever.
"The Lord's Day Alliance has renewed vision, a new dream. The alliance has never been more alive. I don't think there
has ever been a time of more intense concern among us than now."
He has been an adviser to Presidents of the United States, Congressmen, and individual members of the Georgia General
Assembly . In addition to pastoring an Atlanta church and fulfilling numerous ministerial responsibilities, he traveled around
the world on preaching missions for the United States Air Force . He was instrumental in founding Atlanta Baptist College.
"We are rediscovering new and better ways of handling our problems, Wesberry said. "Our new ways are old ways. We
are turning once again to the Bible and to the church for our answers."
Part of the new approach of turning back to the church led him to find ways for major religious bodies to agree rather
than remain polarized because of theological differences. In the sincere ecumenical spirit that has characterized his ministry,
Wesberry singled out prominent church leaders [in denominations not in the LDA] for recognition by the Lord's Day Alliance,
recognizing them for their leadership in preserving Sunday as a day of rest and worship.
At the annual meeting in Atlanta in 1978, Wesberry made history by joining hands for the first time with the Roman Catholic
clergy, in a mutual goal to preserve the Lord's day. The board of managers were entertained in a Catholic church because of
Wesberry's friendship with the Monsignor. He also made history for the alliance when he spoke at Andrews University and Theological
Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and led in exploration of ways the Lord's Day Alliance and the Seventh-day Adventists
could work together. "In spite of differences of opinion in reference to the Sabbath question," Wesberry explained,
"we had clasped hands across these differences and denominational lines and felt the warm, sincere grip and gracious
friendship among brothers and sisters in Christ.
Together with the heads of the New England Lord's Day League, Wesberry visited the governor of New Hampshire and presented
a plaque in appreciation of his dedication to preserving the Lord's day. On a visit to London, he conferred with the director
of the Lord's Day Observance Society and invited him to America for consultation and finding ways to work towards a mutual
"We are doing our best to keep contact with other similar bodies throughout the world and give them all the encouragement
we can," Wesberry said. The effort led him to an association with the People-For-Sunday Association of Canada, as well
as Lord's Day societies of Holland, Australia, and Nigeria. "The Lord's Day Alliance had helped me cross all denominational
lines and to become an intimate friend of a Roman Catholic archbishop," Wesberry said. The archbishop had been a good
friend of the alliance and twice had helped entertain the board of managers in Atlanta. When the man became terminally ill,
Wesberry visited him in the hospital, knelt beside his wheelchair, took his hand, and prayed for him. "My life and the
Lord's Day Alliance had been richly blessed through him," Wesberry said.
He went to New York and presented a plaque to the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, and
in turn welcomed a representative of the Orthodox Church to the alliance's board of managers. He went to Lambeth Palace in
London to present a plaque to the Archbishop of Canterbury. And he went to Rome and presented a plaque to the Pope.
Collecting the messages of various leaders on preservation of the Sabbath, Wesberry brought out a book, entitled The Lord's
Day, and presented it as a gift to all theological seminary and Bible school libraries in the United States and to several
leading pastors and church leaders.
Wesberry's influence on the Lord's Day Alliance has been indelible. But what about the future? According to Wesberry,
the prospects for a bright future have never been better. "The Lord's Day Alliance and its affiliates are being revitalized,"
Wesberry said. "They seem to be having a new birth. We are being revived again. It is happening in our national organization
and all our affiliates. We believe that the Lord's Day is the keystone of civilization and determines the future power and
glory of our nation."
(NOTE: In the late 1970s a large interdenominational Protestant meeting was held within in Marion, Illinois. The announcement
called for all Christians to gather to a special meeting, sponsored by the Lord's Day Alliance. The featured speaker would
be Samuele Bacchiocchi. Said to be a Seventh-day Adventist Bible teacher at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan,
Bacchiocchi was especially lauded in the flyer for two facts: First, he had graduated with a doctorate in theology from the
Gregorian University in Rome, the oldest Jesuit Roman Catholic higher educational institution in the world. Second, he wanted
all churches to enter the blessing of the Sabbath rest, whatever day it might be on. It is possible that it was through Bacchiocchi
and Wesberry's mutual Vatican contacts that they were brought together, making it possible for Wesberry to meet with leaders
at Andrews and for Bacchiocchi to be launched on a tour of a number of cities, where he spoke on behalf of the Lord's Day
A Difficult and Controversial Task of Public Service
The Georgia Literature Commission - 1953
The Georgia Literature Commission was established by the state legislature in February 1953, with the
purpose of removing objectionable items from newstands. The Commission had no enforcement power
but could order distributors to remove materials and recomend prosecution if they refused. The commission
initially declined to disclose the titles of material they were investigating, but ultimately did release them. The bill exempted
libraries and institutions from the commission’s scrutiny. Governor Herman Talmadge
(Eugene’s son), swore in the 3 person commission,
with Reverend James Wesberry of Atlanta's Morningside Baptist Church as chairman. Reverend Wesberry stated "I don't discrimiate between nude women, whether or
not they are art. It's all lustful
to me" (Atlanta Constitution,
February 27, 1953).
Items submitted to the commission included magazines with women in revealing poses, pocket calendars, and paperbacks
which included Fires of Spring by James Michener. In 1954 J.D Salinger’s
controversial novel Catcher in the Rye was
stated to be "profane and vulgar" by a Macon newstand owner, and Stetson Kennedy’s Southern Exposure, which attacked the
Ku Klux Klan and racial prejudice, was attacked as "too filthy even to look at" (Atlanta
Journal, August 8 & August 18, 1953).
Commission and Georgia Assistant Attorney General Lamar Sizemore created guidelines to assess materials: the publication must
be considered as a whole, the central theme must be pornographic to be considered for removal, the intent of the writer must
be considered, the channels of distribution, types of readers, and the effect on the reader must be evaluated.
1959, the Georgia Board of Education voted to require a stamp of approval from its literary committee on all library books,
reportedly because of the threat of pro-integration literature. (Atlanta Journal,
September 6, 1961).
state literature commission also investigated The Naked and the Dead, by Norman
GEORGIA LITERATURE COMMISSION
its first major campaign against obscene literature in 1953, when the General Assembly unanimously voted to establish the
Georgia Literature Commission. The onset of the paperback book revolution in the years after World War II, the rising popularity
of adult magazines, and the introduction of Playboy magazine in the United
States led the legislature to create the commission, consisting of three members who would meet monthly to investigate literature
that they suspected to be "detrimental to the morals of the citizens of Georgia." If the commission determined something to
be obscene, it had the power to inhibit distribution by notifying the distributor and then, thirty days later, recommending
prosecution by the proper prosecuting attorney. Governor Herman Talmadge appointed Atlanta minister James P. Wesberry, Royston newspaper publisher Hubert
L. Dyar, and Greensboro theater owner William R. Boswell to serve four-year terms.
of the commission's early work was through a program of mutual cooperation with publishers, distributors, and retailers, although
the commission became increasingly ineffective in its dealing with magazines, as it could prohibit distribution of a particular
issue it found to be obscene but not any future issue. In late 1956 four out-of-state publishing companies sued the commission
in federal district court on the grounds that the statute establishing the commission was unconstitutional. A special three-judge
appellate panel ruled that the statute as correctly construed did not raise a constitutional question. Because the court concluded
that the commission did not have any powers of censorship—the commission could only recommend to distributors that a
publication not be sold or to prosecuting attorneys that a distributor be prosecuted—the suit was subsequently dismissed.
Through 1967 the commission was required to take legal action in only six instances. The beginning of the end of the
commission's efforts came on August 19, 1966, when the commission sought and received a declaratory judgment in Muscogee County
Superior Court that Alan Marshall's Sin Whisper (1965) was obscene. The Georgia
Supreme Court also sided with the commission, concluding that the book was "filthy and disgusting." The unanimous opinion
continued, "Further description is not necessary, and we do not wish to sully the pages of the reported opinions of this court
with it." The U.S. Supreme Court, however, reversed the judgment without comment in a memorandum decision without any explanation
of why the book was not obscene, without any comment about the standards applied by Georgia courts determining it to be obscene,
and without any ruling on the constitutionality of the commission itself. Other books chosen for review by the commission
were Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre (1933),
J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (1951), Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), George H. Smith's Strip Artist
(1964), and John Dexter's Lust Avenger (1965).
commission ceased operations sometime after 1973, a victim of Governor Jimmy Carter's zero-based budgeting system, which required state
agencies to justify their existence each fiscal year. Coupled with his and successive governors' failure to appoint replacements
for the two commission members who died that year, the agency was thereafter unable to conduct business.
C. Lisby, "'Trying to Define What May Be Indefinable': The Georgia Literature Commission, 1953-1973,"
Georgia Historical Quarterly 84 (spring 2000): 72-97.
Gregory C. Lisby, Georgia State University
Monday, Mar. 09, 1953
The U.S.'s first state board of censorship on literature was set up in Georgia last week. Its purpose: to keep "obscene"
literature out of the state. When the Georgia legislature passed the bill to create the board last month, Atlanta Constitution
Editor Ralph McGill warned that the definition of obscenity is "so vague" that the law "lends itself to distortion and abuses."
The bill's definition of obscenity: "Literature offensive to chastity or modesty." Last week, when the three-man board took
office, it became plain how right Editor McGill had been. Board Chairman James Wesberry, a Baptist minister, was asked whether
works of art showing nude women would be banned by the board. Replied Censor Wesberry: "I don't discriminate between nude
women whether they are art or not. It's all lustful to me." Editor Hubert Dyar of the weekly Royston Record (circ. 1,256),
another censor, heartily agreed, and so did the third censor, William Boswell, a Greensboro theater owner.
Although newspapers are exempted from the law, editors protested that it was an infringement of freedom of the press. The
law, said Odom Fanning, president of the Atlanta chapter of the journalism fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, "could be used to
bring about 'thought control,' the odious practice [of] all dictatorships."
Find this article at:
America's First Obscene Books Commission The Georgia Literature Commission, 1953-1973
|Atlanta skyline viewed from Morningside Baptist
|James Pickett Wesberry