Rev. Sims recognized by West End community at black history event

Published 12:18 pm Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church in Montgomery has decades of history within its walls, and one of Clanton’s own is now leading its congregation. Rev. Dr. Allen J. Sims Sr. was formally installed as the pastor of the church in January, and was recognized in Clanton on Feb. 18 at the fifth annual Celebrating Our Own Chilton County Black History Marker event . The program is presented by the West End Neighborhood Watch Children & Youth Division, and it focuses on black history and honoring the achievements of those with roots in Clanton.

Sims and his mother came to Clanton in 1964 to live with his aunt and uncle on 13th Street, which is now Martin Luther King Street. He began school while they were still segregated, and Sims, his siblings and cousins attended school at what is now the E.M. Henry Head Start Center in West End. When the schools were desegregated in Chilton County in 1970, Sims attended the old Clanton Elementary School starting in first grade till fifth grade, aside from doing second grade in Montgomery. He was among the first generation of students in Chilton County to attend desegregated schools.

Sims’ grandfather, John T. Sims, better known as “Chief” Sims, was the first black city councilman in Clanton in the early 1980s. He was a teacher and moved to Chilton County High School after desegregation to be the agriculture teacher before he served Clanton on the city council. Sims’ grandfather passed away in his second term on the city council, and he remembers former Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver was one of the first people at his house after his passing. Sims said Driver remained close with his family after his passing.

Sims was also heavily involved in church while growing up in Clanton.

“I attended Union Baptist Church while I was there in Clanton, and I was raised in the church,” Sims said.

While church was a big part of his life, Sims’ love of sports was born in Clanton as well, playing football and baseball at CCHS in the ninth and 10th grades. After his sophomore year, Sims and his family moved to Panama with his father for military work, and he completed high school there in 1983.

Sims’ family came back to Clanton and he started school at Alabama State University where he graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree, and he started his own military career after graduation. After a few years living in Oklahoma, Sims thought he should answer a calling he got while at Alabama State.

“I got the calling (to go into ministry) while I was at Alabama State still attending school, but that seed was planted at Union Baptist Church in Clanton in West End,” Sims said.

Sims went back to school and earned his masters and doctoral degrees from United Theological Seminary in Ohio and began his pastoring with stops in Marion, Abbeville, Montgomery, and now Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church is the only church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor in the 1950s, and while there, he helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. The church was founded in 1877, and is now an official U.S. National Historic Landmark due to its roles in the civil rights movement and American history.

Sims said when he thinks about how he is leading a church with so much history associated with it, he gets a little emotional. However, he believes his roots in Clanton and experiences there are largely responsible for starting his journey to his current position.

“It is an honor, I am humbled and I am grateful for the opportunity to do this,” Sims said. “I know there is a lot of responsibility that comes with serving at a church like this, but I think it all started while living in West End. I think my preparation for where I am now started at that little church in Clanton. Following in Dr. King’s footsteps, one of his sayings was ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer them with the word or song, if I can show my neighbor where they are traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.’ I want to honor that.”

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church gets a lot of tourists through its doors due to its history, which gives Sims a chance to talk to people about the church, and about himself. When asked how he got there, Sims said he tells them it was “just a God thing, and it was not in my plans.”

Sims visits Clanton regularly, having family still in West End, and also visits to show friends where he grew up and to get some peaches in the summer. Sims said he cherished being recognized by the West End Neighborhood Watch, right where he grew up and got his start in life.

“It was an extreme honor to come back and be recognized by your own community, and growing up there I never thought I would be in the position I am now,” Sims said. “To go back and share that with the citizens of Clanton and West End (was special), just to say thank you for not giving up on me when I was child. The neighborhood never gave up on me … That seed that they planted in me did not die, it grew, and I am very appreciative of my West End community and the people of Clanton who played a big part in my life. I love Clanton, I love West End and I hope we can continue to come together, work together and worship together.”