By Alfred Lee, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/24/2009 [source link]
PASADENA - John Burt, who fought for civil rights and other social reforms as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church through most of the 1960s, died Tuesday at his home in Michigan. He was 91.
Burt came to All Saints in 1957 after tenures in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio. In his 10 years at All Saints, he involved himself and the church in many causes but was perhaps best known for his civil rights advocacy.
His convictions led him to speak from the pulpit and at other public forums and to co-sponsor rallies and meetings at which Martin Luther King Jr. spoke. He drew criticism from both inside and outside the church, even receiving death threats for his activism.
"Although he did many things, he is kind of the light for civil rights during his tenure at All Saints," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints.
"He made it clear that he wanted All Saints to be on the forefront of racial justice," the Rev. George Regas, rector from 1967 to 1995, said.
In 1964, Burt introduced Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally of 35,000 people in now-demolished Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles.
Liz Morton, a member of All Saints for 63 years, accompanied him to the rally, which at the time was the largest civil rights gathering in the history of Los Angeles.
"I was the only white face in that entire place, except for John Burt and his wife," Morton recalled. "I felt terribly conspicuous just sitting down on the field."
Burt also helped convene a meeting at the Shrine Auditorium featuring King. The night before, his home received a bomb threat.
On another occasion, his daughter picked up the phone at home, only to speak to a man at the other end of the line who threatened to "kill daddy," Bacon said, recalling the event told to him by the daughter.
"His family and his own reputation were attacked," Bacon said.
Burt had many supporters in the church, which has a long history of progressive activism, but was not without detractors.
"One prominent member of the All Saints vestry accused John publicly of being communist," Morton said. "Anybody who had anything to do with Martin Luther King was accused of being communist."
On another occasion, a group of church leaders confronted Burt, Regas said.
"They came in and they said they felt he was talking too much about racial justice and that they hoped he would tame down his message and not be so occupied with that," Regas said.
"He listened, and he said, `Well I certainly want to listen to your concerns, but I want you to know that this meeting has just encouraged me to preach on racial justice again next Sunday.' He was not going to allow them to muzzle him. He wanted the pulpit to be free to proclaim what God was calling him to do."
Burt also took up other causes, such as that of farm workers' unions in the 1960s.
"After his services I felt like I'd been put through the ringer," Morton said. "He told it like it was, in talking about peace and justice and our role in that area, of things we should do to make things right. He was a very gifted preacher."
In 1967, Burt was elected bishop of Ohio, where he served until 1984.
Bacon said he has tried to be a "steward of the same mission" during his own time at All Saints, by fighting for gay and lesbian rights and protesting the war in Iraq.
"All Saints is rooted in the tradition of the prophets," Bacon said. "The Old Testament prophets and Jesus as a prophet and all of those religious leaders had a deep connection with God, and that connection led them to take daring stands on behalf of the least of us, and the most vulnerable and marginalized in society."