Haters egged his home in southern Illinois. They labeled him with minority slurs. They told him in vulgar terms they would make his life miserable.
All because Melvin “Bucky” Jordan marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
Jordan drove all night with others from St. Louis’ Eden Theological Seminary, where he studied, to Selma after the tragic and violent “Bloody Sunday” televised newsreels stirred his righteous indignation over seeing black civil rights protesters beaten and trampled.
The following day, at the request of organizers of a second Selma march, he donned his clerical garb that King and others thought might literally save lives amid racial evil.
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“Somehow a white tab stuck in a black shirt collar became the shield of a knight’s armor,” he wrote years ago.
“I wasn’t wholly convinced, but I was willing to wear the collar as an unspoken symbol of who and what I am: a pastor marching in the name of God to speak out against injustice.”
He remained that resolute sentinel even moments before his ministry was laid to rest a week ago during a funeral at Asbury United Methodist Church, where the Rev. Jordan served in Columbus for six years. Per his request detailed long before he died April 4 at age 77, after friend and co-clergyman the Rev. Jarvis Cooper of Columbus praised Bucky Jordan’s impact, the crowd sang one of the pastor-vocalist’s favorite songs, “We Shall Overcome.”
Jordan, who battled Parkinson’s disease since 1998, clearly knew a different personal struggle. But the man who shook hands with King became a voice for minority issues. When the Ku Klux Klan planned a rally in Indianapolis in October 1993, Jordan, then pastor of Greenwood United Methodist Church, organized a southside Indy community prayer and worship service in response.
“That sounds just so much like Bucky,” said Cooper, who discovered the Methodist’s King connection shortly after they met more than a decade ago. “The fact that he first took a stand when it certainly was very unpopular to do so just speaks volumes. I think he also helped break down some perceptions.
“So often, people look back and see all of this (racial struggle) as black versus white and do not fully realize how many whites were part of marches with Martin Luther King. Through the years, I always had mentioned that.
“But until I met Bucky, I never had personally known anyone like that.”
Son Tim Jordan of Southport recalled once asking his dad, “Am I going to come to your home and find a cross burning in the front yard?”
Loved to laugh
Bucky Jordan kept a framed poster of King over the basement stairwell of the Chestnut Street home he shared with wife Pauline Jordan, 77. But look in a family room hutch and you realize that while Jordan embraced serious issues, he also loved laughter — so much so that he collected clown figures, and even requested a clown as a greeter at his funeral.“He always used humor in his sermons,” Pauline Jordan said. “It was simply who he was.”
A year ago, in March 2015, niece Kelley King and fiance Daniel Zieser asked the pastor to write and perform their marriage ceremony, complete with his customary humor. He let the laughter flow right at the beginning after the welcome.
“I’m really not shaking because I’m cold,” he told the wedding party and the crowd. “I just didn’t take my Parkinson’s medication so I could dance into the night.”
The clergyman himself frequently faced life’s unpleasant tasks, including the reality that at least some church members might not like him or wife Pauline. But his family recalled only one time in public ministry that he allowed human frustration and anger to bubble over. That was with a Madison congregation in the 1970s when he pounded a table at a meeting and told them, “We’ve got to stop playing church and start BEING the church!”
On the other hand, eye-watering emotion sometimes softened his words from the pulpit. And he regularly taught his two sons that crying was a manly and necessary emotion. He became so skilled at dealing with others’ feelings, especially those of stung and hurting church members, that United Methodist leaders lured him from retirement for his last bit of pastoring — a 13-week stint at an area church needing stability and encouragement.
“Bucky was good at helping churches heal (after a painful situation),” Pauline Jordan said.
And son Sean of Atlanta mentioned that his dad was especially good at one other thing.
“He made it easier for us to be a preacher’s kid,” Sean Jordan said. “He gave us the freedom to be ourselves.”
Well, except for one occasion. Decades ago, when Sean was 5, dad stopped a sermon in mid-story to correct his youngster repeatedly misbehaving in a pew.
“Don’t make me come down there,” he quipped to the tyke.
“And then he went right on with the message,” Sean said.
Bucky Jordan knew about continuing a task and a mission.
Cooper recalled his last visit with Bucky Jordan shortly before his death at his home. Parkinson’s had pushed dementia to steal the aging minister’s ability to communicate. But Cooper felt that his minister friend still recognized him. So Cooper leaned in close and softly said just one word: “Selma,” and allowed the past to whisper its own memories.
Bucky Jordan squeezed Cooper’s hand.
Through it all, the minister of justice held fast to the cause — to the very end.
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Hometown: West Frankfort, Illinois.
Died: April 4 at his Columbus home after battling Parkinson’s disease for 18 years.
Family: Married wife Pauline in 1957. Sons Tim of Southport and Sean of Atlanta.
Education: McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois; Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri; Emory University in Atlanta.
Ministry overview: Served 20 United Methodist churches over 57 years, dating from 1957 and continuing well into retirement.
Local ministry: Served as pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church from 1996 to 2001. Also served White Creek United Methodist locally for several months in 2014.