Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 96

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He helped absorption the federation connected bombings and constabulary maltreatment successful Alabama successful the 1960s and, later, connected problems with the acquisition of Black students successful Brooklyn.

The Rev. C. Herbert Oliver astatine  a objection  astatine  City Hall successful  New York involving the experimental schoolhouse  board, of which helium  was chairman, that was created successful  1967 to springiness  much  section  power  implicit    acquisition  to the chiefly  Black families of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville country  of Brooklyn.
Credit...Jack Manning/The New York Times

Sam Roberts

Dec. 11, 2021, 1:23 p.m. ET

The Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, a civilian rights apostle who confronted the segregationist constabulary commissioner Bull Connor successful Birmingham, Ala., and challenged the mode the nationalist schoolhouse strategy successful New York City educated Black children, died connected Nov. 30 successful Brooklyn. He was 96.

His daughter, Patrice Oliver, confirmed the death. She said helium had been admitted to a infirmary astir a week earlier with respiratory problems.

In the aboriginal 1960s, Mr. Oliver was the caput connected a committee of Black ministers successful Birmingham who created the Inter-Citizens Committee to papers constabulary maltreatment of Black citizens. They chronicled 98 cases of suspicious deaths successful constabulary custody, galore of which had occurred nether the ticker of T. Eugene Connor, the constabulary commissioner known arsenic Bull, who declared to the city’s Black colonisation that “as agelong arsenic you unrecorded and arsenic on arsenic Connor lives, determination volition beryllium segregation successful Birmingham and successful the South.”

The committee documented “cases of alleged rights violations, some authoritative and nonofficial,” from 1960 to 1965 and wide circulated its reports successful letters to nationalist officials and journalists.

In 1 of the letters, Mr. Oliver recounted the country helium had witnessed from a structure crossed the thoroughfare from the 16th Street Baptist Church successful Birmingham, which was bombed connected Sept. 15, 1963. Four young girls were killed successful the bombing.

“Women seeing the covered bodies being brought from the religion cried and screamed without restraint,” helium wrote. “I could not bring my caput to judge what my eyes saw. It inactive seems similar a communicative from immoderate distant onshore wherever radical cognize thing astir state and democracy.

“The savage, brutal, murderous and ungodly bombing,” helium continued, “has revealed to the full satellite the evil of racism. Those fewer terrifying moments of the blast said what we person been trying to accidental to the federation for years, that determination exists successful Alabama the astir unconscionable disregard for antheral and God connected the portion of some. If achromatic supremacy consists successful the wanton and brutal demolition of worshipers of God successful the precise location of worship, past I indispensable confess that the religion bombers are the astir ultimate murderers and cowards the satellite has ever seen.”

The litany of unit publicized by Mr. Oliver helped punctual an nonfiction by Harrison E. Salisbury successful The New York Times that concluded, “Every transmission of communication, each mean of communal interest, each reasoned approach, each inch of mediate crushed has been fragmented by the affectional dynamite of racism, enforced by the whip, the razor, the gun, the bomb, the torch, the club, the knife, the mob, the constabulary and galore branches of the state’s apparatus.”

Mr. Connor and different metropolis officials sued The Times and Mr. Salisbury for libel. The commissioner was awarded $40,000 successful damages successful precocious 1964, but the verdict was reversed by a federal appeals court, which said that Mr. Salisbury and The Times had “exhibited a precocious modular of reporting practices.”

As constabulary brutality successful Birmingham subsided — which Mr. Oliver attributed to publicity generated by the Inter-Citizens Committee and the libel lawsuit — helium headed northbound to a caller posting successful Brooklyn, wherever helium became embroiled successful a contention that would disagreement Black and achromatic radical for years to come.

In 1967, helium was appointed president of a caller section schoolhouse committee successful the predominantly Black Ocean Hill-Brownsville conception of Brooklyn, successful what was called an experimentation successful decentralization and assemblage control.

But the section board’s effort to workout what it considered its authorization to transportation achromatic teachers prompted a virulent backlash. The teachers’ national considered the transfers a cardinal menace to hard-won seniority safeguards and called a citywide strike. Many of the dismissed teachers were Jewish, starring to charges of antisemitism. The backlash yet led, successful 1970, to the extremity of the experimentation successful assemblage authority.

Mr. Oliver and members of the committee were arrested when they refused to relinquish control, but they yet relented.

“There was a deficiency of bully education, and the teachers and principals were not from the assemblage oregon invested successful the students,” Mr. Oliver told the mag of Wheaton College, his alma mater, successful 2018. “We were trying to settee the unrest of the assemblage centered successful schools.”

“I judge that was the involvement of the parents connected the governing committee and each radical serving connected the governing board,” Mr. Oliver aboriginal said. “We were not extremists. There were extremists successful the assemblage who wished to instrumentality power of things, but we stayed to the contented of education.”

Claude Herbert Oliver was calved connected Feb. 28, 1925, successful Birmingham, conscionable a fewer years aft the enactment determination of the Robert E. Lee klavern of the Ku Klux Klan and the ineligible segregation of the city’s streetcars. His father, Smith Oliver, was a adust cleaner. His mother, Blonden Oliver, was a homemaker.

He studied astatine the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College successful New York) successful the aboriginal 1940s and graduated from Wheaton, successful Illinois, with a bachelor’s grade successful past successful 1947. He returned to Birmingham aft the fatal shooting by constabulary of a Black curate who had been registering Black voters.

“I went to the ceremonial location wherever the reverend was, and I stood implicit him successful the casket,” Mr. Oliver told the Wheaton magazine. “I looked astatine him and thought, ‘If this is what they bash to a minister, if thing is not done to hole this system, past 1 time I volition prevarication down similar him, and it volition beryllium the extremity of me.’” (He said helium himself had survived 2 attempts connected his life.)

In 1948, erstwhile helium was 23 and serving arsenic pastor of the African American Church successful Birmingham, helium was arrested, on with respective achromatic civilian close activists, for “allowing unsegregated seating” successful his church.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees successful theology astatine Westminster Theological Seminary successful Pennsylvania; served for 7 years arsenic the pastor of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church successful bluish Maine; and past returned to Birmingham, wherever from 1960 to 1965 helium worked with the Inter-Citizens Committee and the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, an aboriginal subordinate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Oliver’s matrimony to Ruby King ended successful divorce. In summation to his daughter, from that marriage, helium is survived by his wife, Lorna (Silvera) Oliver; a son, Claude, besides from his archetypal marriage; and a grandson.

In Brooklyn, helium was pastor of Westminster Bethany Presbyterian Church from 1967 to 1992 and did counseling for a twelvemonth astatine the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church successful Manhattan.

After receiving his theology degrees successful the aboriginal 1950s, helium recalled successful an interrogation with the Westminster Theological Seminary quality tract successful 2013, “it was understood by the higher-ups successful the religion that determination was nary aboriginal for maine being called to a achromatic church. That’s erstwhile the telephone came to maine to service successful Maine, and I accepted that and went determination and served.

“But the radical disagreement successful America is inactive arsenic beardown arsenic it was successful the ’40s and ’50s,” helium added. That divide, helium said, was “just much polite, but it is nary little real, nary little firm, and nary little impregnable.”

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