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Fellowship event reaches across racial, party lines

Fellowship event reaches across racial, party lines
From The Manning Times
July 22, 2013


Leon Winn is a motorcycle enthusiast, a proud member of the Republican Party, and a Missionary Baptist Church pastor.

That could be considered an odd mix by some, but not to the Rev. Dr. Winn, who welcomed what was probably easily the most diverse church congregation in the state on Sunday as his Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church family was joined by bikers and Republican Party members from around the state. All 300 or so people, including blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, came to worship and break bread together — or, in this case, fish, hot dogs and all the fixings — at the invitation of Winn during a day of faith and fellowship.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group,” Winn said. “If you gave me a million dollars, I’d say give me the group, because it’s a good cross reference of people old, young and everything in between. I’m just in awe at the leaders like (Clarendon County GOP chair) Moye (Graham) and those that have come out to be a part of and to help this movement to build the Republican Party where it pertains to the black community.”

Winn said the idea for Sunday’s event came about from a meeting with Connelly, who now serves as the RNC’s National Director for Faith Engagement.

“He wanted to know how we could get the message out, distill the concept of the Republican Party where it pertains to the black community, where the Democratic community has had us as a black individual,” Winn said. “I’ve been a Democrat the majority of my life and they’ve had us believing, as I’ve said so many times, that rich, white people were Republicans and poor blacks and poor whites were Democrats. There’s nothing further from the truth, and we were talking about how would you (reach the African American community). … The concept is if you want to reach out, you need to go where the black community is, go where they are, and that’s what we are doing.”

Connelly said he came to know Winn after the pastor renounced his ties to the Democratic Party and ran as a Republican for the state Senate District 36 seat previously occupied by John C. Land III. Winn lost that election to former Manning mayor and House District 64 Representative Kevin L. Johnson, but has remained a staunch supporter of the GOP.

“Leon and I have been talking about this for months. We kind of came together at a meeting in the office before I stepped down as state party chair in April or May and we picked the date,” Connelly said. “I didn’t know that I was going to be in Iowa for the few days before that, but I’m supporting Leon. He’s a great guy, he ran for state Senate, of course, but he’s a great preacher, it’s obvious he has quite a reach in the community, and people respect him. I wanted to come and support him and say you’re doing the right thing to reach out, reach across and, really to obliterate the lines that the world has set, not us.”

Current state GOP chair Matt Moore said that Sunday’s event was a perfect tie-in to the Iowa event from which he and Connelly had just returned. Connelly, in fact, called the Iowa event “the perfect segue” to being on hand for Winn’s event.

“We’ve been in Iowa for the past three days, talking to preachers and faith leaders about how we get our congregations engaged, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for the principles that made America great, ” Moore said. “Those principles are fighting for our families, fighting for our faith and showing the world that we’re not afraid to stand up for those principles, and that’s why we’re here today. We’re here to show our love for our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s not about politics so much as it is about sharing our belief that together we can make America a great place, and South Carolina a great place.”

Moore said a good bit of effort was made at the state party level to publicize the event.

“We had publicized this event for a number of weeks to our state executive committee,” Moore said. “I’m impressed by the number of counties that are here. I think it was at least 10 or 12 counties represented. I was particularly moved by Pastor Winn’s message, the truth, and the truth is, as a party we have long been a party that has stood for civil rights, beginning with Abraham Lincoln all the way through to Dwight Eisenhower writing the Civil Rights Act in 1957 — it was, of course, passed later — and all the way up through now. We have a great, positive story to tell. We don’t tell it enough, and that’s part of the reason that we’re here today, to tell the story of the Republican Party. It is a party that has fought long and hard for civil rights.”

“We have to change the psychology of the black community where, once again, it pertains to the Republican Party,” Winn said. “If you really look at the Republican Party, the Republican Party is more in cohesiveness with the black church than anything else. It is, because the Republican Party, the principles are based on Christian faith.”

Along with himself and at least 20 members, officers and committeemen from the Clarendon County GOP, Graham said the list of GOP officers on hand included chairs from Sumter, Orangeburg, Lancaster and Fairfield counties, the district chairs from the Sixth and Seventh districts, state GOP chair Matt Moore and other SCGOP officers, and former state chair and Republican National Committee member Chad Connelly.

“It was a great turnout,” Graham said. “Not only was it a great turnout, it was a good sermon, and you’re exactly right. Our party is faith-based. I keep telling everybody we do believe that life begins at conception, we do believe in a traditional marriage, we do believe in a strong America, a strong defense and personal freedoms. That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of this today.”

While the Republican Party officers and members on hand were a large focus, Winn also took time to recognize the many bikers who traveled in from around the state for the special event.

“One of the bikers was a chief of police, and several of those guys own their own businesses,” Winn said. “These are working, active, constructive people in society. You wouldn’t have a thug in that group. These are working people that love riding motorcycles, and we started Biker Sunday in the state of South Carolina, right here at Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church.”

Both Winn and Graham spoke of the historical significance of Sunday’s gathering and came out of the day with a greater resolve to accomplish the task they see at hand.

“I really believe, and I’ve said this all week, this is an historical event, and this could be the beginning of something huge,” Graham said.

“Right here in Clarendon County,” Winn said.

“Right here in Clarendon County,” Graham said. “… Let me tell you how significant it is. When you’ve got 75 or a hundred white folks in a black, American church in rural Clarendon County, in South Carolina on a hot Sunday morning, that it huge in itself! There’s not another church probably in this state that was well attended by different groups of people than right here today in Manning. … We made the change today, and I don’t want it to end at Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church. This is only the beginning.”

“We’re going to see that it is done,” Winn said. “This is what I will call, what will go down as a rich experience. It was phenomenal.”