Rev. James Netters, city and civil rights leader in Memphis, passes away

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Rev. James Netters, a former Memphis City Council member who was pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Memphis for more than 60 years and was instrumental in the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike, died early Sunday.

His death was confirmed by the pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist.

Netters was the first Black member of the Memphis City Council.

Mayor Jim Strickland marked his passing with a statement on Twitter:

“Very sorry to hear of the passing of Rev. Dr. James Netters, a giant in Memphis as a religious, elected and civic leader. He was instrumental on the 1st city council in 1968. I always enjoyed listening to his sermons at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, or simply visiting with him.”

Grateful and gracious, some of the ways many remember Reverend Dr. James Netters Sr. who passed away Sunday morning. The sad news made official from Mt. Vernon Senior Pastor Melvin Watkins Jr.

“Dr. Nettes went home to be with the Lord today, surrounded by his loving family,” Watkins Jr. said.

Dr. Netters was a staple in the community, having served as pastor of Mt. Vernon for more than half a century. He led this congregation for 61 years to be exact, before retiring, sort of, in 2018. 

He spent his life pastoring and promoting change. Not only talking about positive change, but putting his words into action by becoming a Civil Rights leader. He worked alongside those like Martin Luther King Jr.     

Dr. Netters recalled for us a few years back what he considered a life-changing moment.

“I was in Washington in 1963, when he made his ‘I have a Dream’ Speech… I became so inspired by that speech, until I became interested in working and trying to come up with some of the things he was accomplishing,” Netters said, in an interview in 2018.

This led Dr. Netters to become part of the first group of blacks to join the Memphis City Council. A council he was part of in 1968 when Dr. King was invited to Memphis to support the sanitation strike.
Outside his beloved Mt. Vernon Church, this spot designated for a man who was both a teacher and trailblazer sits empty. But what remains filled are the many lives he touched in his 93 years as a faithful servant of God.     

Love and lessons that remain.

“We give God all the praise, because Dr. Netters has taught us how to live, taught us how to serve and taught us how to find strength in the presence of God, our sustainer,” Watkins Jr. said.

“Memphis has lost a giant. The Reverend James Netters was a giant in the pulpit as a stand-up pastor and in our community where his friendships and influence knew no limits. In 1968, he was one of the first three Black City Council members and later served as a community liaison for Mayor Wyeth Chandler and as an open-minded civic leader for the rest of his life.

There was not a prejudiced bone in his body. I valued his friendship and his solid support, particularly in my campaigns for Congress. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and to the Mount Vernon Baptist Church community. He led an exemplary life and will be missed.”

 Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09)

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