AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – This Black History Month, NewsChannel 6 committed to honoring people who made the CSRA a better place than when they found it. We took a look into the life of a woman who paved the way for other women who believed they were called to a higher purpose.
A religious powerhouse emerged in 1940 mapping Augusta’s church future all while being a good shepherd. Rev. Essie Mae McIntyre’s life broke barriers for others from the pulpit.
Sunday morning church remains a staple in the black community. And countless mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other women not only attend, but they serve in various ministries.
“Yes, they were in the Sunday school. Yes, they could sing on the choir. But to think about being in an ecclesiastical position was a new thing,” said Bishop Rose Williams, pastor of Ever Faithful Missionary Baptist Church.
Bishop Williams remembers a different time long ago when women were kept in one role in the church. Those who attend Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Olive Road in Augusta can thank their fearless leader for reversing gender roles in the house of worship.
“The movement was good for all of us because a lot of women were really beginning to feel a nudge or a pull to serve more in the church than what they were serving,” she said.
Bishop Williams pastors Ever Faithful Missionary Baptist Church on Sand Bar Ferry Road in Augusta, an unimaginable fete prior to 1940. That’s when her friend, Rev. Essie Mae McIntyre started her journey to becoming the south’s first female Baptist pastor.
Williams recalled, “She was sick at one time, real ill. She said God spoke to her and told her ‘I saved you because I’m calling you to preach in a time such as this. It was still very serious because at one time in the Baptist church women couldn’t even go in the pulpit to clean it, ‘lest on to preach in it.”’
Born in the Old Town section of Louisville, Georgia, McIntyre spent her childhood in Burke County and Sylacauga, Alabama before making the Garden City home with her parents. The early years were tough filled with illness. But in April of 1940 she heard the call of God and transitioned her neighborhood Club No. 2 into Good Shepherd Baptist Church and those first members voted her their pastor.
Rev. Oscar Wade Brown, Rev. McIntyre’s nephew, remembers the early days.
“She would make you tremble. She talked about hell and heaven. Back then I was scared of hell because she made it so vivid.”
Brown knows McIntyre as his aunt Mae Mae, his mother’s sister. He said he still remembers helping with construction on the first brick building in 1951, a church that no longer had a wooden exterior. It still stands today on a street named in her honor, Essie McIntyre Blvd, near T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School. The church began with 17 members. But it took decades for the south to accept a woman preacher who said she was called by God. In 1940, Brown said Augusta Mayor James Wooddall did believe and granted her a license to preach, but she still needed to be ordained.
“In addition to being a pastor so you can do communion, burials and weddings and all of those things, you need to be ordained. But no pastor would ordain her. They even had a word out that if they found out who licensed [ordained her] they would actually kill the person,” Brown said.
And the problems did not stop after being ordained.
“In fact, even in her own church she was threatened that if she kept having services they were going to take her life,” Williams added.
Rev. McIntyre was ordained in secret, one she took to the grave with her to protect the person who did it. And the Sheriff at that time promised to arrest anyone who harmed her with a sign outside the church. But as a woman of cloth walking through the valley of the shadow of death, Rev. McIntyre feared no evil.
“The 23rd Psalm was her favorite. As a matter of fact, that’s why Good Shepherd is named Good Shepherd because when He called her into the ministry, He told her I’m the good shepherd,” Bishop Williams recalled.
And despite being called, she was shunned by many churches who would invite her to speak and turn her away from the pulpit when she arrived and they learned she was a woman.
Bishop Williams said she was told, “It is our belief that God has not called women to preach.”
Williams, who traveled with McIntyre to various church conferences, said McIntyre was allowed to speak at a visiting church, typically on Mother’s Day or Women’s Day. And it was almost always moved to another building, not inside the sanctuary. A few churches such as Tabernacle Baptist Church and Thankful Baptist Church complied.
“My thing was why would you go to these places when you know they don’t want you there in the position that you’re in? They would even call her Ms. McIntyre, Sister McIntyre and Mother McIntyre, never Pastor McIntyre or Reverend McIntyre. She would say because it ain’t about me. It’s about the one who sent me,” she said.
McIntyre’s history records she believed in outreach ministry. She made history as the first woman president and vice president of the Augusta Lincoln League. And though involved, she never dove.
Brown said she never had a driver’s licence either. “She would call you 6 o’clock in the morning and tell you to come and take her to visit so and so at a hospital. I said but Rev. I have to see if I can get off work. She said that’s your problem. You just be here to pick me up.”
By the time she retired in 1986, Good Shepherd grew to 600 members. One of those members is Bernice Herrington, who joined Good Shepherd at the age of 9 in 1954
Herrington told us of how Rev. McIntyre reacted to her daughter wanting to join the church.
“One Wednesday night, my mom told Rev. McIntyre, ‘Rev. McIntyre, my granddaughter want to join the church.’ Rev. McIntyre said, ‘Bless God! Bless God! Pull the chair out here.’ My daughter went up there at three years old and right now I think she’s the youngest person that ever joined Good Shepherd Baptist Church.”
Herrington, who also shared fond memories of helping McIntyre cook, said she believes the religious trailblazer leaves a legacy too.
“To me she left a legacy of love because she showed people how to love.”
As any good shepherd would do, Rev. McIntyre brought thousands to Christ. And the house that she built still stands, being led each week by the shepherd who accepted the torch from her.
Special thanks to Akesha Tarver for the story idea and field producing efforts along with Good Shepherd Baptist Church for sharing the archive room. Biographical information comes from a write up from Marian T. Brown on 5/21/1995, from the files of E. Marlow McIntyre and Lucy C. Laney Museum of Black History.
You can watch the extended version of The Shepherd and The Lamb below: