Rev. Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.
Claude S. Wyatt, Jr. (November 14, 1921—April 11, 2010). He and Addie Wyatt were married May 12, 1940. The Wyatts became leaders in the Altgeld community and started the Wyatt Choral Ensemble in 1947. Formed to help youth in Altgeld and the surrounding area engage in positive activities and feel a sense of pride and community, the singing group performed all over the city of Chicago until 1955 when the ensemble disbanded.
By 1955 the Wyatts founded Vernon Park Church of God, with Claude Wyatt as its pastor. He began writing and preaching his first sermons and eventually named his wife Rev. Addie Wyatt and the Co-Pastor. In 1965, he resigned from his job as a postal worker and became full-time pastor of Vernon Park Church of God.
In 1955, the Wyatts founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago, where the couple’s ministry together spanned 44 years, during which time the Wyatts’ church matriculated from the small house garage to a storefront to their first church built from the ground at 7653 S. Maryland Avenue, and then finally on to their second church built from the ground located at 9011 S. Stony Island Avenue where they retired from pastoring in 2000. Although retired from pastoring, the Wyatts continued to faithfully attend and serve within their church worship services until their deaths.
Claude became increasingly involved in the work of the Church of God, serving as Chairman of the Northern Illinois Ministerial Association of the Church of God, as a member of the Executive Council of the Church of God in 1980 and 1981, and as a leading figure in the National Association of the Church of God. He combined his ministerial education with experience in the civil rights and labor rights movements. Wyatt participated in SCLC’s Minister’s Leadership Training Program. An ardent supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC, Wyatt attended the March on Washington and was a founding member of Operation Breadbasket. He would also serve as national secretary and as a board member of Breadbasket’s successor, Operation PUSH, founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. As important religious and civic figures in Chicago, Claude and Addie Wyatt supported the campaigns of several politicians including Ralph Metcalfe, Roland Burris, Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Carol Moseley Braun.
Claude Wyatt wrote extensively for Church of God publications, including two unpublished manuscripts for the School of Theology (Anderson, IN): Church Management and Finance and The Agony of What He Saw. In 1984, Claude Wyatt received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Monrovia University in Liberia. In 1994, he earned a Masters in Theological Studies from McCormick Theological Seminary. The recipient of numerous awards and honors for his service as a religious and civic figure, Claude Wyatt co-pastored Vernon Park Church of God for 45 years before transitioning to pastor emeritus in 2000.
Rev. Addie L. Wyatt
Addie L. Wyatt (March 8, 1924 – March 28, 2012) was a leader in the United States Labor movement, and a civil rights activist. Wyatt is known for being the first African American woman elected international vice president of a major labor union, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. Wyatt began her career in the union in the early 1950s and advanced in leadership. In 1975, with the politician Barbara Jordan, she was the first African American woman named by Time magazine as Person of the Year.
She worked in the ministry and civil rights campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and participated in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Wyatt was involved in grassroots civil rights work in Chicago and participated in organizing protests. She was a labor adviser to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She served on the Action Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement. In the 1960s, Wyatt was active in Operation Breadbasket, which distributed food to underprivileged people across the United States.
In 1955, the Wyatts founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago, where she would serve as choir director, minister of music and co-pastor. The couple’s ministry together spanned 44 years, during which time the Wyatts’ church matriculated from the small house garage to a storefront on 74th Cottage, to their first church built from the ground at 7653 S. Maryland Avenue, and then finally on to their second church built from the ground located at 9011 S. Stony Island Avenue where they retired from pastoring in 2000. Although retired from pastoring, the Wyatts continued to faithfully attend and serve within their church worship services until their deaths.
In 1999, Wyatt was the founder and CEO of the Wyatt Family Community Center in Chicago, the church’s multipurpose community center which served the community and the nation through its diverse programming for families.
She has received numerous awards and honors, including: TIME Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1975, a Woman of the Year Award from Ladies’ Home Journal in 1977, one of Ebony Magazine’s 100 Outstanding Black Americans, 1981-1984, an Image Award from the League of Black Women, and a street dedication in 1993 in honor of her and her husband (Rev. Claude Wyatt). Wyatt received an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree from Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana in 1976, an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois in 1978 and additional honorary degrees from North Park Seminary in Chicago and the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Rev. Willie T. Barrow
Rev. Willie T. Barrow, was a long-time Chicago activist and mentor to black political leaders and the godmother of President Barack Obama. Barrow was fondly called “The Little Warrior” by many who knew her well, because of her leadership prowess and her willingness to marshal her political forces when the need arose. She was also a tireless community organizer, and an astute assessor of political talent. Although she was short in stature, Rev. Barrow was considered a giant figure in Chicago politics.
Barrow eventually moved to Chicago along with her husband in the 1940s. She attended the Moody Bible Institute there to further her call to serve. Barrow also ran the youth choir at Langley Avenue Church of God, where she was approached by the minister to do some additional organizing for civil rights movement actions. Barrow campaigned for Harold Washington who became the first Black Mayor of Chicago in 1983. In 1984 and 1988, she worked for Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign.
The 1950s, she worked with Martin Luther King and other Chicago ministers and activists as a field organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the 1960s Rev. Barrow and Rev. Jesse Jackson, co-founded Operation Breadbasket, which became the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition. Where Barrow became the first woman executive director of a Civil Rights Organization, serving as Push’s CEO.
Each Saturday, Barrow participated in demonstrations, and weekly she participated in Rainbow/PUSH’s events. She helped many people by writing checks to cover their college tuition. She also spent her life mentoring people in PUSH, helping them to move on to the next stage of the movement. Barrow was the Minister of Justice at Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago. She helped raise money for assisted living development in the south and to fund after-school programs. Barrow died on March 15, 2015; she was 90.