Myrna Adams West
Throughout our 60th year in 2014, the 60th Anniversary Committee searched for the date on which the Fellowship officially came into being. However, it was not recorded in Horace Montgomery’s treatise on the founding of the congregation, and it was not until recently that the date came to light.
Gordon D. Gibson records in his 2015 volume, Southern Witness: Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era, that “The Universalist Unitarian Community Church of Athens officially organized on November 14, 1954, with UCA [Universalist Church of America] affiliation but both Universalist and Unitarian in the local name. It thus became one of only a handful of fellowships formed by and affiliated with the Universalist Church.”
Gibson’s comments, based on both Montgomery’s written record and an interview with Montgomery on February 13, 2000, also record that “Some members of the initial core group [that founded UUFA] identified themselves as Universalists and had made contact with the UCA. Others thought of themselves as Unitarians and so had contacted the AUA [American Unitarian Association]. They all thought it would be fine to be recognized by both the UCA and the AUA, which were in the process of discussing merger or consolidation.” The Universalist Church leaders agreed to the dual affiliation, but the leader of the Unitarian Association insisted that the emerging congregation choose one or the other affiliation. The UUFA Founders chose to affiliate initially with the Universalist Church, but included both designations in the name of the congregation.
The UCA and the AUA did merge in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Soon thereafter the name of the congregation became the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens.
Pertaining to the theme of the book, “Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era,” Gibson notes that Montgomery referred to a questionnaire circulated among UUFA’s membership in 1955 that showed that “all the members approved of the US Supreme Court’s school desegregation decisions, which encouraged them in addressing issues of segregation and having Black speakers.”
Gibson also cites the 1968 founding of a credit union by the Fellowship’s Social Responsibility Committee (forerunner of today’s Social Action Committee) as an affirmation of Civil Rights because the low-cost loans were available to both Blacks and Whites who might not be eligible under finance company policies.
Gordon Gibson’s book, Southern Witness: Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era, is available in both print and Kindle editions from Skinner House Books.