Reverend Doctor John Louis Russell, Sr.July 9, 1935 ~ December 16, 2019 (age 84)
Reverend Doctor John Louis Russell, Sr.
The Reverend Doctor John Louis Russell, Sr., a man who spent his life as a champion of the poor and underserved, died Monday morning at 6:30 a.m., December 16, 2019, in the Glenwood Hospital after a lengthy illness. He was surrounded by his wife, Rotena, and family.
Reverend John L. Russell Sr. was born July 9,1935 to the union of the late Jack and Arleaner Evans Russell in Mansfield, La.
The family later migrated to West Monroe, Louisiana when he was three years old. His early education was received at the Ben Allen and Tim Tippit Elementary Schools. He graduated and received his high school diploma from Boley High School. He received religious training at United Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
He later taught at United Theological Seminary and Bible College under the Presidency of Dr. Benjamin Franklin Martin and Dr. Robby D. Williams, where he also received an Honorary Doctorate.
He confessed Christ at an early age at the Olive Branch Baptist Church under the leadership of the Reverend Bilberry. He served in many capacities as youth deacon, usher and bible scholar. He was ordained as a deacon at Olive Branch Baptist Church. He later received his calling to the Gospel Ministry, licensed and ordained at the Olive Branch Baptist Church under the leadership of Reverend S.L.V. Johnson.
Reverend Russell was a giant of the local civil rights movement. He stood at the vanguard of the community’s push for equality before the law, justice in the courts, and political independence.
As a pastor, educator, civil rights leader, and elected official, Reverend Russell’s name became a household word in the local community.
He attended and graduated from Leland College in Baker, Louisiana, one of the former Black Historical Religious Universities, with a Bachelor’s Degree in English & a Minor in Social Studies.
After receiving a degree in Social Science, he entered the United States Army on July 25, 1958 and served four years. He achieved the rank of Specialist (E4) and received an Honorable Discharge.
He began his teaching career as an educator in the Richland Parish School System at Alto High School & Mangham High School. He taught English and served as a basketball coach for several years. He concluded his educational career by working for Louisiana Association of Educators as a Uniserv Director.
While teaching English at the Alto High School, he met the beautiful Math & Science Teacher, Rotena D. Hicks. He had a larger classroom and she asked could they switch classrooms because she needed the space for a science lab. Well, 56 years later, you see how the story ended. On January 6, 1963, John L. Russell and Rotena D. Hicks were united in marriage in the home of Reverend & Mrs. C.V. Rodgers, Sr., who performed the ceremony. To this union were born two sons: John L. Russell, II and Jack Lionel Russell, Sr. One niece was reared as a daughter, Ea Laverne Haynes Holmes.
In 1965, he served as a federal registrar in several counties and parishes to ensure that minority voting rights were protected under the new Voting Rights Act passed by Congress.
In the Early 1970’s he reactivated the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His immediate objective was to get black elected officials on the Monroe City Council. It was a fight that ultimately ended with a victorious lawsuit filed by Benny J. Ausberry and others, which changed Monroe’s government and provided for Black representation on the city council.
He pastored Macedonia and Antioch Baptist Churches. Both churches became bases for local youth protesters that marched and picketed to desegregate local businesses that refused to hire blacks. The Reverend Russell was at the forefront of many of the marches and was arrested in 1970 while attempting to integrate a public event held at the Monroe Civic Center.
In 1972, he was appointed as “Assistant Mayor” of the City of Monroe. From a large suite of offices in City Hall, he managed a large budget and was specifically charged to respond to the needs of African Americans in Monroe’s South Side. When Mayor Ralph Troy wanted him to use his new position to muzzle blacks protesting injustices, Reverend Russell abruptly quit the job. He said he refused to be the white man’s “Super N***er.”
In 1983, Congress officially recognized the Martin Luther King Holiday, but local governments refused to acknowledge the holiday. Reverend Russell led local protests to force recognition of the holiday. Most local governments reluctantly recognized the holiday, but the Ouachita Parish School Board stubbornly refused.
In 1986, Russell ran for a seat on the parish school board. Once elected, he promoted improvements for school facilities in predominately black neighborhoods, especially Richwood High School. He consistently challenged the board’s refusal to acknowledge the King holiday and led annual marches of concerned citizens to protest the board’s resistance.
When the board continued its refusal to recognize the holiday, Russell staged a one-man boycott of local white businesses to get them to pressure the board to change its view. In the scorching heat of summer, Russell often stood alone in front of targeted businesses with a picket sign and a sweat towel. At first board members, and even some in the Black community dismissed Russell’s one-man protest as futile. However, the board finally relented, and the parish schools voted to recognize the holiday.
He promoted the King legacy by founding the Martin Luther King Foundation, which stages an annual salute to Dr. King’s legacy of NON-VIOLENT resistance in pursuit of justice for all. A 2012 stage play depicted Reverend Russell’s fight. His son, John II, played his father in the play that was performed at the Monroe Civic Center.
Russell served on the school board from 1986 until his death. His efforts resulted in the construction and expansion of a new Richwood High School, and expansions and improvements to other Southside Schools. Many of these constructions and expansions would not have happened without Russell’s influence.
He was called to pastor several churches during his ministry. His first church was the Hopewell Baptist Church in Dubach, La., where he served from 1964 to1967.
Afterwards, Reverend Russell pastored Seigle Community Baptist Church in West Monroe, Louisiana (1967-1969), Macedonia Baptist Church (March 30, 1967 - December 31,1978), and Antioch Baptist Church (January 1969- March 1996).
He retired from being an educator after 20+ years to fulfill his calling to fulltime ministry. He resigned in 1978 as pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church. He was one of the first black Baptist pastors to take his congregation to full-time services in the late 1970’s. He was met with much opposition from others but was determined to succeed. His motto was “We Are A Full-time Church Serving A Full-Time God.” Subsequently, there are many churches who have become Full-Time in the Twin Cities and surrounding area.
He served as chaplain at the LSU (E.A. Conway Medical Center, which is now known as the Ochsner’s Health Systems (LSU) Medical Center) for 20+ years
After his tenure at the Antioch Baptist Church ended in March 1996, he founded the New Antioch Baptist Church. He pastored New Antioch Baptist Church for 23 years, which later evolved into the Greater New Antioch Baptist Church, pastored by his son, Reverend John Russell, II, who succeeded him after Reverend Russell retired.
In February of 2018, Reverend Russell united with the Greater New Antioch Baptist Church under the leadership of his son, Pastor John L. Russell, II.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Mr. Jack and Mrs. Arleaner Evans Russell; siblings, Rev. L. T. Russell, Ms. Naomi Russell, Mr. Osby Russell, Rev. Otha Evans, Rev. William Russell, Mrs. Everleaner Russell-Mitchell, Minister Robert Russell, Mrs. Mariah H. Haynes, Mrs. Dankie H. Horton, Mr. Herman C. Wilson, and Mr. Douglas Hicks.
He leaves a legacy to be cherished by his devoted and loving wife of 56 years, Mrs. Rotena Hicks Russell; two devoted sons, Pastor John L. (Candice) Russell, II; Rev. Jack L. (Marico) Russell, Sr.; one daughter/niece, Mrs. Ea Laverne Holmes of Louisville, Kentucky; two brothers, Rev. Lennard (Ruby) Russell and Rev. Saint Anthony (Tony) Russell, both of Monroe, Louisiana; four sisters, Mrs. Gertrude Strickland of Shreveport, Louisiana; Minister Dorothy Harris, Mrs. Velda Williams, and Minister Carol A. Russell, all of Las Vegas, Nevada; sisters-in-law, Mrs. Johnnie H. Hicks of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mrs. Gloria Hill Hicks of Monroe, Louisiana; Mrs. Lola Evans and Mrs. Louise Wilson; seven grandchildren, Mrs. Victoria (Eugene) Tates of Lake Charles, Louisiana; Mrs. Johnnisha (Joshua) Boatner of Baton, Rouge, Louisiana; Ms. Sophea Russell of Monroe, Louisiana; Mr. Robert Levingston of Monroe, Louisiana; Anterrious Collins of Shreveport, Louisiana; Maressea Collins, Jack Russell II, and Olivia Russell, all of Monroe, Louisiana; four great-grandchildren, Jayanna Frazier and Genesis Tates, both of Lake Charles, Louisiana; and John Mychael Russell and Alani Hampton, both of Monroe, La., four God-Children, Mr. Aaron (Joe Anna) Green of Jacksonville, North Carolina; Mr. Lawrence Ray Martin, Jr., Mr. Perry Martin, and Ms. Chantel Martin Taylor, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives, especially the GREATER NEW ANTIOCH BAPTIST CHURCH FAMILY.
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Martin Luther King Foundation of Ouachita Parish
Post Office Box 8087, Monroe LA 71211
The Dr. John L. Russell, Sr. Scholarship Fund
301 Sherrouse Avenue, Monroe LA 71203