Church, Rights Leader Oscar Carr Dies

Episcopal News Service. November 9, 1977 [77364]

NEW YORK, N. Y. -- Nearly 500 Episcopal Church people, civil rights and civic leaders took part in a memorial service and Eucharist Nov. 8, for Oscar Clark Carr, Jr., a Church and human rights leader who died of cancer Nov. 5. He was 54.

The service, at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan, was presided over by the Bishop of New York, the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, and concelebrated by the Rev. Alanson Houghton, Rector of the Church of the Heavenly Rest; the Rev. Hays Rockwell, Rector of St. James' Episcopal Church and the Rev. Thomas Pike, Rector of Calvary, St. George and Holy Communion parish.

In his sermon, the Rev. Will D. Campbell, a Baptist minister, author and long-time personal friend characterized Carr's life as: "A speech, well-researched and well-delivered. " He said that his life, like that speech, had moved people to respond and would continue to do so. Mr. Campbell then led the congregation in a moving ovation to Carr.

Carr was graduated with distinction from the United States Naval Academy and served three years as an officer in the United States Navy before returning to Clarksdale, Miss., to his family cotton farm and business. That business gradually expanded into real estate and other fields. Of this period, Carr said in a 1976 speech: "I could have been accurately described as a full-fledged member of the 'Southern way of life' living in a racially segregated society, thinking little of it. "

In the speech, Carr credited the racial militance of then-Governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George Wallace of Alabama with confronting him with the paradox of that closed society.

He became active in local civil rights work through Mississippi NAACP leader Aaron Henry and, with Henry, formed an anti-poverty community action group in his home county - Coahoma. Carr and Henry were also active in creating "Mississippi Action for Progress" which succeeded in placing 6,000 youngsters in Head Start programs throughout the state.

In 1968, he was co-director -- with rights leader Charles Evers -- of the Mississippi presidential campaign of Sen. Robert Kennedy. Later the same year he was a key member of the Loyal Democrats of Mississippi delegation which successfully challenged the regular delegation from the state for their seats at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Of his work in civil rights and human affairs, Assistant Secretary of State Hodding Carter, HII said: "It would have been very comfortable for him to be just a cocktail party liberal. Instead he got committed and involved."

Carr's death also sparked comment from Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Executive Director of the National Urban League who said: "Oscar Carr was a distinguished southern liberal who cared and worked for equal opportunity when it was dangerous and unpopular for a white man in the south to care and work for justice for black people. He was a dear personal friend with whom I shared many experiences in the effort to have a meaningful, successful and participatory poverty program in Clarksdale, Miss. His commitment to social justice was real, honest and complete. His death is a personal loss to me. "

Carr carried the human rights fight into the Episcopal Church circles too. A lifelong Episcopalian, he was one of the key speakers in the crucial 1969 General Convention at which the Church mapped out a special program of response to racism.

In 1971 Carr turned his energies to the resources that the Church needs to fulfill its commitment to human dignity. He became the Episcopal Church's first executive for stewardship/development and was instrumental in developing and implementing theologies of responsible giving. In the course of this he has edited several books and pamphlets on stewardship. At the time of his death, he was president of the National Council on Philanthropy, an organization serving private philanthropic work.

In commenting on Carr's widespread ministry, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John M. Allin, said: "His keen mind, charismatic charm, boundless energy and engaging manner provided him with talents that he was always eager to share widely in support of Christian mission. He was effective as a proclaimer of the Gospel in quiet conversation as well as from the speaker's podium."

While serving at the Church Center -- a post he left early in this year -- Carr was instrumental in launching and administering the $3. 1 million Cuttington College (Liberia) Crossroads Fund Drive.

He was also a key person in the protracted negotiations which produced, last August, a grant of over $2. 8 million from the United States Agency for International Development for a Rural Development Center which will use Cuttington College facilities in a concerted effort to increase productivity and farming techniques throughout the small African Republic. He was recently made a Knight Great Band of the Liberian Humane Order of African Redemption.

He has also received honorary degrees from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale (Doctorate in Canon Law and from Cuttington College (Doctor of Human Letters.)

In his local parish -- St. George's, Clarksdale -- he was a member of the vestry, a teacher and lay reader with special permission to preach sermons of his own composition. In the Diocese of Mississippi he has been a member of the Standing Committee, the Diocesan Council, president of the diocesan layman's organization and chairman of a successful diocesan capital funds drive. In New York City he was a vestryman of the Church of the Heavenly Rest.

Carr was an elected deputy from the Diocese of Mississippi to the General Convention in 1967, 1969, and 1970. At the 1970 meeting he chaired the strategic Agenda Committee and he has been on the Advisory Committee to the Convention's House of Deputies President.

The Convention in 1970 elected him to membership on the Executive Council from which he resigned to become executive for stewardship/development on the staff of the Episcopal Church Center.

Carr served on the Boards of Berkeley Divinity School; the Robert A. Taft Institute of Government, the Association of Episcopal Colleges, the Episcopal Church Foundation, and the Day School, New York.

He was a director of the Cotton Council International; president of the Delta Council of Mississippi; President of the Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce; and a founder of the National Cotton Producer's Institute.

In addition to the stewardship material he has written and edited, he produced a film on Cuttington College and the "Ellington is Forever" benefit concert at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in 1976.

He was a member of the Century Association and the University Club of New York.

The Rt. Rev. John B. Coburn, Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, was president of the Church's General Convention House of Deputies when Carr made his key address to the 1969 General Convention. On learning of Carr's death, Bishop Coburn said: "The death of Oscar Carr is a great loss to the entire Church. He has made a tremendous contribution, not simply to the financial well-being of the Church, but more importantly to its spiritual well-being. From the day he walked on to the platform at the Special General Convention at South Bend, Ind. in 1969, to talk about civil and human rights for oppressed minorities, until the day he died, he inspired his associates with his extraordinary spirit of devotion, integrity and commitment to God and to the work of his Church. Moreover, he had a contagious sense of humor. He was a rare bird, and I, along with hundreds whose lives he touched, loved him. "

He is survived by his widow, Billie Fisher Carr; five children: Oscar Clark, Blanche Busby, Palmer Scott, John T. Fisher, and Elaine Tucker Carr; a brother, Andrew Rembert Carr of Clarksale, Miss., and his mother, Mrs. Oscar C. Carr, Sr., also of Clarksdale, Miss.