The Reverend Robert Hunter, 1935-2020
The Reverend Robert Fulton Boyd Hunter was born in Alabama in 1935 to Robert and Ella Hunter. After receiving his BA from Fisk University in 1956, he attended Seabury Western Episcopal Seminary in Illinois. He was ordained to the diaconate in 1959 and to the priesthood in 1960. Robert Hunter began his career while still a deacon, as assistant at Emmanuel Church in Memphis. After his ordination to the priesthood he was called to serve at St. Mary’s in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he was rector from 1960 to 1964, and then to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. He served St. Paul’s from 1964 to 1975, after which he began what would be a 28 year ministry at Washington, D.C.’s Church of the Atonement. Fr. Hunter retired in 2003.
Robert Hunter joined the Union of Black Episcopalians in 1961, and was very active in the Civil Rights movement. On two occasions he was at the center of galvanizing events for the Episcopal Church in protesting racial injustices within the Church. In 1962, he and two other African American clergymen were refused service at the Claramont Restaurant in Sewanee, TN. This treatment came in spite of protests the previous summer, which had ended with the proprietor, Clara Shoemate, required to serve everybody of any race who was connected with the University of the South. Hunter and his two companions argued that although not connected to the school, they deserved to be served as visiting Episcopal clergy. Shoemate refused nonetheless, and ESCRU mounted a two-day sit-in.
In 1966, Hunter joined Albert Dreisbach to protest the use of Atlanta's St. Philip's Cathedral for the baccalaureate ceremony of the segregated Lovett School. Fr. Hunter endured a 98 hour fast in the cathedral. Their protest began the Wednesday before the Saturday service and ended only after the service was over. It attracted an outpouring of attention and support for ESCRU, but it would take another four years before the Lovett School was integrated.
Robert Hunter carried his deep commitment to justice and equality into his daily ministry, to the great benefit of his parishioners. Older members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Atlanta, where he served during the turbulent sixties and seventies, remembered the powerful effect of his witness and his devotion to personal ministry on their spiritual life, and many spoke of finding in St. Paul’s Church a community that was actively engaged with the world. While rooted in the Episcopal tradition, the parish still worked tirelessly towards spiritual renewal and greater justice within the Church itself.