When I first met the Rev. Carlton Eversley in 1984, he was a skinny stranger from Brooklyn with a Yankee accent and a youthful vibe.
Over the years his hair grayed and he grew a thick beard. But his spirit was just as lively as back then, more years ago than I care to count.
His name may not be as familiar to Greensboro readers, but you ought to know about him.
Eversley died Monday at the age of only 62. He was a husband and a father. But he also made it his calling to tweak his community’s conscience when it needed it. And it needed it often.
As an elder statesman among faith leaders in Winston-Salem, Eversley was the pastor of Dellabrook Presbyterian Church for 35 years, which was more than a full-time job in itself. Yet he seemed to be everywhere all the time. He was an early leader of the Black Leadership Roundtable, which sought to marshal African American political power and hold elected officials accountable. He was involved as well in the NAACP and the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.
He fought the steady resegregation of public schools in Forsyth County and adamantly opposed a “school-choice plan” that exacerbated that problem. He advocated for a citizens police review committee in Winston-Salem.
He was a steadfast supporter of Darryl Hunt, who served 19 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit and who was finally freed in 2004 by DNA evidence and a confession from the actual killer .
Eversley had arrived in Winston-Salem the year Hunt was tried and convicted. He was one of the founding members of the Darryl Hunt Defense Committee, which raised money for Hunt’s defense and led efforts to sustain Hunt’s long, hard struggle for exoneration.
Carlton never lost faith in Hunt’s innocence — or that the truth would one day set Hunt free.
As community leaders shared memories of Carlton with the Winston-Salem Journal on Monday, there was a common thread: Whether you were an ally or foe, you had to respect the power and honesty of his convictions.
“He was a man of God who only was fighting for what he believed,” state Rep. Donny Lambeth, who formerly served on the Winston-Salem-Forsyth County school board, told the Journal in an email, “and how could you disagree with that passion?”
What you saw was what you got. And what you always got with Carlton was intelligence, integrity and most of all, candor. You never, ever had to guess where he stood.
In 2009, he stood at the altar with me and my wife-to-be. Eversley officiated at our wedding in 2009. He was the obvious choice.
In a sense, Carlton and I grew up together in Winston-Salem. When he got there, I was a relative newcomer myself, having been in town only three years as editor of that city’s African American weekly newspaper, the Winston-Salem Chronicle.
And if I was doing my job, there was no way our paths couldn’t cross. He immersed himself in the community from Day One. And not just in Winston-Salem. In 2005, he spoke at the Truth & Reconciliation hearings on the Nov. 3, 1979, Greensboro Massacre.
And in 2003 we appeared together as part of a panel at Bennett College. The topic was intolerance of gays on historically black campuses and Carlton confronted a mostly student audience with his belief that it was wrong. Mind you, this was at a time when few black clergy were stepping out on that topic. Not blinking an eye, he quoted chapter and verse in the Bible to support his points.
And he challenged his student audience, which included a group of males from N.C. A&T who had hooted at some panelists’ comments, not to be hypocritical on the question of equal rights. If they’re good enough for you, why not for others?
From the day I met Carlton Eversley I always admired his fierce and honest courage.
And I always will.