He was born and raised in Grundy County, but he couldn’t go to school there.
He did painstaking work at a sawmill no one else wanted to do, but he was threatened so many times his boss placed a rifle next to his work station.
Prominent local minister Eugene Wilkerson, now 70, has preached the gospel for more than 40 years and says he prays for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin.
“Things have improved, but we have so far to go,” said Wilkerson as Black History Month comes to a close on Sunday. “I truly wish people could get along. For me, I love everybody. There is good and bad in all races and there’s no reason to hate a race. To me, things have not settled down like they should be. I wish things were better.”
Wilkerson preaches at Browntown Church of Christ in the Morrison area. Born in 1950, he couldn’t even attend school in his own community.
“I grew up in Grundy County, but I couldn’t go to school there,” said Wilkerson. “Teachers called me the N-word and could say whatever they wanted to me and no one did anything about it. I had to go to school in Coffee County.”
Wilkerson said his mother still lives in Grundy County and he owns property there. Racial relations over the years have improved, he said, but there was nowhere to go but up.
He recalls when he took a job at a local sawmill as a 16-year-old. The work was extremely strenuous and required lifting lumber the entire shift. Because the job was so difficult, employees didn’t last long before they quit. Wilkerson was the exception.
He was a hard worker who didn’t mind the heavy lifting. But that didn’t stop people from disliking him because of the color of his skin.
“There were people who threatened to blow up the business because I was working there,” said Wilkerson. “My boss didn’t want to lose me because that was a hard job to fill. There wasn’t anybody who would do it for long. I was catching it from my co-workers too. So one day my boss got a 22 rifle and he set it next to my work station. He said if anybody gave me too much trouble to shoot them. That’s what he said.”
Wilkerson got his start preaching at Hiwasee Church of Christ and has been at Browntown for decades. He said preacher George King has been an inspiration to him and he uses King as a model. These COVID times have been tough for church membership in general.
“I’m a talker,” said Wilkerson. “You see people at the convenience store and you strike up a conversation. If they don’t have a church family, you invite them to church. There are things you can do, but this coronavirus has made it tough.”
Wilkerson said Browntown has some 50 regulars who attend on Sunday and he ministers to more people than that.
“You have to be there for people when they need you,” said Wilkerson. “Sometimes it’s at midnight.”
Wilkerson said his focus has always been on following the Bible and conveying its teachings. He says he reads the Bible as much as possible and listens to Bible verses on tape while traveling in his vehicle.