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The Trauma of Forced Termination

An Interview With Henry Langford

Henry Langford is one of the more colorful people you'll ever meet.  I had the occasion to interview Henry for The Servant.  Henry was forced to resign his church after ten years of service over a letter he published regarding the Supreme Court decision in 1954 to abolish segregation.  In that letter Henry defended the Supreme Court's decision as the only one they could have made.

According to the article printed in the local paper, Henry's letter brought about a firestorm of criticism from the community and churches.  His own congregation rose up against him and forced him to resign.  No one came to his defense and he was unable to get another pastorate.  He eventually became Director of the Drug and Alcohol Council of Virginia Churches.

I recently asked Henry to reflect back on that experience.  Keep in mind that Henry is now in his eighties and this forced termination took place when he was forty-one years old.  This is an abbreviated version of the conversation with Henry Langford.    - Editor

Editor:  What do you remember most about that period in your family's life?

Henry:  I was very involved in writing and speaking about things like social and economic justice.  I wrote a weekly newspaper column for ten years.  During that time I wrote about current issues.  After that article came out I was quickly labeled a "n----- lover" and received many hostile calls and reactions.  I was forced to leave my church and discovered that no one would call me to be their pastor because I now had a reputation.  I had no other marks against me.  Each time my name came up before another congregation I was immediately dropped from consideration. After I was forced to resign, my family was going to have to move to a tobacco barn. Fortunately at the last moment, a more suitable place became available.

Editor:  How did this affect your family?

Henry:  My wife and I had three sons.  My wife was the heroine through all of the turmoil.  She was not only good looking but had a way of looking good, that is, she helped me keep my head above water.  My middle son was affected by this more than the other two.  We lost him eight years ago.  He would go to school and the other kids would taunt him and his father being a "n----- lover."  He would often come home from school crying.  He went through a great deal of pain that caused him life-long emotional struggles.  I have always felt we lost a son partially over what happened back then.  He was admitted to treatment centers over one hundred times, and his psychiatrists all agreed that the forced termination of his father and that period of trauma likely contributed to his emotional problems.  He later turned to drugs and alcohol. 

Editor:  How did this personally affect you, Henry?

Henry:  I went through a period of deep depression.  At one point I could not trust myself to carry my pocketknife with me, as I normally did.  One day many months later my wife commented that I must be feeling better because I picked up my pocketknife and put it in my pocket.  I tried denial and to pretend for a couple of years.  I became a workaholic and joined the Army Reserves.  No one reached out to me during that time.  Other preachers avoided me because they did not want to be associated with me.  I could not really blame them because they had a lot at stake. 

Editor:  What or who helped you the most during this painful time?

Henry:  My wife was my main support.  We would laugh sometime that things had gotten so rough we had to stop drinking black coffee, she had to stop wearing her favorite black dress, and I thought about trading in my old black car!  Sometimes you have to laugh and find humor to keep you alive.  My new work and the Army Reserves helped me move on.  I went to work for the Drug and Alcohol Education Council for Virginia Churches.  This gave me a renewed focus and sense of direction.

Editor:  What was the name of that column you wrote for ten years?

Henry:  It was titled "Do Unto Others."