He was arrested in 1960 when he led a group of protesters against a Rockville, Md., restaurant that refused to serve blacks inside. He participated in sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., in the early 1960s. He orchestrated the rebuilding of a church he pastored in North Carolina when it was torn down because of redevelopment.
And yesterday, the Rev. Dr. Cecil Bishop, pastor of John Wesley AME Zion Church, urged about 300 members of his congregation to look beyond the fire that destroyed their church last week, just as a $400,000 restoration project was nearing an end.
"I know we've had a fire," he said in the pulpit of the Simpson-Hamiline United Methodist Church at 16th and Allison atreets NW. "But it's not the end of the world. All we need to do now is roll up our sleeves and decide that we can do the job that needs to be done. It can be done."
That message was greeted by "Amens" from the crowd of elderly and middle-aged worshipers who were grief-stricken by the destruction of their church at 14th and Corcoran streets NW.
"The word has been going around that John Wesley Church burned," Bisohp said, his voice rising and perspiration making heads on his forehead. "John Wesley Church did not burn. Only the building that housed John Wesley burned. John Wesley AME Zion Church is alive and well in Washington, D.C."
A tall man with long sideburns and black hair that shows a few traces of gray, Bishop went to Simpson-Hamline yesterday to inspire his congregation. And inspire he did.
"Our spirits were down," said Olyvie Woodland, a church member for decades. "Rev. Bishop built them up."
Biship has enlivened spirits before. On July 10, 1960, after preaching service to his congregation at the Clinton AME Zion Church in Rockville, Bishop led 23 members to a nearby restaurant that served blacks in its outside, drive-in sections only. They tried to be served in the dining room and at the doughnut shop lunch counter.
"We told them we wanted to come in and eat," Bishop recalled. "They said they were closed. There were whites eating in there. We told them we would stay outside until they opened."
The police arrived and told the group to leave or they would be arrested. They refused to leave.
"The humorous thing about it was that the police took our names, then told us to drive to the police station in our cars and they would meet us there," bishop said.
In lat 1960, Bishop moved to Greensboro, where he became the pastor of Trinity AME Zion Church. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE
"They [the sit-ins at lunch counters] were already going on when I got there," he said.
For several months, Bishop said, mass meetings were held at his church by the demonstrators, which included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, then a student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.
Bishop said he participated in the sit-ins, although he was never arrested.
For years, Bishop remained active in the civil rights movement. The Rev. D. Martin Luther King had been scheduled to speak at Bishop's church on April 4, 1968, the day he was killed in Memphis, Tenn. King had cancelled the scheduled appearance at Bishop's church to go to Memphis for a demonstration with garbage workers who were on strike.
While in Greensboro, Bishop said, the building that housed his church was torn down because of redevelopment in the area. The congregation was housed temporarily in another church while their building was rebuilt.
In 1975, Bishop became pastor on John Wesley AME Zion Church, in Washington. He had served as an assistant there in 1956 when he was a theology student at Howard University.
Bishop attended public schools in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He holds degrees from Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tenn., Howard University, Wesley Theological Seminary and Livingstone State College in Salisbury, N.C.
He and his wife, Wilhelm, live in northwest Washington.
"Out of every crisis situation, there are always some good and positive things remaining," Bishop told his congregation yesterday. "There is a bright side somewhere."
Bishop said he hopes that insurance will cover the fire damages, estimated at $600,000 by the architect for the church's restoration project.
Meanwhile, he said, several local congregations and private citizens have offered donations and the use of their facilities.
Fire officials have said that the fire started from a hot plate in an anteroom behind the church altar and pulpit. No one was injured. CAPTION: Picture 1, DR. CECIL BISHOP...it's not the end of the world; Picture 2, Dr. Bishop greets members of his congregation after telling them that their church was alive and well, despite the fire. By Larry Morris - The Washington Post