A delegation of black leaders from Atlanta came to the Plains Baptist Church this morning to express their friendship for Griffin B. Bell, his choice for Attorney General.
The President-elect introduced two bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a black boyhood friend from his hometown of Archery, just west of Plains, to members and guests at his men's Sunday school.
Members of the delegation told reporters they had come to show their support for Bell, who has been criticized by some civil rights leaders for his membership in segregated clubs and for some of his decisions as a federal appeals court judge.
"Judge Bell is a good man," said William D. Johnson Jr., who grew up with Carter in the tiny town of Archery, where Johnson's late father, a bishop in the AME Church, was, in Carter's words, the head of "the most distinguished family in our neighborhood."
Johnson, who organized the trip, brought with him Bishops William Reed Wilkes and H. I. Bearden, both of Atlanta. Bearden idenfied himself as the chairman of the board of trustees of Morris Brown College on Atlanta, which named Bell its "man of the year" in 1976.
The appearance of the blacks at Carter's church, which only last month voted to end its ban on black members. was low key and casual.
But it served to emphasize, at a time when Carter is getting some criticism from liberals for the choice of Bell, the remarkable bonds that exist between the President-elect and blacks in his own state and community.
It was reminiscent, in this respect, of the strong show of support for Carter from Atlanta black leaders last April, when he was under fire for his "ethnic purity" remark during the campaign.
Fanny Johnson Hill of Tulsa, Okla, daughter of the late bishop, who was part of today's delegation, told reporters that in Archery the Carters "had better relations (with blacks) than anyone I knew, in spite of conditions in the state at that time . . . it was not easy (for them), but you could not tell it," he said.
"Mrs. (Lillian) Carter was very lovely to our family," Mrs, Hill said. "In fact, I think I wouldn't have had a son if it hadn't been for Miss Lillian. She was a nurse and she came to my rescue when my doctor had given him up. And I believe the remedy worked and so I have a son (George F. Hill) and he is a Lietenant colonel stationed in Germany with the Air Force."
Johnson said he had initiated the visit and called Carter "to make the arrangements." The Atlanta group stopped briefly at Carter's home and drove to church in the President-elect's motorcade. When Carter, his wife, Rosalynn, and daughter Amy, went to worship.
Carter chatted, briefly with tourists after church, but he did not linger outdoors on the chilly day.
Afterwards, Bishop Wilkes sounded more reserved in his endorsement of Bell, saying that Bell's membership in two Atlanta clubs that have no black or Jewish members "would have made some difference to me personally." Bell has said that he will resign from the clubs but argued that social segregation was "the way of life" in Atlanta.
The bishop said he did "not necessarily" agree with that views. "It has been up until a few years back, of course," he said, "but I don't think it's universal so far as Atlanta is concerned."
But Wilkes said that the matter of Bell's club memberships was not "serious enough to deny that the President should have the right to appoint him," and said he thinks Bell "is trained enough and disciplined enough to do justice."At Sunday school, Clarence Dodson, the group's regular teacher and a deacon of the church, found a parallel between the President-elect and Jesus Christ. Expounding on Luke's account of Christ's infancy, Dodson asked, "Who would expect the Messiah to come from such a little, insignificant place, from such an insignificant home, a quiet place, a place for common people?"
Then, looking at Carter seated on a folding steel chair in the front row of the unadorned basement room where the class meets, Dodson added: "Who would expect to come from the little town of Plains such a famous person as we have sitting before us today?"
After a quiet weekend, Carter resumes his pre-inaugural meetings here Monday with Thomas B. (Bert) Lance, his choice for director of the Office of Management and Budget. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, is tentatively slated to join him.
The presumption is that they will discuss legislation to give Carter statutory power to begin his promised reorganization of the executive branch. The legislation will be handled by Brooks' committee in the House.