The Rev. Joseph A. Boles, a pioneering pastor and civil rights leader in Tacoma for five decades, died Monday.
Boles, who retired in 2000 after 47 years as pastor of St. John Baptist Church, died in his sleep at his home in Jackson, Tenn., said Eric Boles, one of his three sons.
He was 90.
Boles founded St. John Baptist on Tacoma’s Hilltop in 1952. A few years later, he labored to end housing discrimination and get blacks hired for the first time at local stores.
In the 1960s, Boles helped Tacoma recover from a race riot. And in the 1990s, he challenged police to improve their treatment of African Americans.
“The gospel compels a preacher to stand up for the rights of all people,” Boles told The News Tribune in 2000. “People need somebody to speak up for them.”
Harold Moss, a former Tacoma mayor and Pierce County councilman, described Boles as “a very, very strong leader.”
“His whole congregation kind of followed him into the civil rights movement,” said Moss, an African-American involved in the movement himself.
Boles had planned to finish 50 years as St. John’s pastor, but congestive heart failure forced him to retire early at age 77.
On the advice of his doctor, he took a less stressful path away from church members who constantly sought his counsel. He retired in Jackson, near his hometown.
He said before leaving in 2000 he planned to fish, raise worms, watch birds, learn how to use the Internet and perhaps write a book.
Instead, he taught Sunday school and helped the pastor of a church in Jackson, called St. John #1 Baptist Church, said Eric Boles, who lives in Tacoma.
The elder Boles even started a little church of his own so there would be services on Sunday nights.
“Ministering and pastoring and encouraging is in his blood, in his DNA,” said Eric Boles, 43. “He still functioned with purpose all the way until the end.”
Eric Boles said his father taught him how to look at life and gave him two books for advice: the Bible and “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
“He taught me how to think,” Eric Boles said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.”
Thomas Dixon, president emeritus of the Tacoma Urban League, said there’s “no question” Boles helped advance civil rights in Tacoma.
Boles and another late Tacoma pastor and civil rights leader, the Rev. Earnest S. Brazill, were two of his strongest supporters at the Urban League, Dixon said.
Brazill, former pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Tacoma, died in 2000 at the age of 90.
Over the years in Tacoma, Boles trained many new ministers. He started and led the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, a socially influential, predominantly black association.
His former church at 2001 S. J St. now goes by the name St. John Church Transformation Ministries International.
“A giant has fallen,” said the Rev. LeeArthur Madison, the St. John Church pastor who succeeded Boles. “He brought critical changes for diverse ethnic communities.”
Madison said plans for a memorial service at St. John are pending.
Boles’ survivors include his wife, Lewi Cathryn, three sons and a daughter. Another daughter preceded him in death.
Boles will be buried in Stanton, Tenn., near Jackson, Eric Boles said.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 firstname.lastname@example.org @TNTstevemaynard