Nick Welsh’s piece on efforts to secure landmark status for the Second Baptist Church on Gutierrez Street shed new light on early Santa Barbara history, and it brought back fond memories of Rev. Leander Wilkes’s tenure as pastor of that church.
Few may recall that Rev. Wilkes’s entire family were celebrated members of the community, including his wife, Thelma, who worked in the Financial Aid Department at UCSB, his son, Jamal, who was a L.A. Lakers superstar and member of one of the famed NBA championship teams, and his daughter, Gail, who was a teacher in the Santa Barbara School District.
I was honored to give sermons on two occasions in that church in the early 2000s and enjoyed friendship with members of Rev. Wilkes’s family before and after he passed away in 2005.
There is much more that can be written about his legacy and that of many other Black clergy, such as Rev. JB Ficklin, who exemplified the spiritual strength and resilience of our local African-American community. Former Santa Barbara poet laureate Sojourner Kincaid is currently conducting research on the outstanding, yet little known history of Black Santa Barbara notables.
The approval of St. Paul A.M.E. Church as a historical landmark, where I was also deeply honored to deliver a sermon as far back as 1979, was a significant first step in preserving this precious local legacy. May there soon be more.
Hymon T. Johnson is professor emeritus at Antioch University and a former Trustee for the Goleta Union School District.