Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Pastor Raleigh Washington to the newsmakers line.
During the second hour, Washington reflected on his time in the military as an African American officer in the Army and his later dedication to ministry.
Leahy: We are joined now by Pastor Raleigh Washington of Jacksonville, Florida. Good morning Raleigh.
Washington: Good morning my brother. Good to be with you.
Leahy: Thank you for joining us. You have quite an interesting career. I’m looking at your biography Raleigh and it said that you went to Florida A&M University in the 1950s. Was that the Rattlers?
Washington: You better believe it. (Laughs)
Leahy: The Rattlers! You were there I think a little bit before Bob Hayes. Didn’t Bob Hayes go there?
Washington: Yes. Bob Hayes, when I was a senior he was a freshman.
Leahy: Was he fast? Or was he fast?
Washington: He was faster than a speeding bullet I’ll tell you that. (Chuckles)
Leahy: Man, I tell you what. He was one of my sports heroes because he came out of Florida A&M and the Rattlers and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and boy was he fast. He was a good wide receiver. He was really spectacular. What kind of guy was Bob Hayes?
Washington: Bob was a real decent man. He was from Jacksonville, Florida just like myself.
Leahy: Oh, you were both from Jacksonville?
Washington: Oh yeah. Jacksonville, Florida. And he was a great man. He did some great things in the community. Loved by all. Really respected. And his later days he was trapped by substance abuse which got the best of him.
But his legacy was a solid legacy because he came from an inner-city neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida, and lived on the east side. He gave back to the community during the days he played as a sportsman. He really talked to young people. He wanted young people to do the right thing. Not be in gangs etc. So he was a real community spokesman and activator. And he was a person that we really looked up to.
Leahy: So you actually walked onto the baseball team in Florida A&M in the late 50s. You got a scholarship. What position did you play?
Washington: (Chuckles) I played third base and center field.
Leahy: Ah, OK. Then the Chicago Cubs offered you a minor league contract but you turned them down and you stayed and got your degree.
Washington: That is exactly correct. And when I graduated they came back to me and offered me a contract at the end of my sophomore year and I said no I’m going to finish college. And I really was thinking about it. But when I graduated I also did four years of ROTC. I had a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. So I had a choice of going to the Cubs farm system or going to the Army as a second lieutenant. And I chose to go into the Army.
Leahy: You know it could have been Ernie Banks at shortstop and a Raleigh Washington at third base instead of Ron Santo.
Washington: (Chuckles) Well you know I thought about that a lot. Sometimes I look back and say I wish I had considered that because I had a tremendous batting eye. I had blazing speed. And I had a lot that would have served me well as a professional baseball player.
But the choice that I made to go into the Army turned out to be the best choice that I could have made because I had a two-year commitment initially. This was in 1960 when I really went into the military as an officer. There weren’t very many African American officers. Especially in the Adjutant Generals Core which I was a part of in the administration.
You learn discipline and leadership. You learn men. You understand as an officer you were required to be an officer and a gentleman. I gave my life to Christ one year before I got out of the military. I ended up staying there for 20 years. But I lived a solid moral life because to be successful as an officer you needed to do that.
So I learned some very good traits about leadership. About leading men. About doing things the right way that would be successful as an officer. So I think I made the right choice. And it served me exceedingly well when I got out of the military 20 years later and went into ministry.
Leahy: So you graduated in 1983 from the Evangelical Free Church and then you went on to found The Rock Church. Was that in Chicago?
Washington: That was in Chicago. That’s right. I planted a church on the west side of the Evangelical Free Church of America. And I did it in 1983. They have about 1300 churches in that denomination. But I was the only African American pastor. I was really Jackie Robinson of the Evangelical Free Church.
Leahy: (Laughs) I really love that. The Jackie Robinson of Evangelical preachers. And then in 1998, you left the rock church to join Promise Keepers. That was the Bill McCartney, the coach of the national championship Colorado football team, wasn’t it?
Washington: That is correct. I really joined them in 1994. My church was very successful on the west side of Chicago and it was diverse. 65 percent African Americans and 35 percent were white. And we were located in a 99 percent African American neighborhood. And that was a dynamic that really went well. My partner minister Glen Kerhein who was White. We worked together.
We co-opted a book called Breaking Down Walls: Moral Reconciliation in an Age of Strife. That developed eight principles of reconciliation. And that was something that interested Promise Keepers when they got started. So in 1993, Glen and I went and we shared when they had the first full stadium of 50,000 men in Boulder, Colorado. They had 5,000 pastors there and we spoke to them on that Friday before the conference started on that Friday afternoon.
And about two or three weeks later they invited me to join the board of directors for Promise Keepers. I joined them in 1994. And in 1996 I went on staff full-time to take over the reconciliation department and I was the vice president of Reconciliation in 1996 for Promise Keepers.
Leahy: Where were you then? Were you in Chicago?
Washington: In that time I was in Denver, Colorado. I lived in Aurora. But Promise Keepers is based in Denver, Colorado. I moved in 1996 from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, and was full-time there. I continued to travel every weekend back and forth until they could get someone to replace me at my church. But I was really full time as vice president of Reconciliation for Promise Keepers. Working for Bill McCartney. And he’s the one that really recruited me.
Leahy: So you stayed there until just recently?
Washington: From ’94 I joined the board. ’96 I joined the staff. And I was on the staff until 2003. In 2003 coach McCartney and I left Promise Keepers. We were best friends and we launched a ministry called The Road to Jerusalem. All about reconciling Jewish believers and gentile believers.
We did that for five years from 2003 to 2008. In 2008 the chairman of the board of Promise Keepers called both of us back. The coach went back to Promise Keepers as chairman of the board. And then I came back in 2008 as president of Promise Keepers and stayed in that role for the next 10 years.
Leahy: And Raleigh tell us a little bit about if you would what you are doing now.
Washington: Michael Patrick I think I understand my qualifications really to speak on how things are going now. When I was in the military and Adjutant Generals Core I was almost always the only African American. It’s an elite branch of the military and I always worked for the headquarters and worked for the generals.
And throughout my 20-year career, I was almost always the only African American officer. The military is a very competitive arena. And all of the enemies I had in the military were White. But all of the friends that I had in the military were White. So I learned at an early age that you don’t judge people by the color of their skin. But rather by the content of their character. I advanced rapidly in the military.
I was moving up the line very fast. I commanded a battalion at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It became the number one battalion at Fort Bragg North Carolina. The home of The Airborne. I commanded the San Juan District Recruiting Command in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It was the number one recruiting command in the military. One White colonel said and it’s on record if you don’t stop Raleigh Washington he’ll be the first Black general in the general’s core. And a conspiracy ensued and they came after me with bogus allegations that just were not true.
These allegations resulted in a number of investigations. I ended up before the Adjutant board in Atlanta, Georgia with seven White generals on that board. For one week they interrogated me and could not really find anything that would stick. But after a week of investigation, they subjectively found me guilty of conduct unbecoming of an officer.
In the Adjutant Generals Corps, I knew the regulations. There are four separate sets of regulations that must be found against an officer for an officer to be determined as guilty of conduct unbecoming. None of those four criteria were in my record. So they subjectively found that on me. But to make things worse they offered me retirement in lieu of being discharged.
I had become a believer in Jesus just one year before all of that took place. And my wife and I both believers said, you know, they are offering me a retirement. They want to offer me a retirement in lieu of being discharged. And so I turned it down.
After serving 19 years, 11 months, and 29 days one day short of 20 years which is mandatory retirement I was discharged from the military under other than honorable conditions. Why? Envy. Jealously. Racism. Well, I had a choice to make at that time. I could become bitter or become better. And I chose to become better.
I went into the seminary and got a master’s divinity degree at Trinity Divinity School and then I planted the church. Met a Jewish lawyer after having an accident by the name of Jeff Strain and I was telling him that story. And when Jeff heard it he said, that’s not fair. We need to do something. I said Jeff what are we going to do? He said I know nothing about military law but we need to do something. We are going to take them on. And I said well Jeff, I have no money to hire you for that.
He said I didn’t ask for any money. This Jewish lawyer by the name of Jeff Strain took my case on a pro bono basis. Fought the military for nine years. And at the end of nine years, he caused the military to say uncle. They reversed themselves and called me back for to active duty to serve one day so that I might retire.
He hooked up with another lawyer in Washington, D.C. and they made my retirement three months later retroactive for the entire nine years. They also expunged my records. Today in Washington, D.C. I have an immaculate record without any of those allegations spot of a blemish. And I am now a retired lieutenant colonel. Who else could do that but a holy God?
Listen to the full second hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Raleigh Washington” by Raleigh Washington.