Pastor and Civil Rights Leader, Dr. W. O. Wells Sr., Passes at 84

Dr. W. O. Wells Sr.
Dr. W. O. Wells Sr.

The Rev. Dr. Willie Oliver Wells Sr.–pastor of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, in Cocoa, for more than 50 years, well-known civil rights leader, and great servant of the Lord in church and civic affairs–died on Nov. 4. He was 84.

Rev. Wells was an inspiring leader who identified with the struggle for decency, justice and security for all people. The U.S. Army veteran served the church and his country with fearless courage and was a champion of all causes he believed to be right. His kind, friendly spirit will be missed, especially by those who worked closely with him.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, Nov. 14, at 1 p.m., at First Baptist Church, 140 Magnolia Ave., Merritt Island. A viewing will be held on Friday, Nov. 13, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, 213 Stone St., in Cocoa. Services are entrusted to Stone Funeral Home, 516 Stone St., in Cocoa (Telephone: 321-636-2344).

Rev. Wells rendered faithful service and will long be remembered for his many contributions to the betterment of our community. Not the least of these is the part he played in the development of affordable housing for local residents, equal opportunity employment, and his leadership and courageous support of racial justice.

Rev. Wells was born on April 11, 1931, in Miami. He was the youngest of seven children born to Lillie and Rev. O. W. Wells Sr., pastor of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, in Ft. Lauderdale.

He graduated from Dillard High School in 1949, and attended Bethune Cookman College on a football scholarship. During his sophomore year, his father passed, and he entered the U.S. Army. He attended leadership school in Virginia, and was stationed in Germany, for two years. Afterwards, he attended Fisk University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Also, he attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary, in Nashville, and graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree, in 1955.

In 1955, he married Annie Ruth Collins, of Cocoa. The couple lived in Tennessee, and he was pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, in Nashville, for two years.

In 1959, when there was a vacancy for a pastor at Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Rev. Wells was selected to fill that position. Then, the couple moved to Cocoa.

At that time, blacks were barred from public beaches, parks, restrooms and restaurants, in Brevard County and elsewhere. Rev. Wells worked to change the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws.

In 1969, Rev. Wells received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Conroe Normal College, in Conroe, TX, for his work in civil rights.

During the early 1960’s, Rev. Wells was a Freedom Rider who led non-violent civil protests. He was an original member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference–along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–and during his lifetime Rev. Wells spearheaded many projects to combat racism, poverty, drug abuse and crime. He was instrumental in bringing about desegregation, in Brevard County, where he led anti-segregation campaigns and held various civic leadership positions.

He served as president of the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), vice-president of the Florida branch of the NAACP, and chairman of the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Cocoa.

Rev. Wells established: the Community Action Agency of Brevard, which provided low-income day care centers, Project Uplift, a fund for interest free loans to the church’s members, and in 1968, he constructed two low-rent apartment complexes, Shull Manor (65 apartment units, in Melbourne) and Tropical Manor (85 apartment units, in Merritt Island). In 1978, Dr. Wells led Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in building a $1.2 million complex.

In addition to pastor and civic leader, his service and affiliation also included:

–Instructor, Old Testament, National Congress of Christian Education, 1959 to present.
–Member, Board of Directors, Florida General Baptist Convention, 1962 to present.
–Member, Florida East Coast Baptist Association, 1960 to present.
–Moderator, Florida East Coast Baptist Association, 1985 to present.
–President, Florida General Baptist Congress of Christian Education, 1977 to 1983.
–Dean, J.T. Brown Seminar of the Florida East Coast Baptist Association, 1970 to 1984.
–Vice-President, National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, 1977 to 1983.
–Bible Expositor, Northern Division, Ministers and Deacons Union of the Florida East Coast Baptist Association, 1964 to 1971.
–Special Representative, State Congress to the National Congress of Christian Education, 1984 to 1991.
–Instructor, Florida East Coast Sunday School and B.T.U. Congress, 1961 to 1971.

Dr. Annie Ruth Wells passed, in 2008. The couple had four children, and 10 grandchildren. Rev. Wells retired as pastor of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, in 2011.

He leaves to mourn his passing: sons: Rev. Willie Oliver Wells Jr. (Jimmie Lee), Rev. Oliver W. Wells (Linda), and daughter, Annette O. Wells, all of Cocoa; daughter, Dee Dee Wells (Michael) of Maryland; and a host of other loving relatives, church members, and friends.

SOURCE: Valetta Chaney