His funeral procession followed the path the Rev. J.H. Flakes Jr. had paved in life, from meager means in Phenix City to meaning so much to so many in Columbus.
His body was moved from Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church across the Chattahoochee River to Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church Friday morning, bridging the two congregations he served for more than 50 years.
But this homegoing celebration was for more than just the home folks. Dignitaries came from the federal, state and local governments and as far away as Germany, where Flakes helped start several churches. Mourners from different races and faiths lined up two hours before the service and packed the 1,000-seat sanctuary to bid farewell to the civil rights activist and community leader.
Funeral organizers made arrangements to accommodate the overflow crowd: A shuttle ran between the Columbus Civic Center and church for off-site parking; closed-circuit televisions showed the service in other church rooms; the funeral was broadcast live on WKZJ-FM 92.7 and WOKS-AM 1340 and streamed live on the church's website, www.4thst.org.
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Photos of Flakes through the years were projected on a screen above the pulpit as a recording of his preaching and teaching played. "I look back and see difficulties, but I can smile. I just raise my hands and say, 'Thank you, Lord!'"
And that was the main message from the funeral's 25 speakers during the more than three-hour service: gratitude to God for Flakes' wonderful work.
From the impoverished Pumpkin Bottom area of Phenix City and wayward ways, they said, he reached the rich mountain top of Heaven by lifting himself so he could lift others.
"We know he's in that land," the Rev. Bertrain Bailey, pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, said during the prayer of comfort.
The choir sang, "This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day long." The speakers told Flakes' 77-year story as a pastor and leader, friend and father.
"He was a small man in physical stature, yet he possessed giant skills," said the Rev. Forrest Harris, president of the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., where Flakes chaired the board of trustees for nearly 20 years and the administration building is named after him.
Resolutions and praise were presented from the Baptist movement, Columbus and Phenix City councils, Georgia and Alabama Legislatures, U.S. Congress and even the White House. Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson remarked how Flakes found the balance between being a "divinely inspired leader" and "agitating what needed shaking up." He was among those who shepherded Columbus through racial tensions relatively peacefully compared to other cities but he still spoke out against injustice.
Smiths Station, Ala. Mayor LaFaye Dellinger said Flakes epitomized Isaiah 6:8, "Lord, here am I. Send me."
The testimonies also were personal.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said Flakes "knew how to chastise in a loving way."
Dorsey Stancil, chairman of deacons at Fourth Street, said Flakes emphasized that our lives are like a "tiny little minute" in the grand scope of the world and it is up to each of us to make the most of it. Flakes "made everything a teachable moment," he said, "and God never was left out of that moment."
Bob Poydasheff, a former Columbus mayor, said Flakes' legacy left us a challenge: "If we're going to have a new Jerusalem, a city on a hill, you've got to work for it. Continue the fight. Continue the fight. Put down racism. Put down evil."
The Rev. J.H. Flakes III, who succeeded his father at Fourth Street in April, said he learned to love Christ, family and commitment through his father's life lessons, best exemplified in 58 years of marriage to his wife, Robena. Flakes Jr. grew up during a time when men were reluctant to say "I love you" or give enough hugs. Flakes III noted, however, his father wasn't too proud to change his ways after his children told him they needed to hear and feel more of his love.
"Daddy would say, 'Do what?'"
The congregation replied, "Rejoice."
Flakes III asked louder, "Do what?"