In Huntsville, Alabama, the pastor of Lakeside United Methodist Church is the Reverend Frank Lee. Lakeside claims one of the best-educated congregations of United Methodist churches in Alabama. The Reverend Lee has experienced far more discrimination and misunderstanding within the church and outside it because of his blindness than because of his race. When he first became an ordained minister ready for assignment to a church, the conference leadership planned that he would be a conference evangelist serving without salary. He objected because the church to which he hoped to be assigned was being left without a minister. There was no escaping the conclusion that the conference leaders believed a blind person could not handle the responsibilities of a church pastor. Church members in all but one of the churches to which the Reverend Lee has been assigned have also objected at first to having a blind minister, but Lee has always won their love and respect in short order.
In the United Methodist Church in the mid-seventies it was not customary for the pastor to request a particular church. Rather, the conference bishop and district superintendents conferred with local churches to make assignments. The Reverend Lee found that he must depart from this practice and make the request. As a young minister, he had to challenge the decisions of his superiors, something not calculated ordinarily to gain their confidence and respect, but it was necessary. Winning the trust and affection of church leaders and parishioners has taken time, but Lee has done it.
Frank Lee was born in Semmes, Alabama, in 1942. Soon afterward, his family moved to Dothan. He found himself in the middle of a farm family of fifteen children. When he was six, one eye was injured in an accident. The medicine available to the Lees at the time could not prevent infection from spreading to the other eye, causing total blindness within a few months.
Lee feels fortunate that his family learned about the school for the blind in Talladega, and he went there a year later. He remembers crying when he had to leave home and return to school. He also remembers that it was the only way for him to get an education. The academic curriculum was quite good. Lee participated in many sports, including baseball and volleyball, as well as singing in the choir from elementary through high school.
The school Lee attended was the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, which consisted of four separate schools: the white deaf, the white blind, the black deaf and the black blind. The campus for the black blind was very small, and it was separated from all the others.
Frank Lee remembers things that were exciting opportunities to him at the time. In 1952 he was the first child in his part of the school to use the Perkins Braille Writer. In 1962 he was in the third class to graduate from the black blind school. Prior to 1959 there were so few black blind high school students that they took courses in a public school in Talladega, receiving high school diplomas there. While most schools for the blind in the 1950's and early 1960's were just getting a good start at integrating blind youngsters into public school classes, Lee's school was just getting enough blind students to offer a complete high school curriculum. Integration of the races was still almost a decade away.
Between 1962 and 1966 Frank Lee spent twenty-one months operating a vending facility under the Randolph-Sheppard program, but he wanted to go to college. He had earned good grades, but not until 1966 could he convince the state rehabilitation agency for the blind to help him. In 1970 he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Talladega College. During these years Lee worked periodically as a camp counselor and in vending facilities. He was also active in church work. He had been singing in church choirs for years, and in 1962 he preached his first sermon. In 1973 he completed studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He also studied at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York.
In 1976 Frank Lee married Frankie Boyd, whom he met in college.
Lee joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1982 and was elected Treasurer of the N.F.B. of Alabama in 1985. In 1986 he was elected to the National Board of Directors and re-elected in 1988.
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