Rev. B. H. Hester arrived to be pastor of the historic Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) in 1922.  Immediately, he firmly but quietly, and always with the gravitas of his position as Senior Minister, began to push at societal conventions which sought not only to segregate blacks but also to block their achievements in Fredericksburg.  He fostered communication and education within the church.  Even in the 1920s, he was pushing the historian and editor, Douglas Southall Freeman, to cease using pejorative and racist terms in his Richmond newspaper.  Rev. Hester’s carefully worded, firm letter complaining about demeaning language was sent to Mr. Freeman in March 1925and got a reply in one week.  The editor, persuaded by Rev. Hester’s letter, agreed that demeaning language toward blacks would no longer be used in stories in his Richmond newspaper.

Locally, Fredericksburg papers also were not spared his opinions or his expectations.  In 1937, he wrote the editor of the Free Lance-Star expressing concern over the lack of economic opportunity for area blacks hit hard by The Depression.   Rev. Hester did not just criticize the actions of others; he also was quick to praise when a positive step was taken.  In 1957, he wrote the Free Lance-Star lauding the appointment of a black police officer.  All his letters, positive or critical, were written in a firm, expressive manner to make his point.  One always knew where he stood on issues; he did not simply “sit by.”

Education for all was one of Rev. Hester’s top priorities. Beginning in 1923, he sponsored “Night School”, which essentially was adult education to improve literacy skills among his congregants and members of his community.  Rev. Hester led, taught, and coached at the City’s “Normal and Industrial School” for blacks until 1935.  Prior to Walker-Grant School, there was Mayfield High School, which benefited from Rev. Hester’s support. Funding was provided through the School Board, but the neither the needs of the students nor of the building could be met with such limited funding.  Thus, groups and individuals from Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) were constantly raising and contributing money.

Although racial integration was legalized by the 1954 Supreme Court decision, enforcement was resisted by state and local power brokers.  Undaunted, Rev. Hester continued his actions and was always in the vanguard pushing and explaining that “the law was the law.” Many giants of the Civil Rights movement stayed at Hester’s house at 515 Amelia Street, including Mary M. Bethune, W.E.B. DuBois, Phillip Randolph, and Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.  Believing the time was right for action, Rev. Hester increased support and pushed involvement in the Civil Rights movement and, as always, was “Neutral on Nothing.”

Full and complete information about Rev. Hester can be found in the book, Neutral on Nothing. by his granddaughter, Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater.  This book is for sale at Shiloh Old Site and at various local book shops throughout the area.

Free Lance Star article:
Ambassador Bridgewater’s new book pays tribute to her grandfather, the activist pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site)