Elizabeth Wilson Bynum was born in Tunica, Miss., in 1925, the same year Medgar Evers was born in Decatur, Miss., and B.B. King in Itta, Miss. That same year, A. Philip Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Like Evers and King, Bynum was destined for a mission”as chaplain of the South Austin Coalition and chair of its senior department as well as national chaplain of the Association of Ministers. We recently interviewed her for a continuing series, “Westsiders you should know.”
Austin Weekly News: What brought you to Chicago?
Elizabeth Bynum: The betterment of my children’s education. I was disgusted in the South for African-American children to finish high school and get to college to work under a “drop-out” white who may not have gone any further then seventh grade. It was too much for me to sacrifice my three children to get a decent education. At that time, they could not use it according to their ability. They had to accept, as Dr. King said, “according to the color of their skin.” So I just didn’t see it, and I didn’t accept it. At this time, I had married my second husband, Sterling Bynum, and he had come to Chicago, so we decided to move to Chicago and bring the children here. (Rev. Bynum’s first husband, Albert Turner, passed away when her three sons were young. Rev. Bynum came to Chicago, Aug. 24, 1956.)
AWN: Do young people ever ask you about growing up in the South and about racism?
EB: Sometimes”and yes, this is what drove me to come to the North. The difference in opportunities when we lived in Memphis”we were called “colored” at that time, and we could only go to the city zoo on Tuesday, but the whites could go any day they wanted to. And even though this was our only day, whites would still be there in your way, but nothing was said about it. I was exposed to Jim Crow, riding on the back of the bus. I left in 1956, and they were just beginning to try to get changes because Rosa Parks in 1955 had made her stand. I was living in Memphis at the time of the horror situation with Emmett Till, and all of that together was enough to think about bringing the male children away from things like that.
AWN: How long have you been a resident of the West Side?
EB: Since Sept. 20, 1970
AWN: When were you called to the ministry?
EB: It was on the day of the Oak Lawn tornado, April 21, 1967. I received the calling that day at approximately 12 o’clock. I went to work that morning, and I was a member of New Mount Zion Baptist Church, where I am still a member. I was teaching the advanced class of Sunday School and something spiritual came over me. I tried to keep teaching the Sunday School, not knowing before the sun went down I would have to accept the calling. I had been working for Hillman’s stores where I was also the speaker for the local union. I was very pleased to be a spokesperson for the union because I was able to arbitrate various issues. I was inducted into the hall of hame in 2004 as a peacemaker. I [have been a] peacemaker from childhood. I would speak out to the teacher to avoid children getting punished for things they didn’t do. The day of this storm, something got into me so strong, I just felt I couldn’t go any further. … My father lived long enough to see me ordained in 1973; my mother had already passed on.
AWN: How did you become involved with South Austin Coalition?
EB: Well I joined the civic organization on Lake Street. I moved to Austin in 1970, and I found this block club which went into Austin Civic, and the boundaries were from Central to Austin and from West End to Chicago Avenue. Mrs. Juanita Rutues was the chairperson and our meeting place was at Third Unitarian Church.
AWN: Rev. Bynum, how would you like to be remembered?
EB: I would like for them to remember me as caring and sharing. And I would like for them to remember me as humble and spiritual. … In my last hours of transition I wish it was possible I could hear from the Master to say, “Servant, servant, well done. You’ve been faithful. Come on, let me make you ruler over me.” That is my desire”that I tried to be a servant. And I want the song “Amazing Grace” sung softly, a solo, as they take the last bit of me at my homegoing.
Rev. Bynum said she really misses Ed Bailey who passed away this past November. She works at the Senior Satellite Office three days per week helping seniors.