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LeeDonna Kimbrough Interview

Kimbrough, LeeDonna
Casey, Rebecca, and Alexander Kimbrough
Crawford, Vickie
Date of Interview: 
African-American Churches, Southern Blacks, Religion
LeeDonna Kimbrough is the wife of Casey R. Kimbrough, Pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church and the mother of three small children, Casey, Rebecca and Alexander. She is the daughter of a minister and talks about her childhood and her more present work in the church in the 1990s. She is a woman of deep religious faith and explains her beliefs and experiences in the black church and its community in detail to the interviewer. At the end of the interview Mrs. Kimbrough`s children are asked questions about their favorite church song, Bible story, and their Sunday school classes.
Charlotte, 1990s
Levine Museum of the New South, Amazing Grace Series
Collection Description: 
Interview was made for the Amazing Grace Exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South.
Interview Audio: 
VC(Vickie Crawford): I'm interviewing Lee Donna Kimbrough, the wife of Reverend Kimbrough, the pastor of Mount Carmel--.
LK (LeeDonna Kimbrough): Carmel Baptist Church--.
VC: C-A-R-M-E-L [spells it out] Mount Carmel Baptist Church here in Charlotte. Why don't we just start out and, as we were talking before, about, have you reflect on growing up, your early history as a daughter of a minister.
LK: Being a daughter of a minister, you are, [pause] you, you are involved in the church from the beginning, you had no choice. You know, it's something that is just a part of your life. So from the beginning you begin to learn the whole basis of what church is about, in that, you, you start in Sunday School, you see the politics, you see what daddy's doing and you see, just going, and you're, you're kind of, I would say, as a child in the ministry is you're, you're the child, focused on child, because you are a pastor's child, and so you're watched and, and you, you incur certain pressures from the watching, the expectations from yourself as well as from your parents. And you're going through all the things children do but at the same time you have members that watch you also. So you, you kind of, you're, you're a talked about child and, and you know you are, but at the same time, you try to feel out who you are amongst all of that. And, and, and you're--, and it shapes you. You know, your reflections of the church. And, and all the positives that are there, you have access to as well as the negatives, but being with parents who, who are protective of you and guide you, you, you, you're guided through all of the pitfalls, you know, and, and the hard times that you go through, you know, you have to have a protective covering for, for the child and I had that, you know, where my parents were a stabilizing force and they were parental at all points, you know. So I was never without parental guidance in being a pastor's child. You know, where I was not allowed just freedoms that, you know. Sometimes they often say pastor childrens are spoiled, you know, because they are doted on at times, but my parents did not allow, you know, me to be a spoiled individual. You know, they gave me my needs. Other than that, you know, extras were nice, but it, it--. You were guided but you had extra, extra expectations because the same time you were expected to contribute to the ministry. You know, because, when I went into, my parents went on a little later for me, and I had to grapple with not being a minister's daughter and then being a minister's daughter. And we went to a family church, you know, where my grandmother and my aunts and, my, his aunts, his aunts, my great aunts, my great aunts, cousins, and, that's where they, my parents grew up and that's also where they were ministering as adults, and also where they went to church before that. And it was a difficult transition because I did want to go, but at the same time I was thrust into it and I was in a different role then by, than just the child of, of a niece or nephew or a grandchild, all those roles were there also, you know, so I had to filter through all of that. And then there were family friends, and you know, personality clicks and all that kind of thing. And, so it, it was one where I had to learn a lot of savvy, you know, we all did with dealing with relatives and dealing with members that came in. And, you learn what I call, "Christian politics savvy", you know, in, in answering phones, protecting the pastor from, when he need the rest, taking messages, just being in a home where there was need for the pastor, you were the caring family. So it, it was, it, it was a good experience because I married one. [Laugh] Evidently, and, and it wasn't a traumatic one for me, it was a blessed one. When I look back on it, it's fond memories but I learned a whole lot from it. And it, church for me now is my basis, you know of, where my family--. It, it, it's something where we go and fellowship for my, my, my teaching of my family as far as Christian beliefs are our basis, our God is the center of our family, church is, is where we go and fellowship at. And fellowship and celebrate that, but it's, it's not where our beliefs generate from. Our beliefs are, are within us, you know, and, and our celebration of God comes from us and then we take that to the church. And, that's where we go to celebrate and to fellowship with other believers. And, they were all things I learned in the home and then church was--. Can you stop right there? [Child is heard and the tape is turned off.] That was one of the things, that in our family we were taught at home and then we went and we shared. So that's basically what my view is, is the sharing in a community and those who need it, you know, can draw upon what we're all sharing and it's a celebration for me to, the church is, you know. And, and also there are, you know, just needs that other people need from the ministering family. So it, it is for me, church is, a place where I go and fellowship with fellow Christians. I go and share my faith and they, and I also receive, you know, from others sharing their faith. And, that's where I become strengthened. And, but the basis for our beliefs are at home, you know, as a family. We're, we're teaching, we're constantly [pause] learning and then we go and, and we go and we share on Sundays and we celebrate on Sundays. And we come together and it, it allows us to--. Any pent up emotions, any, any type of releases, you know, allows us to spiritually feel, which is, which can constantly be a weekly thing, you know, as for every day, but it allows us within a group to come together as a family of believers and just share and, and communicate with God together and--.
VC: Where's--?
LK: And draw strength from that.
VC: What are some of the teachings of the church that you impart to your children and bring into your family life, you know? [Pause] What do you believe, okay, as a family?
LK: [Laugh] As a family?
VC: Um-hum. As a mother?
LK: As a mother?
VC: Um-hum.
LK: Well, I'm trying to, to say this in a very simple form for us. Our first belief is that God exists. God is there. God is, is interwoven in our lives. God is first in our lives. God is, is, is, is a, the power to draw from. That we are created, you know, from God. And, and that, you know, you have the, the three parts of God: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that we incorporate all three of those personalities of God into our lives, you know. And we teach about God, through the Bible. We teach about Jesus Christ, you know, and, and accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and, and accepting the Spirit into your life to, to guide you, you know, from every part of your life, you know. Whatever, whatever you do, allow God to lead you, you know, and that's basically the foundation of it. And that God's first in our lives. And through that, we learn the teachings and, and once we stop and we think about where will God lead us? You know, and, and we think about it and we pray and we listen to the Spirit to guide us.
VC: How do you pray?
LK: How do I pray? [Laugh]
VC: Uh-huh.
LK: Very fastly sometimes. And, and, sometimes you're, you're very quiet and you just sit there and, my way of praying is, there, there's always the time when you go in your own closet, you know. By that, I mean you go in your own personal time, and you, you're by yourself, you know, and you're praying and, and you're earnestly seeking God's guidance and you're thanking God and praising God at the same time. But there are times that I can walk down the street and whatever is going on around me, I can say, "Boy, thank you God that I'm not here," you know, at this point or, "Lord, help me through this, you know, " My temper," or "Forgive me I just lost my temper," [laugh] you know, "And I feel horrible about it." And prayer just becomes a part of you, you know. It just, at any time, just, just speaking, you know, sometimes you can do it out loud, we pray as a family, you know. And, you know, we teach, we say a grace together and the kids compete who can pray, you know to, say a grace and from starting of the, I would say, the spoken grace then we begin to teach them to go from a rote grace to an individual prayer. And we give them a basis, and then, then we teach them to say, okay now, what else would you like to say from yourself, you know. And it kind of gives them a sense that this is a what a prayer is and we go from there.
VC: Is there a special family time set aside for teaching the principles, from the church?
LK: No--.
VC: Is there a ritual involved, like you talked about--?
LK: No.
VC: A grace over meals?
LK: No, there's not a--. Our, our schedule is so busy, there is not a specific time when we all sit down and say, you know, this every Friday. You know, every time we spend family time together and from there whatever we're doing, you know, in conversation we talk. You know, daddy talks, we talk. And, every once in a while, I found that I just stop everybody and have a family meeting, you know. But, at this point, we're, we're kind of in fluid movement because of his, his schedule, and their schedule, everybody's schedule. So we kindly set aside family time to just spend together and through that we talk about a lot of things, you know. And our, our church is, the, the church--. We divided, you know, whatever the church is, the church--. We go to church but again, the church is not necessarily, we're not into religiousosity and where it, it has to be rituals and it has to be a certain way a service goes. Our faith is first a foundation for our family life and then we go to church. So, we separate the two. You know, because church is church. People go to church a lot of times because it's just tradition, you know. And that's fine if you just feel that's a tradition you want to keep going, but for us it's deeper, you know. When, when we see church, even I see church, I go to celebrate what I already have. You know, so when I go to church, I'm bringing something with me. And I'm celebrating, you know, with others who have brought the same thing, you know. And then, we also try to impart that in a way which those who do not have what we have, the beliefs, the joy, the peace or are just searching for that very thing which is God, we try to impart that to others, you know. Say, "Come and we'll--. Come to us and we'll teach you any part what we have." We share. And so, that, that's how I see church. It, it's not just a book, a brick and mortar place, it's not just, you know, a set of rituals, a set of rules, a set of being Baptist, Methodist, because I came from Methodist to Baptist. You know, and there's differences there, but it's--. Going from Methodist to Baptist, the same root is there. You know, I had to--. You know, the same beliefs were still there, the basis of it, just a little different way of doing it. And it's the same with, with any other religious thing. I bring what I already have to share with someone else. And for us, the church is a, a, a vehicle to express, you know, the joy of what we have, a celebration. And for someone else, it may be a vehicle how to, you know, get, you know, God in their lives, or going there and expressing, you know, a, a place where you have sanctuary from the outside world. But for, for us, we go to celebrate, you know God, I do.
VC: What do you--?
LK: And I try to impart that to my children.
VC: Could you talk a bit about the baptism of your children and what you might recall from some--? Because you've got, how many children do you have?
LK: I have three.
VC: Three.
LK: And two are baptized. And baptism for them was something they chose. And Baptism was the beginning for them. We talked to--. It started with communion because I had to express to them that they could not take communion because they did not understand it. And they didn't, because they'd say, "Well, I want crackers and juice." And so I said, "Well, it's not just crackers and juice. It is physically, but it, it means something different." And, so one Sunday their father knew we were having these conflicts and had talked to them about what baptism was and what communion was, and that basically, that Jesus becomes your friend. He becomes a special friend and he, he comes, and he becomes, God becomes more important in your life because being, you know, six and five, seven and five now, their understanding is not as sophisticated, you know, as, as you learn more and more about it. So we needed to, a way to tell them that what, what accepting Jesus Christ in your heart meant, you know. And, and they said, "Well, we wanted Jesus to be our special friend." And so, from there, I said well OK. [Laugh] I, I, I, I trust that he had talked to them and that they had made that decision and, which was a joy to my heart, and they decided they wanted to be baptized. And, it was an emotional thing for me because what I believe is imparted to my child in a, in, in the way that they accept it. You know, they say, "I believe you," you know. And, and our beliefs is that God gives us the children to represent Him, you know. And we, we do our own mess ups. But we, it's our job to teach our children who God is and the first thing that, in representation that they have is us. Not that we're Gods, but we teach them what that means, "God the Father," means. And, and from there they--. We want him to have a positive view of God, one of nurturing, one of trusting, all those principles that, that a parent has. That's what we needed to impart to them. And, and it was just wonderful to see that they, they trusted that we have told them the truth. You know, and, and it was, it was very emotional, and we videotaped it. And, I said, "See what you did!" And, and so from there they have the very basis, beginning, you know, and then it's our job then to, to begin to advance their understanding, you know. To say, well we started here and then this is what this really means. And as their level, teach them [pause] each step in their understanding, what God revealed to Him. Help them, have God reveal to them that they're able to understand the fullness of, of the baptism that they undertook.
VC: What do you think, having grown up in the church, literally all of your life, what do you think is one of the most important aspects of the black church experience to your mind?
LK: Hmm, [pause] I think it's an empowering place. I think it's a place of empowerment. I think it's a place where, as a community you can get strength because you are not the majority but you can come together, and your problems, your, your pains, your joys, your, everything that you, you, you have you can bring, you know, and, and share and it, it, it becomes a community of empowerment for, I think the black church does. Politics aside and all those other things that people naturally do, people come to the church because it allows them, they feel, to go to a place where they can get closer to God. You know, and they can release all the things that they have experienced through the week, freely. You know, it gives them a sense of free, freedom and, and it gives them a sense that it will be all right, you know, and it's an empowerment in that you go week on week and you have your struggles but if you can just go some place for a hour or two hours and express that, "Hey, I've had a bad week," or "I've had a great week. Here we've had a baby. Here we've had..." You become important, you know. There, here, there, your pastor's there. You say OK, you know, someone has hurt me. Someone's speaking to me. You can go and whatever you need most of the time you can find it and that I know is true because people come back over and over, and over again. And, and, it, it's overall a great experience of sharing, of celebration, of--. You can be yourself most of the time. Sometimes people aren't, [laugh] but most times you can, you can be yourself. You can, you know, you're able to, to connect and people say, " Hey, I've had that experience, it's, it'll be OK," you know. Or even if you want to be a member that's just, you know, sitting there, you know, you can come in and say, " OK, there's, there's something in here, how I understand makes me feel better," and then you can go battle whatever you have to battle the next week. You know and then as you sit there, it becomes, it infects you and you say, " What is this?" You know, that's what altar call's all about, they say, "I want to understand."
VC: What is altar call?
LK: Alter call is, is, well not just altar call, but the call to faith is, is about accepting, accepting God but it's, it's the beginning of accepting God, see, because you, you come down. You say, "I want to, I want to accept God." But then from accepting Him and saying I want to, to find all about God. I want what God can give me. I want, I want, I want to learn more of what He's saying to me. You know, it's the beginning of acceptance saying, "Lord, I hear this call, I want your peace, I want, I want to know what you're going to say to me, what you want me to do." You know, and it, and basically it's, it's humbling yourself and saying, "All this other stuff I let go," you know, "And I want you." And that's the beginning step, you know. You just say, "I want God in my life." And then from there, coming back you begin to learn what having God in your life is about. It's just a beginning step because then God's in your life but then you have to learn what God is saying through His word, you have to learn, you know, what it is like to have God in your life through all your problems, that they're not all solved, but there is guidelines to solve those problems. There's, there's a way of treating others, you know, there's a way of walking down a path, and when you're in tribulations, you know, "What should I do?" Or if you're enjoying something, you know, and then you learn, you know, "I'll be OK, whatever I'm going through, I'll be there, God will be there and I can go on and have strength." Then you come back and it's empowering, you know. You get empowerment. VC: What do you hope your children get from the black church experience? [pause] And this experience of going to church? LK: Um-hum. A sense of community, and they have that. I mean, because they, they go to school everyday and there's this school community, community and they see those kids but the, the basis is they go and they have a community that's theirs. They go in and, and the people around them love them. They become a family. And, and that's essential because we are here as a family alone, you know, as far as our family is far away. So it, it gives them a basis that "Hey, my Sunday school teacher cares. My Sunday school teacher wants to know how I'm doing and what I did during the week." Or, or just people coming up and saying, "Hey! Boy you're getting big," or those little things that family would do or a community where you can go in and fellowship or go in and, and they guide you through each, each sense of developmental problems, developmental joys, they give guidance to a child. And, and it also gives them some reference that, within their African American rootage, you know. Because everybody experience--. I've, I have more older ladies come up to me and they tell me, "You'll be all right, I had nine babies, just sit down," you know. [Laugh] Just let them do this or that, you know, and that I have to go back and say, you know, " Is that sound right now for me or not?" But it's a strengthening for us too. Because, and that's what I want them to get, that there are others like me, my skin color, or my faith perspective, or how I feel, you know, and, and learn that they're, they're OK, there's someone out there. And, if they have problems, there's, there's other people in their lives that say, "Well, I can talk to this person, " or " They have another perspective to my problem opposed to Mom and Dad's way," you know, and they'll listen. And, I just, I want them to be able to access that. I want them to be able to enjoy our celebrated experience, our love of singing, the importance of our music, the importance of our spoken word. I want them to enjoy their Dad's preaching which for a child of seven, five and three is difficult, you know, but they like to hear, you know, little Case will say, "Hey, that's my name," you know, or "I like that song," you know, or "I like that beat," you know. And the freedom, and kids like to move, so I don't restrict their moving unless they're totally out of control. But, I want them to be able to enjoy just to fellowship. The, the, and it really is a joy to be able to come as a community and say, "Hey, we're, we're together celebrating the same thing, sharing different opinions, different ways, but our basis is the same." And, and to me, that gives me, just, just a good feeling, you know, of, of I'm not alone even though I'm out there and I may not have someone I know around me, there's someone else out there that I can come together with. So--. [Tape Stops]
VC: You might want to just talk to them and ask them some questions about Sunday School.
LK: Now, Casey, what, what does Sunday School--?
CK (Casey Kimbrough): Well--.
LK: Do you like Sunday School?
CK: Yeah, it's great. I learn and, and I learn from my teacher.
VC: What do you learn from your teacher? What, what did you learn last week?
CK: I learned about, I learned about God and, and praise the bread. [Pause] And--.
LK: Pass the bread, is that what you said?
CK: Praise the bread.
VC: What's your favorite Bible story?
CK: When Jesus stops the wind. When Jesus stops the wind.
LK: Jesus stops the wind.
VC: Could you tell me about it a little bit, real quick.
CK: Sure.
CK: When they went, when they went out a storm came, then one little man woked up Jesus and Jesus said, "Stop rain, stop thunder, stop wind," and they stopped. Then went slowing without a wink.
VC: And, what's the meaning of that story?
CK: Jesus--. I don't remember.
VC: What's your favorite song?
CK: This Little Light of Mine.
VC: Oh my goodness, that's one of my favorites. Could you just sing that for me?
CK: This little light of mine... [Children sing a little over one minute.]
VC: Oh, that's remarkable. [Vickie Crawford claps.] What good voices, my goodness.
CK: Thank you.
VC: Thank you. Rebecca, do you enjoy Sunday school?
LK: You have to speak, use your voice.
RK (Rebecca Kimbrough): Yeah.
VC: What do you like about Sunday School?
RK: I learn about my teacher and [pause] I play puzzles in my class and everything.
LK: Do you have lessons?
RK: And lessons.
LK: Who do you learn about?
RK: I learn about Jesus, and, and, and--.
LK: Is that it? What song do you like?
RK: [pause] Light of Mine.
LK: This Little..., like your brother. Well, you helped sing that song didn't you? All right. Give me a kiss. [sound of kiss] Go on back in your room. OK.
VC: How do you feel about Sunday school class, Alexander?
AK (Alexander Kimbrough): [Muffled] Boring.
VC: What?
AK: Boring.
VC: Boring [Laughter]
LK: Are you going to speak or are you done?
AK: I'm done. [laughter]
LK: OK, you may go on.