By Kurt Walker
A gathering of family and friends came together this past Saturday to celebrate the 90th birthday of Reverend James E. Tolbert. The event was held in the fellowship hall of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church on Nassau Street where Tolbert serves as an associate minister. The program for the occasion was featured several members from Charleston area clergy that included Rev. Randolph Miller of Nichols Chapel, Rev. Leonard O. Griffin of Morris Street Baptist and Rev. Dr. William Swinton, pastor of Ebenezer. Remarks were given by several family members, associates and several of his former students and classmates.
Tolbert was born July 1, 1927. He married the late Lillian Aiken Tolbert and raised three children, sons Kevin and Jerome, and daughter Avis Tolbert Alexander. A graduate of Claflin College, now Claflin University, Tolbert would serve in the United States Army after being drafted during his senior year. The experience would take him to several countries among them were Germany, Korea, Japan, Austria and France. Tolbert would return to Charleston and begin his career in education as an Adult Education Instructor at C.A. Brown High School. He would also serve as an Assistant Principal at Stall High School and then the Language Arts Coordinator at Courtenay Middle School. Tolbert became a minister in 1974.
Remaining ever active in the Charleston community, Tolbert has been an active and integral member of organizations such as the Claflin University National Alumni Association, Charleston County Teachers Association, the Charleston Ministerial Alliance, Gothic Masonic Lodge (PHS), National Education Association, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and also served as a volunteer chaplain for the Charleston Memorial Hospital just to name a few.
Some of his various awards and distinctions include being an inductee to the Claflin University Hall of Fame; service and volunteer awards from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Mitchell Elementary and Courtenay Middle School, Charleston Memorial Hospital and Claflin University.
A distinguished gentleman known for his sayings and wise words of wisdom, the Tolbert residence was the gather place for many young men who would remain under the watchful eye of the Reverend. “He put up a basketball goal in his back yard and kept close eye on us…we would play all day but when that lighted flicked on and off, we knew it was time to shut it down” stated Larry Simmons. Simmons was one of the many in attendance who were mentored at the Tolbert household. David Haynes also shred remarks on how gracious he was to Tolbert for his guidance throughout the years. “I was several years behind him and I followed him to school to Orangeburg…I also followed him in the military and several places he went I would go as well and it seemed we were always one behind the other” said Haynes. Tolbert ended the celebration with closing remarks stating “I am not done yet and I hope to see you here in 10 more years…I try to live a good life so that I can see my people again.”