By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson perhaps said it best – a giant tree has fallen. Rev. Dr. Willie Edwin Givens Jr. pastor emeritus of First Missionary Baptist Church in Summerville died March 22. Rev. Dr. Isaac Holt Jr., pastor of Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, described Givens as a born leader who helped people because he loved people. Givens was 85.
Givens was the oldest son of the late Willie E. Givens Sr. and the late Hattie Coleman Givens. He graduated from Immaculate Conception High School and earned an Associate of Arts degree in General Education from Palmer College and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion from Charleston Southern University. He earned a Master of Theology Degree from Southern Bible Seminary in Birmingham, Alabama and a Doctor of Divinity degree from Morris College in Sumter. Givens retired as a manager in the Industrial Relations Office after 30 years as an employee at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. Holt said Givens demonstrated the same determined leadership in both his spiritual and secular lives.
Givens was actively engaged in church, civic and political affairs. He had a strong propensity for justice and used his gifted leadership abilities to serve his community, city, state and nation. He was the former First Vice President of the Charleston Branch NAACP and was a prominent leader in the turbulent civil rights movement.
Givens was among the first African Americans to be named to the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Board where he staunchly advocated for Blacks in an unjust criminal justice system. He was a member of the Community Reinvestment Board of BB&T Bank, the Charleston County Board of Tax Assessment and Control, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Santee Cooper.
He also served on boards for Jenkins Orphanage, the Robert Gould Shaw Boys Club, the Advisory Board of the First Steps State Educational Program and the YMCA of Charleston. He was a former member of the Board of Trustees for Benedict College in Columbia and a former chairman of the Board of Trustees for Morris College in Sumter. In addition, he was a member of Gothic Lodge #212 Free and Accepted Masonry and Beta Kappa Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Givens’ spiritual journey began at Salem Baptist Church under the leadership of Reverend John T. Thomas. Givens served at Salem Baptist as a Sunday school teacher, a Sunday school superintendent, a deacon and later became licensed and ordained as a minister.
Givens became pastor of First Baptist Church in 1973 where he served 43 years until his retirement in 2016. During the ensuing years he led as moderator of the Charleston County Baptist Association, past president of the Baptist Educational and Missionary Brotherhood Convention, past president of the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina and past first vice president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
Holt said through his various leadership positions, Givens influenced the lives of many who knew him and even more who didn’t know him. “It was amazing how he would do all those things. He had the passion to do them. Whatever he did, he went to the top,” Holt said. “Dr. Givens was unbelievable, a unique man with a no-nonsense approach who insisted that if you were going to do something, you had to do it right. I never understood his energy level. He was relentless. He didn’t give out, he wore out!”
Givens leaves to mourn his passing his three sons; Edwin Givens of Columbia, Darrell Givens and Dexter Givens, both of Charleston; a daughter, Dr. Sharon L. Givens of Columbia; a granddaughter, Kendall J. Givens of Columbia; and three sisters-in law, Mrs. Louvenia Prince of McCormick, Mrs. Annie Thompkins of Detroit, Mich. and Ms. Carrie Harrison of Greenwood.