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Camille Davis

SCOTT, MANUEL L. (1926–2001). Manuel L. Scott, nationally-renowned evangelical preacher and pastor, son of Newia Busby and Opal Williams, was born on November 11, 1926, in Waco, Texas. He acquired the last name Scott from his stepfather, Henry, who adopted him after marrying Opal Williams, Manuel’s mother. The family was poor and could provide only limited opportunities for Manuel. Their struggles were further exaggerated by the constraints of living within a segregated society and by the challenges of the Great Depression.

Despite his family’s limitations, a positive encounter with a woman in his neighborhood changed the trajectory of Scott’s life. After observing that the young Scott shot marbles every Sunday instead of attending church, Ms. Tommie Jackson took Scott from the gambling scene and introduced him to church life and Jesus Christ. In a 1994 article in the Dallas Morning News, Scott described Jackson as having an “importunity that wouldn’t let me go.” Scott was nine years old when Jackson led him to Toliver Chapel Baptist Church in Waco, where he was converted to Christianity and baptized by the church’s pastor, Rev. W. I. Rector. Scott spent the rest of his youth at Toliver Chapel and was left with a “lasting image of preaching.” This lasting image gave Scott a picture of what he wanted to become.

In 1944 Scott was licensed and ordained as a minister of the gospel under the tutelage of Rev. O. L. Hegman, the minister who followed Reverend Rector as pastor of Toliver Chapel. At approximately the same time, Scott left Waco for Bishop College, a historically-black college that was then located in Marshall, Texas. Scott would have preferred to attend Baylor University, but segregation laws forbade Scott and all blacks from attending Baylor at that time. Scott received his undergraduate degree from Bishop College in 1949. After graduating, he left Texas for his first job as a pastor. O. L. Hegman, Scott’s Waco pastor, recommended him to Calvary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Scott became Calvary’s pastor and retained the position for thirty-three years. While in California, Scott and his wife, Thelma Jean Joe, produced and reared a family of six children.

During his years at Calvary, Scott became a well-respected and admired preacher nationally. He wrote a book entitled From a Black Brother, which was published in 1971. Two years later, he published a second book entitled, Gospel for the Ghetto. He received his doctor of divinity degree from Bishop College (where he later served on the board of trustees) in 1975 and another doctor of divinity degree from Texas College [Tyler] in 1985. In the1960s Rev. E. C. Estell, the preeminent minister of one the most renowned black churches in the country, recommended Scott to his congregation as his successor once his health declined. Estell’s Dallas congregation at St. John Missionary Baptist Church eventually took his advice some fifteen years later when they made Manuel L. Scott their pastor.

By the time Scott became pastor at St. John in 1982, his reputation was at its height. He had preached all over the country in various conventions and conferences, including the Southern Baptist Convention, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the International Congress for World Evangelism, and was heralded twice by Ebony magazine as one of the country’s top fifteen black ministers. He also served as director of the Congress of National Black Churches, Inc. (Washington, D. C.). Scott remained at St. John until his retirement in 1995.

During Scott’s tenure at St. John, great changes occurred within his personal life. In 1986 Thelma, his wife of more than forty years, died after a long fight with cancer. She and Scott had been childhood sweethearts. That same year, Scott received vindication from a slight he received in his youth. Baylor University, the school that Scott “desperately” wanted to attend in the 1940s, invited him to deliver their commencement speech and awarded him with an honorary degree.

After retiring from St. John in 1995, Scott spent most of his time working on evangelism campaigns for the National Baptist Convention Inc. of which he was executive secretary. Scott worked with the convention before deciding to return to his family in Los Angeles at the end of the decade. His honors included induction into the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College, Atlanta, and being named Outstanding Minister of the Year by the Los Angeles Business Association. Scott remained in Los Angeles until his death from cancer on December 18, 2001. His son, evangelist Manuel Scott, Jr., compiled a series of his father’s memorable sayings and sermons into a book, The Quotable Manuel Scott, Sr.—Words from a Gospel Genius, published in 2010.


Dallas Morning News, September 23, 1994; March 6, 1995; July 2, 1997. 

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Camille Davis, "SCOTT, MANUEL L.," accessed July 18, 2019,

Uploaded on February 20, 2013. Modified on May 21, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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