Alfred Knighton Stanley was born in the village of Dudley, in the County of Wayne in the state of North Carolina in 1937. Dr. Stanley is the youngest of 5 children born to Joseph Taylor Stanley and Kathryn Turrentine Stanley. Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Stanley who at the time of Knighton’s birth was pastor of First Congregational Church in Dudley, the oldest African American church of the Congregational tradition in North Carolina, was at the same time on special assignment on behalf of the Board of Homeland Missions of the Congregational Christian Churches. His assignment was to assist with church development with “Negro” Congregational Christian Churches in rural areas and small towns in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. Kathryn T. Stanley, Knighton’s Mother, was the daughter of a Congregational pastor in Athens, Alabama, a graduate of Knoxville College and the first African American woman to be licensed to serve churches in the Southeast District of the Congregational denomination.
In 1943, when Knighton was six years old, the Stanley’s moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. This was during World War II. J.T. Stanley had been selected as Superintendent (Conference Minister) of African American Congregational Christian Churches in an area which stretched from Norfolk, Virginia to Corpus Christie, Texas. Knighton, who was best known as Tony, was educated in the Public Schools of Greensboro. He attended Washington Street Elementary and Grammar Schools, Lincoln Junior High School and graduated from Dudley High School in 1955. While a student at Dudley High School Knighton was an honor student and a leading actor in the Dudley Thespians, the schools drama group. He appeared in such plays as “Lamb in the Window,” “Withering Heights,” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”
From the time he was nine years old, Knighton always had a “job” of some kind or another. He sold turnip greens at 2 pounds for a quarter; mowed lawns with a push mover; sold newspapers (Journal and Guide, Greensboro Daily News and Greensboro News Record); washed windows; and worked at Dixie Super Market, first as delivery and stock “boy” and finally as a cashier, Dixie was white owned and it was unusual. In the 1950’s and before for Southern whites to let a person of color handle “their” money. Knighton’s affiliations growing up in Greensboro included the Hayes-Taylor YMCA, Windsor Community Center and the Youth Chapter of the NAACP. He was a member of First Congregational Church and later joined St. Stephens Congregational Christian Church under Rev, F.A. Hargett.
At St. Stephens he started a unit of The Pilgrim Fellowship for youth and attended the national meeting of Pilgrim Fellowship at Yale Divinity School in 1953 and at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska in 1955. When Knighton was in Junior High School he faithfully attended the Sunday Evening Vespers at Bennett College. Through this experience he developed an affinity for orderly worship, classical anthems and great speeches. He heard some of the best speakers of the time, speakers such as Benjamin E. Mays, Mary Mc Cleod Bethune, Howard Thurmond, Eleanor Roosevelt, Roy Wilkins and Mordecai Johnson. Benjamin Mays, who he got to know as a friend and mentor later in life, was his favorite speaker. Knightons’ speaking voice and demeanor are akin to those of Dr. Mays.
Upon graduation from high school Knighton matriculated at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. While at Talladega he became a member of the Alpha Beta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Talladega College Little Theatre. He ranked number one on the battery of entrance exams administered by the college and was on the Dean’s List during the entirety of his matriculation.
As a member of the Little Theatre, Knighton had major roles in “The Crucible,” “J.B-,” “Land Beyond the River,” and other productions. He became President of his fraternity and the Little Theatre. He traveled with the Little Theatre to Savannah, Georgia, Greensville and Charleston, South Carolina, Detroit, Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio. He became noted as a “Youth Day Speaker” in churches in central Alabama and frequently visited Montgomery, Alabama where he met Dr. Martin Luther King and participated in the Montgomery Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. King was a frequent visitor at Talladega College during Knighton’s tenure and Knighton was a member of the Fraternity committee that sponsored an event, which brought Martin Luther King and Andrew Young together for their very first meeting. During his sophomore, junior and senior years he served as student manager of Stone Hall, the Freshman Men’s Dormitory.
His college majors were Psychology and Religion. His Senior Thesis was the “Soteriological Doctrine of Paul J. Tillich.” He graduated in 1959 with honors and was selected as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Fund for Theological Education Fellow.
In the spring of 1959 he was admitted to Yale Divinity School and began his professional studies in the fall of the same year. His major field was Religion in Higher Education and his favorite professors were James Gustafson, H. Richard Neibuhur, John Oliver Nelson, Gayland B. Norse and Oauie Napier. His field experience was done at Bunker Hill Congregational Church in Waterbury, Connecticut, Wider City Parish in New Haven, Connecticut, and Dwight Hall, the campus ministry program of the University.
During the summers of 1960 and 1961 he interned at Central Congregational United Church of Christ in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was selected to do an Honors project his final year at Yale at which time he researched and wrote a major essay on “Congregationalism Among Negroes in the South.”
It was near the end of the first semester of his second year at Yale that Knighton felt compelled to take leave from Divinity School so he could participate in the student led phase of the Civil Rights Movement in the South. When he sought the counsel of Professor Gustafson regarding this matter, he was advised that there would be enough of the Civil Rights revolution remaining upon graduation for him to find adequate opportunity for participation.
The professor was right, for upon his graduation from Yale Divinity School in 1962, Knighton was selected to be Director of the United Southern Christian Fellowship Foundation at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro, North Carolina, the birthplace of the student sit-ins in 1960. Samuel Dewitt Proctor, who served as Deputy Director of Peace Corp under Sargent Shriver was President of A&T at that time. Stanley was not long at North Carolina A&T University before students sought him out to be the advisor for the Greensboro Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality.
The second phase of the Greensboro Sit-In Movement was in the spring of 1963. This was a phase of mass demonstrations with 200 or 300 participating in marches each evening. The vast majority of the participants were young women from Bennett College. These women had the support of their College President, Dr. Willa B. Player. At one point in time during the late spring of 1963, all available spaces in every jail in Guilford County had been taken by students arrested in the movement so the Greensboro Coliseum and an abandoned polio hospital had to be used to accommodate the overflow.
Jessie Jackson was a student in his senior year at A&T College second semester of 1963. Out of respect for the college administration, he had not been active in the student movement. He feared the State of North Carolina would deal punitively with the college and its administrators if students persisted with the movement. But when most of the faithful had already been jailed, it became apparent that if the struggle were to continue it needed a person of sufficient popularity to recruit students who had been reluctant to join in the protests.
It was concluded that Jessie Jackson was that person. Knighton Stanley was chosen to recruit him. His efforts at recruitment being very successful, Jessie soon became a new leader and spokesperson in the movement. It was Knighton who assisted Jessie in being admitted to Chicago Theological Seminary. In Chicago, Jessie eventually became head of Operation Bread Basket on behalf of Dr. Martin Luther King. The rest is history. The student demonstrations in Greensboro were successful and most public accommodations were opened there by the fall of 1963.
In June 1964, Knighton Stanley married Beatrice Alice Perry whom he had met during his summer internship at Central Congregational United Church of Christ in New Orleans. Beatrice entered her senior year at Bennett College in the Fall of 1964. Dr. Player, President of Bennett College, asked Knigthon to join her staff as Director of Religious Life and an instructor in the Social Science Division of the college.
In addition to presiding over the chapel, developing religious programs and counseling students, he also taught Social Psychology, World Civilizations, World Religions, and Old and New Testaments. In the Summer of 1965 President Player asked him to serve on the staff of the Arts & Humanities Institute for high school seniors.
When Dr. Player announced her resignation as college President in December, 1965 effective June, 1966 so she could assume responsibility for Title VI Programs of the U.S. Department of Education, Knighton resigned and left Bennett College in January, 1966 because his loyalty had ultimately been to Ms. Player.
In February, 1966, A. Knighton Stanley became Associate Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Detroit, Michigan. Rev. Nicholas Hood, the Senior Pastor had been elected to the Detroit City Council and needed strong staff support. In this capacity Stanley administered the church, participated in its Housing Ministry, conducted worship, preached and directed the church’s Junior High Youth Ministry.
When Stanley was in Detroit, he was approached by Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ about Candidacy for Senior Minister. Stanley felt that since he had only recently come to Plymouth Church in Detroit, he should not consider a new position. He had already turned down an offer to consider the Presidency of Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, N.C. founded by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
The Search Committee for Peoples Church in Washington persisted in approaching Knighton about considering him. So he offered himself as a candidate for the position and was called to begin service in February, 1968. Prior to arrival in Washington, Knighton and Beatrice had become the proud parents of Nathaniel Taylor Stanley (1965) and Kathryn Velma Stanley (1966). The couple was well received by the congregation and Stanley began a ministry which spanned nearly 39 years.
Stanley’s ministry at Peoples Church was preceded by that of Arthur Fletcher Elms who distinguished himself as pastor of Peoples Church for 37 years. Dr. Elms was a native of Antigua, West Indies, and a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Elms died in 1964. He was succeeded by Grady Poulard, a Yale Divinity School graduate. The relationship did not last long, so in 1966 the church was looking for a pastor again.
It was Reverend Elm’s vision that the church should have an “educational building” to accommodate its various programs for children, youth and families. He did not live to see his vision become a reality. When Stanley came to Peoples Church, the church felt confident that it could fulfill Rev. Elm’s dream and so under Stanley’s leadership, they broke ground for a new educational unit in the early summer of 1968.
Prior to the building of the new educational building, Peoples Church had only one building. The sanctuary was on the second floor. One had to climb a full flight of exterior or interior steps to enter it. There were two anterooms on this floor, one of which was used as the pastor’s office, the other as a “counting” room for the Board of Trustees. On the first level there was an auditorium in which makeshift dividers were used to provide spaces for Sunday School classes.
Under Stanley’s leadership, not only was the educational building (Elms Center) completed, but five parcels of land were acquired and a new architecturally innovative sanctuary was built. By 2007, when Knighton retired the church had properties with a 100 seat chapel, a 950 seat sanctuary, two auditoriums, a four room food pantry and clothes boutique, seven office spaces, two conference rooms, sacristy, bridal room, a parking lot, a large courtyard and seven class rooms and an art gallery. The replacement value of property owned by the church is approximately $25 million.
The membership at Peoples Church grew considerably during Stanley’s ministry. In 1968 there were approximately 650 members and by 2007 there were more than 2,200 members.
Many new programs were started during the Stanley years at Peoples. They include the following:
• Peoples Neighborhood House—a multi-service social service agency funded by the Department of Human Services of the District of Columbia, The Gordy Foundation, and the Board of Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ.
• The Men’s and Women’s Golf Clubs.
• The Peoples Cultural Arts program—a program for male and female youth funded by the Kellog Foundation.
• The Peoples Jazz Vespers
• The Peoples Clothes Closet and Clothing Boutique
• Early Sunday Worship (8:30 Service)
• The Voices of Peoples—a Gospel Choir of 40 voices directed by e’ Marcus Harper, a Grammy Award nominee.
• The Peoples Day Camp—a summer day camp for children and youth.
• The Men’s Chorus
• City Wide Martin Luther King celebration for children
• The Peoples Scholarship awards –a scholarship program with a $350,000 endowment which gave scholarship to about 12 students each year.
• Student Recognition Sunday—a program which recognized the achievement of all students.
• The Leisure Group—a program for Seniors.
• The Peoples Drama Club
• The Peoples Neighborhood Federal Credit Union
• The Peoples Investment Club
• The Girl Scouts—this unit became the largest in the city.
• The Children’s Ministry
• The Lay Reader’s Guild
• Sunday Coffee Hour
• Annual Martin Luther King Celebration of Freedom and Hope
• Children’s Handbell Choir
• The Fellowship Choir
• The Women’s Chorus
• Disciple Bible Study
• The Young Adult Fellowship
• The Quilters
• The Wednesday Noon Prayer Service
• The Men’s Bible class
• The People’s Prodder
• Serendipity Bible Student and many, many other programs.
In addition to the growth in the adult membership noted above, more than 450 young people were confirmed into full membership of the church. The church membership was not monolithic. It included persons of a variety of socio-economic backgrounds who were attracted to Dr. Stanley’s leadership and preaching. He also brought a stellar group of speakers to Peoples church and Washington which included Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Andrew Young, Benjamin E. Mays, Samuel D. Proctor, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Walter Fauntroy, Edward Kennedy, Walter Washington, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dorothy Height, Shirley Chisholm, Martin Luther King Jr, and many others. Mrs. Richard Nixon and Vice President Daniel Quayle were among noted guests of the church.
Boy Scout Troop # 544 was chartered to Peoples Church prior to Stanley’s arrival. It was not only the largest Boy Scout Troop in the Nation’s capital, it became noted as the Troop where Eagle Scouts were made. During the last ten years of Knighton Stanley’s tenure no fewer than four Eagle Scouts were made each year.
In addition to the demands of his church and professional duties, he was also engaged in a variety of civic and religious duties outside the church which made demands upon his time and gifts. He was very active in the Council of Churches of Metropolitan Washington serving on several committees and as Vice President. He worked with the Black Man’s Development Center to organize BOLD (Blot Out Lethal Drugs). He served on the Board of Directors of the Greater Washington United Way. Dr. Stanley was an adjunct professor at the Howard University School of Divinity and an instructor in the Urban Institute.
In 1974 he was appointed by Walter E. Washington, Mayor of the District of Columbia to be his special assistant and Director of the Office of Bicentennial Programs of the Nation’s capital. In this capacity Stanley was responsible for planning Bicentennial Era programs for the District of Columbia which included hosting Senators, Representatives, Governors and other dignitaries from the 50 states as well as noted persons and groups such as Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Rolle, the Russian Bolshoi Ballet, the Alvin Alley Dancers and a host of others. Dr. Stanley received a letter of commendation and a plaque for his service to the Nation’s Bicentennial efforts from President Gerald R. Ford.
While his areas of Civic Service in the District of Columbia are too numerous to mention here, it must be noted that he served with distinction as a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee of the District of Columbia and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. In 2005, Dr. Stanley was inducted into the District of Columbia Hall of Fame
In 1974, A. Knighton Stanley was awarded the Doctor of Ministry Degree by Howard University. His doctoral thesis was “Congregationalism Among Negroes in the South.” It was published in 1979 by the Pilgrim Press under the title, “The Children is Crying”. A second printing of this book was done in 2007. In 2008, Dr. Stanley authored another book entitled, “A View From My Window (15 Sermons of Hope and Assurance),” published by Cronos Press, an imprint of Fideli Publishing. He has many published articles and essays to his credit.
As an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, A. Knighton Stanley has served in many capacities. He was twice a delegate to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. He served as President and Vice President of Ministers for Racial and Social Justice. He was a member of the Committee on Theological Education. He was a delegate to the world alliance of Reformed Churches, North American and Caribbean Division. He was a Board Member of the Council for Christian Social Action and the Office of Communication; a member of the Capital Funds Campaign and the New Century Hymnal Committee. He served on the Board of Directors of the Central Atlantic Conference and the Church and Ministry Committee of the PotomAc Association.
In 2007 Howard University School of Divinity established the A. Knighton Stanley Lectures and in the same year Yale University Divinity School established a scholarship in his name. In 2006 he was appointed to the Yale Divinity School Board of Advisors.
A. Knighton Stanley was not unknown to the corporate world. For twelve years he served on the Board of Directors of Minister’s Life, (an insurance company) which is now a part of Minnesota Life. In his last two years of service he was Chair of the Board. Additionally, for fifteen years, he was a member of the Advisory Board of the Industrial Bank of Washington, The largest African American owned bank in the nation.
Dr. Stanley has traveled extensively in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, the Middle-East, and Europe.
In 1986, A. Knighton Stanley was married to Andrea J. Young, daughter of Ambassador Andrew W. Young and Mrs. Jean child’s Young. Taylor Marie Stanley, a fourth year honor student at the University of Georgia, was born of that marriage. He and Ms. Young were divorced in 2007.
Dr. Stanley now serves as Minister for Church Development at St. Albans Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Albans (Queens), New York. He lives on Long Island in the Village of Baldwin, New York.