ALDOSTA — Ralph Council has spent a lifetime in Macedonia First Baptist Church.
He recalls coming to the church as a child, the next to the youngest of six children, with his parents, John and Fannie Council. He recalls becoming a member of Macedonia when he was 9 or 10 years old. He recalls the other children who became members that day many decades ago, easy to recall those friends because most of them, now in their 70s, are still members of the church.
They see each other every Sunday. They will see each other this Sunday when Macedonia First Baptist Church celebrates its 145th anniversary. The church honors Ralph Council with a longevity award for his lifetime involvement with Macedonia.
Council is a resource for the church’s wealth of information.
Macedonia First Baptist Church’s congregation was first called in the days following the Civil War’s end. Only months, really, following Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It formed when Valdosta was about five years old. Through Reconstruction, segregation, civil rights and raised equality, Macedonia First Baptist Church has continued meeting and worshiping from the middle of the 19th century into the 21st century.
The church’s origins stretch back to the Rev. Charles Anderson. He had been born a slave in 1813 in Savannah, worked his way west with Georgia’s expanding railroad, moved from the fields to his master’s paint shop. Anderson became a skilled carriage painter, but also led church services.
Free at the end of the Civil War, Anderson began a congregation that became Macedonia First Baptist Church. The church eventually settled in its current location on what is now 715 J.L. Lomax Drive.
Ralph Council’s involvement in the church began before his birth.
His father, John Council, was from the Jeffersonville area of Georgia. John faced tragedy and responsibility at an early age. A storm blew the family’s house over, killing John’s mother. John’s father abandoned the children. John, the eldest son, raised his brothers.
He moved to Echols County and became a machinist. He met Fannie and they married. John and Fannie Council had five sons and one daughter. Ralph was born Aug. 24, 1932. The family attended Macedonia.
Ralph Council recalls his brothers and father installing the church’s first heating system. John Council believed in hard work and he believed in his sons understanding the ethic of hard work.
Ralph Council smiles, recalling a memory from his youth. He and his brothers worked summers with their father. As a teenager, Ralph had never been too serious about school until he helped his brothers tar a roof on a building not too far from Macedonia during a roasting South Georgia July.
“After that summer, tarring that roof and all that heat, I became serious about school,” Ralph Council laughs. “The first time I made honor roll was after that summer.”
The experience changed his life.
He had another life-altering experience in high school. He met his future wife, Ruth. He played boys basketball. She played girls basketball. They dated as Ralph played football, completed high school and went into the Air Force.
During his four years of service from 1951-55, he served as part of the crash-rescue team. Council recalls seeing many horrible things working crash sites. He grows quiet recalling a Dec. 19, 1951 crash. “We picked up a Capt. Younger,” he says. “He was a man of 240 pounds. We found 13 pounds of him. That’s all that was left.”
With the military, Council served in Texas, Nevada, Colorado. He played more football, a couple years with the Air Force.
Out of the service, he played two more years of football with Florida A&M.; But after eight years of playing quarterback, he had suffered a dislocated shoulder and other injuries on the field. His body could take no more. His quarterbacking days were behind him, though plenty of football awaited his future.
He and Ruth married in June 1957, during his second year at Florida A&M.; They lived in Valdosta. She taught school. He commuted to Tallahassee, Fla., to earn his degree.
In 1960, Council took a job as a teacher in Lowndes County. He taught physical education, social studies, science, biology, health. He was the head coach and athletic director for the all-black Westside school. The Lowndes County school system became integrated by choice in the late 1960s with full integration coming in 1969.
Integration was “discouraging at one point,” Council says, because his football players received little field time in the first seasons. Eventually, the Lowndes High team became integrated as well with players earning positions and field time based on their talents and abilities, not on their skin color.
In 1973, Council moved from teaching to school administration. His first post was Hahira Middle School as an assistant principal. He lasted only a few days in this position. Council was called back to Lowndes High, he says, because he was one of the few people who could communicate with both black and white students.
He returned to Lowndes High as an assistant principal with a pay increase. Council stayed in this position until 1980. He was promoted to assistant superintendent of Lowndes County schools and also served as Lowndes High principal for 97 days. He retired from the school system in 1996.
He has remained busy. He has served on the local Hospital Authority and the Lowndes County Democratic Committee. The Ralph Council Southside Medical Center is named in his honor.
He and Ruth raised two daughters, Yvette C. Council Waters and Sherri Lynette Council. His face beams mentioning his granddaughter, Jaere’ Waters, a Lowndes High ninth-grader.
Last fall, Ralph Council suffered a light stroke. At the time, the stroke affected his voice. He would speak and his voice would unexpectedly stop while he talked. Medication has helped alleviate this condition.
He uses his voice to share memories with former students who approach him with success stories. He uses his voice to still advise young people that to find fun, they need an education, that they must work hard and stay in school, that they must make a commitment.
Sitting in a room of this church where he has been coming since his infancy, speaking of Ruth to whom he’s been married for more than 50 years, Ralph Council understands commitment, especially to a church.
For though they have been married for more than a half century, the Councils each attend the churches where they were raised. He attends Macedonia. She attends St. Paul A.M.E. Church, where she received a Founders Day honor last week.
She’ll come to his church this weekend to see him receive his honor, Ralph Council says, smiling once again, but she’ll go to her church first.
ALDOSTA — Ralph Council has spent a lifetime in Macedonia First Baptist Church.
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