Raymond Rogers Wilkinson (1923-1993) was born on a farm in Amelia County, Virginia. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Following his military service, he attended Virginia Union University in Richmond where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity Degree (1955) and a Master of Divinity Degree in Theology (1956).
In 1956, he served as pastor at First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Shortly thereafter, he began writing for the Roanoke Tribune on religious matters, as well as an advocate for racial inequality.
From 1958-1991 he was pastor at Hill Street Baptist Church in Gainsboro. He served there for over thirty years. During his time in Roanoke he became a well respected minister and civil rights leader who addressed peacefully, powerfully, and effectively an incredible number of injustices in the Black community.
- From 1959-1968, he served as president of the Roanoke NAACP chapter actively challenging racial discrimination and school segregation matters. His two daughters, ages 7 and 8, were the first Black children to attend Melrose Elementary, an all white school, in 1960.
- In 1960, he organized and led a Biracial Committee to facilitate peaceful integration in Roanoke schools, businesses, and places of employment. The committee consisted of both Black and White members and operated from 1960-68. During that period the committee successfully integrated downtown lunch counters, department stores, theaters, hospitals and event facilities. In addition, the committee and Reverend Wilkinson also furthered Black representation in city schools and municipal departments (police, fire, sanitation).
- In 1963, he championed the efforts of the Black community to close a smelly, open dump at Washington Park.The dump was an eyesore and a frequent complaint to city leaders. At one point, Reverend Wilkinson threatened to organize a demonstration march of young mothers with their babies in carriages (a human barricade) to block garbage trucks from entering the park. Through pointed advocacy and the influence of the Biracial Committee, the dump was closed expeditiously.
- He was regionally active in church alliances and served as president of the Baptist Pastors Conference of Roanoke, Salem, and Vinton, Virginia (1968) and president of the Roanoke Valley Ministers Conference (1978).
- In the 1970s during urban renewal in Gainsboro, he was outspoken about the impacts of redevelopment projects on the Black community and strongly protested the relocation and demolition of his own church, Hill Street Baptist, in 1980.
- In 2002, he received, posthumously, the Martin Luther King Award for Excellence from the Roanoke NAACP Chapter for his role as “the starter of the civil rights movement in Roanoke City, closing dumps, opening food service to blacks, and integrating schools and hospitals.”
Rev. R. R. Wilkinson Dies at 69. (June 16, 1993). The Roanoke Times.
Rev. Dr. Raymond R. Wilkinson, Roanoke, Virginia’s Civil Rights Pioneer. (n.d). Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.rrwilkinson.org
Benjamin, N. (February 27, 2020). Benjamin: Rev. R.R. Wilkinson’s legacy lives on. The Roanoke Times.