The Rev. Dr. Samuel W. Hylton Jr., who led Centennial Christian Church for more than three decades while spearheading social service programs, has died. He was 91.
In addition to envisioning and implementing numerous neighborhood programs, Hylton was the first convener of the St. Louis metropolitan Clergy Coalition, a group of spiritual leaders who actively address community concerns.
“He was a good leader and very compassionate, a deep thinker,” said the Rev. Earl Nance, pastor of the Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, and a more recent president of the Clergy Coalition.
“It was his leadership and steadfastness that created the foundation for the Coalition to remain viable for the last 30 years,” Nance added.
Hylton, described by many as a humble, strong servant of God who “saw the good in everyone,” died of heart failure on July 4, at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
Visitation will be Friday evening, at Centennial Church. Services will be the following morning at the church.
Among Hylton’s visions was affordable housing for senior citizens, and he set about to make that happen.
Through his leadership, his church partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church to develop three senior housing facilities in St. Louis. The first was named Centennial Plaza; the other two were named in honor of Hylton: Hylton Point I and Hylton Point II Apartments.
“Buddy,” as his wife called him, applied his academic and ministerial training to help improve people’s lives.
He launched a youth retreat and a Head Start Program, partnered with the Delta Sigma Theta Literacy Center and initiated a social service center that provides food, clothes and counseling to disadvantaged people.
In addition to his ministry and the Clergy Coalition, Hylton served the community through numerous affiliations, including the St. Louis Art Museum; Central Medical Center the Interfaith Partnership; the Black Leadership Roundtable; the Veiled Prophet Fair Executive Committee; Southeast Missouri State University and Culver-Stockton College Board of Regents and the Mid America Transplant Association.
Hylton was chair of the St. Louis Public School Task Force on Violence and co-chair of the School Tax Committee.
Nance credits Hylton with getting then-Mayor Vincent Schoemehl to appoint Nance to an unexpired position on the St. Louis Public Schools Board, a move that helped oust a “white rights” school board faction and prepare slates for the next two elections.
“He lobbied Mayor Schoemehl hard on my behalf,” Nance recalled. “His educational background prompted him to do that.”
That background included earning a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia. His tenure at Morehouse overlapped another famous alum and preacher, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1954, he received his master of divinity degree and was given an honorary doctor of divinity degree in1973, from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1978, Hylton was awarded a doctor of ministry degree from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
He later became an adjunct faculty member at Winston-Salem University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at Saint Louis University and Eden Theological Seminary.
Samuel W. Hylton Jr. was a native of Roanoke, Virginia. He was born on Feb. 14, in 1927, the eldest son of the late Rev. and Mrs. Samuel W. Hylton Sr.’s three children. He was baptized when he was 9 years old. He received early Christian training at Loudon Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Roanoke.
Hylton became assistant pastor at Second Christian Church in Indianapolis. He later served as pastor of Cleveland Avenue Christian Church, now named Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In October of 1961, he arrived in St. Louis to begin his senior pastor position at Centennial Christian Church, 4950 Fountain Ave. With him was his wife, Mildred, and their son, Samuel III. Their daughter, Karen Elizabeth, was born soon after.
Hylton led Centennial for almost 36 years and then served as Centennial’s pastor emeritus and began working with the Christian Church Foundation.
He had been active at all levels of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and received numerous honors, including being named Omega Psi Phi’s Citizen of the Year and receiving the Alpha Kappa Alpha Lifetime Achievement Award, the NBA Pioneer for Affirmative Action Award and the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award.
He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; the International Scholastic Honor Society of Theta Phi and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was a charter member of the St. Louis Symphony’s In Unison program.
Hylton traveled extensively throughout the United States and world. He was a member of the Christian Church delegation to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan; Kenya, Liberia, South Africa and Zaire. He was also honored to be a fraternal visitor to the Christian Churches in Jamaica.
“He loved Centennial Church and he loved his family,” Nance said.
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Hylton's survivors include a sister, Janice Hylton Hale, of Roanoke, Virginia, and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 - 8 p.m., Friday, at Centennial Christian Church, 4950 Fountain Ave., St. Louis. Services will begin at 9 a.m., Saturday, at the church.
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