Heslip M. "Happy" Lee Biography and Timeline
The Rev. Heslip M. "Happy" Lee (1922-2011 ), minister and educator, social and political activist, spent much of his life working to improve relations between blacks and whites. His life's work is representative of many other like-minded individuals of his generation who were active in the cause for civil rights and equality in the last half of the 20th century. A native of Georgia, Lee's work during the height of the struggle for civil rights brought him to Virginia in the early 1960s where he served as Executive Director of the Virginia Council on Human Relations. In the late 1960s and 1970s he served as a consultant to various educational, urban, and community programs in North Carolina, Georgia, and other localities.
Born in rural Polk County, Georgia on February 21, 1922, Heslip Malbert "Happy" Lee is the son of Mary Camp Lee (1918-1983) and Malbert Warren Lee (1898-1976). Lee had two younger siblings, a sister, Virginia Lee, born 1924, and a brother, Charles Lee, who died at age 2. The Lee family were poor tenant farmers, raising cotton and corn, living without electricity and running water. Lee attended elementary and high school in Polk County. The origin of the name "Happy" began when Lee's sister could not pronounce his first name. She eventually started calling him something that sounded like "Happy" which is the name she used for him. It was not until Lee was at Junior College that the name "Happy" really began to be used. One of his professors considered his name Heslip to hard to remember and asked him if he had a nickname. Lee recounted the story about his sister calling him "Happy." The professor preferred the nickname and it stuck.
In 1941, Lee married Laura McClung (1924- ) of Haralson County. They later had five children: Dwain H. Lee, Glen L. Lee, Joan Lee, Stephen F. Lee (who died in 1994), and Laurie Lee. "Happy" Lee operated a dairy farm and grocery business in Polk County. Ordained to "preach the Gospel" in October of 1949, Lee served as pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in July of 1950. He would go on to serve as pastor of nearly a dozen other Baptist churches in Georgia and other states. Lee received a B.A. Degree in Philosophy in June, 1954 from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia and a Master of Divinity Degree in 1957 from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School. He became pastor of York Baptist Church, in York, New York while working in a number of local community organizations. He returned to Georgia and served two years, 1957-1959, as Director of Religious Activities, at Mercer University, in Macon. Lee became pastor of First Baptist Church, in Springfield, Virginia from 1959-1961 and became a member of the Board of Directors of the Virginia Council of Human Relations (VCHR), a bi-racial state wide organization that worked to foster communication and improved relations between blacks and whites. Lee and his family moved to Richmond when he accepted the post as Executive Director of VCHR. He also served during this time period, 1961-1964, as a member of the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Lee was extremely active as VCHR’s Executive Director. He worked to increase the number of local VCHR groups and overall membership; he spoke to numerous groups in both small and large settings; helped in the desegregation of dozens of public facilities in Virginia; and monitored actions in Prince Edward County, Virginia where county officials had closed their pubic schools in an effort to block school desegregation. In late 1964 Lee left Virginia and became Executive Director, Salisbury-Rowan Community Service Council, Inc., in Salisbury, North Carolina and served as Chairman, North Carolina State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 1966 he began serving as Vice President for Development, Shaw University, Raleigh and continued to be active in the civil rights field in the state. Beginning in 1968 he would serve for nearly 10 years under a variety of titles acting as a consultant to several educational, urban, and community programs in North Carolina, Georgia, and other localities.
He retired in 1978 in Cedartown, Georgia and operated the family jewelry store and farmed. In the 1980s he served in the "Minister-at-Large" program of the American Baptist Churches with assignments in churches from New York to Utah. In the 1990s he chaired the 7th District (7 Counties) Democratic Party in Georgia and is credited with revitalizing the Polk County Democratic Party. In 2004, Lee was honored by the Gandhi Foundation of America with the Gandhi Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He died on May 26, 2011.
Lee Family, Rochester Times-Union, 1956.
1922: Born in Polk County, Georgia, February 21, 1922
1939-1941: Employed by Goodyear Textiles, Rockmart, Georgia
1941: Married Laura McClung, July 4, 1941
1941-1950: Operated a dairy farm and grocery business in Polk County, Georgia Served on Polk County Board of Education, chairman of local Community Improvement Project; chairman of local chapter of the Georgia Farm Bureau.
1948-1951: Pastor, Antioch Baptist Church, Cedartown, Georgia
1951-1952: Truett-McConnell Jr. College, Cleveland, Georgia
1952-1954: Mercer University, Macon, Georgia. Received B.A. Degree in Philosophy in June, 1954; Pastor, Belerma Baptist, Hancock County, Georgia (two weeks per month); Pastor Jenkinsburg Baptist, Jenkinsburg, Georgia.
1954-1957: Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, New York. Received Master of Divinity Degree, 1957. President of Senior Class, Pastor, York Baptist Church, York, New York. Also worked as a scoutmaster, an officer in the Farm Bureau, a member of the Parent-Teacher Association and volunteered for the local Red Cross drives and a community improvement club.
1957-1959: Director of Religious Activities, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia
1959-1961: Pastor, First Baptist Church, Springfield, Virginia; Member, Board of Directors, Virginia Council of Human Relations.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (center), Heslip "Happy" Lee (right), Dean F.D.G. Ribble, ca.1964. from unidentified newspaper clipping, ca. 1964. Ribble was former dean of the University of Virginia law school. Katzenbach spoke to about 85 lawyers from throughout the state in a day-long conference sponsored by the Virginia Council on Human Relations.
1961-1964: Executive Director, Virginia Council on Human Relations, Richmond, Virginia; Member of the Virginia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
1964-1966: Executive Director, Salisbury-Rowan Community Service Council, Inc., Salisbury, North Carolina. Served as Chairman, North Carolina State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Consultant to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in preparing hospitals throughout the Southeast to comply with Medicare regulations.
1966-1968: Vice President for Development, Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina; Member, Board of Directors, and Vice President, North Carolina Council on Human Relations; Chairman, North Carolina State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; Consultant to the Office of Economic Opportunity.
1968-1969: Urban Affairs Specialist and Consultant, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina. Served as a consultant to various educational, urban, and community programs in North Carolina, Georgia, and other localities
1969-1971: Deputy Director of Atlanta University, Multi-Purpose Training Center, Atlanta, Georgia which was responsible for the training needs of all local Community Action Agencies in six southern states.
1971-1973: Assistant to the Dean, School of Urban Life, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. Served as a consultant to various educational, urban, and community programs in North Carolina, Georgia, and other localities.
1973- Program Officer with the Southern Regional Council, Inc., Atlanta Georgia.
1978: Retired, Cedartown, Georgia. Operated a family jewelry store with son Dwain for six years.
1984-1988: Served in the "Minister-at-Large" program of the American Baptist Churches with assignments at: First Baptist Church of Glen Falls, New York (11 months); Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, New York (5 months); First Baptist Church, Salt Lake City, Utah; First Baptist Church, Waltham, Massachusetts; Brighton Community Church, Buffalo, New York.
1990s: Farmed for most of the 1990s (a 50 acre+ farm with up to 60 cattle at one point). Chaired the 7th District (7 Counties) Democratic Party. Revitalized the Polk County Democratic Party throughout the 1990s.
2000s: Happy Lee, retired? Both Rev. Lee and Laura Lee were active members of their community as well as active parents and grandparents.
2004: In 2004, the Gandhi Foundation of USA, which promotes the philosophies of both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose Rev. Lee to be the first non-Indian recipient of the Gandhi Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his work in human relations. Rev. Lee received the Gandhi Lifetime Achievement Award on October 9, 2004 at a ceremony held at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic District.
Rev. Lee died May 26, 2011.