By Patsy Boyd Parker
Dr. A. L. Wilson, the pastor of the Thompson Chapel A.M.E. ZION Church for just under 50 years, has been a lamplighter of the past and present. Many would say he has had a positive impact on this community for more than fifty years.
In 1954 before coming to Opelika as the pastor of Thompson Chapel, Wilson was ordained as an elder in the AME Zion Church by the late Bishop William A. Steward. Wilson served as pastor of Harris Chapel AME Zion Church of Elmore County, Solomon Chapel AME Zion Church in Tuskegee and Oak Street AME Zion Church of Montgomery. He made building improvements at each of those churches.
Wilson graduated from Booker Washington High School in Montgomery. After high school, he immediately enlisted in the US Navy where he got the chance to see the world before being honorably discharged. After his tour of duty, Wilson enrolled at Alabama State College in Montgomery. Later, he continued his studies at the Free Pentecostal School of Religion in Chicago, Ill., and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
After serving his country and completing his academic studies, Wilson returned home and married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Mae Brown. From this union came six children. A.L. and Nancy Mae realized the important gift God had given them and immediately became lamplighters for their children and the communities in which they served. As James Stalke stated, “the important part of the training of the Twelve was one which was perhaps at the time little noticed though it was producing splendid results, more the silent and constant influence of His character in them. It was this which made them the men they became.” Observing these six children, it is evident the Wilsons lived this principle.
The Wilsons’ children are Vandy Wilson, a retired Air Force veteran who is the father of three college graduates; Dr. Linda Wilson, a Ph.D. in nursing who is professor of nursing at Middle Tennessee State University; Carolyn Wilson Dandridge, an Air Force veteran who worked at UAB in administration for 22 years and is now with The General Board of Discipleship, an agency of the United Methodist Church; Barbara Wilson Frazier, a Tennessee State University graduate and a veteran of the Emergency Communication Department of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department, where she has served as lead supervisor for the past 26 years; and Michael Wilson, a graduate of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., who has taught in the Newnan, Ga., School System since 1987. He was honored by selection as “Teacher of the Year” at Winston Dowdell Alternative School in 2010.
The Wilsons’ sixth child, Authurine Wilson Sims, died a few years ago after a successful, but too short, career as a teacher of special education.
In 1964, the Wilsons moved to Opelika where A.L. became the minister of the Thompson Chapel AME Zion Church. Under his administration, the church has seen many building improvements and renovations, including the Education Building equipped with handicap accessories as well as renovations to the church’s parsonage. Over the last 38 years, Wilson has served as Presiding Elder of the Opelika District of the Alabama Conference.
The Wilsons have served the sick in the hospital, nursing homes, and in the community for years. A.L. was founder and organizer of the Lee County Voter’s League. In 1964, he organized the local chapter of the NAACP in Opelika. He also organized the local chapter of the Alabama Democratic Conference. He has served as the treasurer and past president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance for Lee County.
He has also served on many city boards, including the Opelika Planning Commission, Citizens Advisory Board, State of Alabama Advisory during the Civil Rights Era, and the Board of Directors of the Food Banks of Lee, Russell and Macon counties. He has served on the Board of Trustees of Clinton Junior College for many years.
The Rev. A.L. Wilson has the respect and admiration of his peers as evidenced by his holding the position of president of the Presiding Elders’ Council of the AME Zion Church for more than 18 years. He presently serves on the Board of Trustees of Lomax Hannon Junior College.
Wilson has received many awards and recognitions over the years. Among these awards are Who’s Who Among Black Americans (l975-76); Who’s Who in the South and Southwest (1976-77, 1977-78) and The Harriet Tubman Award from the Ministers and Lay Association of the AME Zion Church in 1996.
In May 1975 Wilson was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Divinity by Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.
Nancy Mae is also very active in the community. She is a retired teacher from the Lee County School System.
A.L. is the bow from which his children as living arrows have been sent out to find and help those in need and suffering. The Wilsons nurtured their children and are building the Kingdom of God in today’s leaders and advocates for mankind.
As the famed Scottish humorist and entertainer Harry Lauder said, you can tell where the Lamplighter was by the trail he left behind him. Wilson is a Lamplighter, and what a trail he has left behind him.