206 Years of God’s Grace: 103 year-old deacons still serving Pgh’s Baptist community

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A historical journey connected by wisdom and unfailing faith

Daniel 12:3 states that “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

When Rev. Dr. Darryl T. Canady became aware that two 103 year-old deacons were still serving Pittsburgh’s Baptist community, he was determined to bring together these living heroes of African-American history.

On the cold, brisk afternoon of Jan. 17, Leroy Yuille and Luther Dupree were ushered into an upper room of the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church.  Their unique history filled the atmosphere with anticipated pride as Rev. Canady praised “God for the opportunity to touch a piece of history.”

Both elderly gentlemen greeted the year 2014 at a milestone age of 103.   Deacon Yuille, of East Liberty’s Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, celebrated his birth date on Oct. 10, while Deacon Dupree, of Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, reached his age on Nov. 25.

Although weakened by the ailments of time, memories still return vividly to the days of yesteryea; a time of southern roots, sharecroppers and segregation.

It was the first meeting for Yuille and Dupree, but there was a common bond that united the similarities of the past.  Both were born in the Southern part of the country; Yuille hails from Lawyers, Va., and Dupree was reared in Dillon, S.C.  They entered the world embraced by large, loving Christian families.

The teachings of strong, devout fathers taught them the relevance of hard work and the importance of God’s ways, leading them to accept Jesus Christ at the tender age of ten.  Throughout the years of racism and injustice, neither has wavered from the foundation of faith, devotedly serving their respective churches for 77 years.

During the great Southern migration, Yuille left his Virginia home in 1928 to travel to the industrial city of Pittsburgh.  He eventually found work at U.S. Steel Corp., the company from which he would retire.  Desiring a better life, Dupree, in 1937, traded his South Carolina roots, relocating to the western Pennsylvania city.  After a brief stint with the steel company, he accepted employment with Westinghouse.

The men married and raised families, instilling the same principles of their parents.  Both widowers, Yuille was married to Lena Barclay Yuille for 51 years, raising one son and Dupree boasts of 62½ years of marriage to Gertrude McCall Dupree, with whom he had five children.

Age has not dampened the humor or outspokenness of Yuille.  When asked why he gave his life to Christ at such an early age, the deacon, emphatically stated, eliciting laughter from those gathered, “I accepted Jesus out of fear.  I wanted to miss hell.”  His ministry work launched several new ministries within the church he loves so much.  Pride fills his heart as he speaks of the tireless efforts following the infamous Rodman Street Church fire.  From those ashes, he tells his story of the hard work to “build the church that now stands.”

Yuille recalls the difficulty of growing up in the sea of segregation. He just wanted to be “free to be who you want to be and not be criticized because of your color.”  His boldness has always been one of his finest attributes.

That courageous spirit came to life as he recalled his naval service in World War II, emphatically stating, “We were fighting for rights that were not our own.

We couldn’t do anything about it.  I tried to accept it and do the best I could with it.”

In a strong voice full of assurance, he continues after a thoughtful pause, “But I persevered.  I’ve grown in my faith by being a staunch believer.   I could not have made it through without God.  I believe that God carried me through the most difficult times of my life.  I never thought that I would live through segregation, but the government was forced to make changes and I lived long enough to see a president that was not White.  These things make me feel like a citizen of the United States.”

The life of Dupree also speaks for itself.   The son of a sharecropper, Dupree grew up working the South Carolina fields.   Within his story, he has witnessed changes in “people going to the best schools; buying land and trying to have something in life.”   Morning  prayer around the dining room table was mandatory.  “My father always prayed for mercy on his children and grandchildren,” a practice Dupree continues to this day.  “He taught me to be independent.”  Because farms were rented, his father encouraged him to obtain “your own mule, a plow, some land and your own car.  Be honest and spend money wisely.  He credits his longevity “to working on that big farm.”

His “memories of the farm life are happy ones…a time when I could do what I pleased.”

This warm-hearted gentleman, emitting a virtuous inner strength, states he has witnessed an improvement in preachers throughout his Christian walk.

Evident is the hero in his life as he proudly discusses his father, a preacher who “lived the life.  He was a real man who went to school to learn how to preach.  Preachers are educated now.”  He continues, “When people become educated, they do better.”  The proudest moment of his life, he stated, occurred when “I was able to vote for a Black president of the United States.”

When questioned about the difference between the generation of yesteryear and the generation of today, Dupree firmly makes a valid point.

“We were always hard working.

The younger generation needs to wake-up. They are doing everything they should not do and not doing things they should do.  When you do right, you advance a lot faster.”

Yuille ponders the question and once again, pensively recalls the pressures of segregation, including the memories of his own survival.  “They need to keep their hands in God’s hands.  Trust God to carry them and turn it over to the Lord.  The Lord brought me to where I am today.”

Reverend Richard Wingfield, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, describes Dupree as “a Pastor’s Deacon” and he is “grateful for the words of encouragement” he always receives whenever he is in his presence.

“Leroy Yuille,” states Canady, “is a great example of strength and courage…determined to cross the finish line standing.  He motivates me to stay on the Battlefield for My Lord.” The wisdom he gained from the encounter with the two “elder statesmen” was shared with his Sunday congregations.  “In order to live a fruitful and productive life,” he said, “one must be spiritually fit, exhibit fortitude, keep the faith and finish the race.”

Just as Daniel stated, Luther Dupree and Leroy Yuille have spent their lives brightening the stars of God’s magnificent universe…living proof that by walking in God’s light, blessings will follow all the days of your life.

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