Bishop William H. Graves, Sr. Memorial Membership Campaign Announcement

Today, the NAACP launches the Bishop William H. Graves, Sr. Memorial Membership Campaign. Bishop Graves, a trailblazer for justice and equality, was a 27-year member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and the 42nd bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, presiding over the First Episcopal District in Memphis from 1982 to 2010. One of the nation’s most consequential religious and civic leaders, he was actively involved in the social and political issues facing disadvantaged communities. With his quiet, strong demeanor, Bishop Graves was a spiritual giant who knew hardships and the blessings of second chances. A membership helps support the NAACP advocate and answer the call for an equal society. The campaign runs through May 31, 2021. 

A native of Brownsville, TN, Bishop Graves grew up picking cotton alongside his parents and siblings who worked as sharecroppers for a white landowner at a time of segregation and lynching. He received a bachelor’s degree from Lane College and studied at Phillips School of Theology of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta later receiving a doctor of ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology in California. 

NAACP Chairman Leon Russell states, “I considered Bishop a mentor and often conferred with him on very serious matters. His wisdom and sound judgement were invaluable.” 

“Bishop Graves was a kind and honest man who was always on the frontline in the fight for equality and justice,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “I am eternally grateful for his lifetime contributions to both our Association and his community. It was his counsel that guided me to seek a seat on the NAACP National Board of Directors.” 

Bishop Graves rose to prominence in the church during an outstanding pastorate of the Phillips Temple CME Church of Los Angeles, CA, where he led that historic congregation to a renovation/restoration project of its worship facility; while there, he earned a reputation as an unusual leader in stewardship motivation of local congregations. He also served pastorates in Georgia, Indiana and Wisconsin before his 1982 election to bishop. Bishop Graves made history when he appointed the first woman presiding elder in the CME church.   

Jacqueline Graves Thomas, Bishop Graves oldest daughter, states that her father was a “man of second chances. Third chances. Fourth chances. Fifth chances. And some more,he loved each and every one of us in his own special way, acknowledging our unique attributes.” 

For 20 years, Bishop Graves served on The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc.. Board of Directors. A visionary, he offered wise counsel to the board and staff of The Crisis magazine, the NAACPs official publication. 

Bishop Graves was a member of the board of commissioners of the Memphis Light Gas and Water company, which is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s largest customer. He was nominated for the TVA board by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) and became the first African American board member and first Memphis citizen to serve the TVA. 

A past president of the National Congress of Black Churches’ board of directors, Bishop Graves also served as a board of trustees, member at his alma mater, Lane College and was a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.

“Bishop Graves loved the CME Church and the NAACP. This campaign honors and celebrates him for what he gave to make them better organizations striving to make the world a better place,” states Bishop Marvin Thomas, son-in-law to Bishop Graves and member, NAACP National Board of Directors. 

Those interested in a membership in the NAACP may visit or