Minister savors day for his forebears

HARRY BUTLER TALKS about the inauguration of Barack Obama as president on Tuesday. Butler stands in Handy Chapel, where he is pastor. “All I can do now is pray to God that he gives his wisdom (to Obama) to make the right choices,” said Butler, the great-grandson of a slave.     

The great-grandson of a Virginia slave, Harry Butler watched in wonder Tuesday morning as Barack Obama took the oath of office as president of the United States.

The moment, Butler said, was “a consummation.”

“It shows that the tenor of the nation is changing,” Butler said, standing in the sunlit sanctuary of the Handy Chapel in downtown Grand Junction. “It’s a great leap of faith.”

Handy Chapel was built in 1882 as an African Methodist Episcopal church, thus the A.M.E. on its cornerstone, said Butler, the church pastor.

Elijah Hines, born into slavery in Virginia, was living in Missouri when his owner gave him permission when he turned 18 years of age to join a “colored regiment,” as they were known, in the Union Army during the Civil War.

It wasn’t until 1901 that Elijah joined his three sons in the Grand Valley, where they went to work for themselves in the Hines Orchards and planted themselves into the community.

Visitors can find Elijah Hines’ face in a photograph of the members of the Grand Army of the Republic, as the Union Army was known after the war. The photo is on display in the Veterans Cemetery of Western Colorado.

Elijah’s death April 11, 1925, was headlined the same day in The Daily Sentinel: “Born a slave he died an honored man.”

“There are no better men than Elijah Hines and he will be sincerely mourned by all who have had the good fortune to be acquainted with him,” the story said.

Butler worked for the Job Corps in Collbran and then as a hydrotechnician for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation until retiring in 1994. Since then, Butler, a Republican, has served on the Grand Junction City Council and is now a member of the School District 51 Board of Education.

He attended the rallies in Grand Junction for Obama and for Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president with the Republican nominee, John McCain.

“I vote my conscience,” Butler said.

The election is over, the Obama administration “is reality now,” Butler said. “All I can do is pray to God that he gives his wisdom (to Obama) to make the right choices.”

But there is something else about that inaugural, he said.

“I sure wish my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were alive to see it.” Butler said. “It would have been a fantastic thing.”


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