'Iolani School - page 15

It all began
with a 2 a.m. phone call
from the Presiding Episcopal Bishop Henry
Knox Sherrill to Hawai‘i’s Bishop Harry
Sherbourne Kennedy. “Henry, do you know
what time it is here in Hawai‘i?” Bishop
Kennedy sleepily asked. Without skipping
a beat, Bishop Sherrill got straight to the
point, “Harry, we want to move the Con-
vention to Hawai‘i.” After a stunned silence,
Bishop Kennedy replied that he would need
several days before he could respond.
The 58th General Convention of the
Protestant Episcopal Church would be the
largest convention ever held in Hawai‘i, and
there was precious little time to organize it.
The largest gathering hosted in Honolulu
had been a group of 700 Shriners in 1951.
Before Bishop Kennedy could guarantee
that Honolulu could accommodate the
3,500 conventioneers who would arrive in
September of 1955, he would have to tackle
the transportation, lodging, and communi-
cations challenges that would test whether
Hawai‘i was capable of hosting what the
called Hawai‘i’s first
“big time” convention.
Over the next few days, Kennedy pulled
together clergy and lay leaders, state and city
officials, the Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau, hotels,
the Armed Forces, and countless private
citizens. These conversations produced a
camaraderie that would animate the entire
planning process and carry over into the
Convention itself. On June 9, Kennedy,
who also served as chairman of the ‘Iolani
School Board of Governors, issued the
formal invitation: “It is wonderful for us to
have the Convention here, since it will be
the first one held outside the continental
United States and in a missionary district. I
am sure none of us can begin to realize the
magnitude of the task. It will call upon all of
our resources, but we feel it can be done.”
The logistical challenges of hosting the
Convention, however, were overshadowed
by the circumstances surrounding the deci-
sion to move it to Honolulu. In 1952, the
church had selected Houston, Texas, as the
site of the convention. With the Sun Belt
population booming, Houston was the cen-
ter of an expanding Episcopal presence in
the Southwest. Houston’s segregation laws,
however, had made its selection controversial.
In the post-World War II period, the
Episcopal Church and other Protestant de-
nominations had taken a cautious stance on
the issue of segregation, opposing it more
with lip service than action.The selection of
Houston as the Convention site had trou-
bled some of the liberal leaders of church.
Joining them was a small but influential
group of African American Episcopalians,
including Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel
for the plaintiffs in the
Brown v. Board of
case and future Supreme Court
Justice. Marshall and others petitioned
Bishop Sherrill to move the Convention.
(An additional local sidelight occurred in
1955 when Marshall married Cecilia Suyat
of Kaua‘i in St. Philip’s Church in Harlem.)
From the start of the selection process,
Bishop Clinton Quin of the Houston di-
ocese assured the Convention committee
that the Convention would be integrated,
despite the city’s segregation laws. He
promised the construction of a new hotel to
house the conventioneers, which would also
allow them to take their meals together.The
church could not, however, guarantee a sus-
pension of Jim Crow laws in the city’s hotels
and restaurants, or on public transportation.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court
issued its historic ruling in the
Above: Local general convention committee heads: (Seated left to right): Mrs. George Goss, Woman’s Auxillary Triennial; Arthur C. Smith,
Chairman; The Rt. Rev. Harry S. Kennedy, Bishop of Honolulu; The Rev. Paul R. Savanack, Convention Manager. (Standing left to right): Douherty,
Shim, Morrett, Ozaki, Reed, McDonald, Thaanum, Challinor, Nakamura. Below: The convention shield.
Photos courtesy Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i
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