The Rev. E.V. Hill, the pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles who rose from poverty in Texas to become a confidant of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and a power within one of the nation's largest African American denominations, has died. He was 69.
Hill died late Monday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was admitted Feb. 8 with what an aide said was an aggressive form of pneumonia complicated by other medical conditions.
In the last eight months, Hill had to preach sitting down because of a condition that weakened his legs. He also suffered from diabetes, his son, the Rev. E.V. Hill II, pastor of Calvary Temple Pentecostal Holiness Church in North Hollywood, said Tuesday.
Known as a preacher whose sermons could thunder with righteousness even as he could listen with a pastor's heart, Hill would have celebrated his 42nd anniversary as pastor of Mt. Zion this month.
Bishop Charles E. Blake, pastor of West Angeles Cathedral in Los Angeles and a leader in another predominantly African American denomination, the Church of God in Christ, called Hill "one of the most significant personalities in the clergy over the past 30 or 40 years."
"He was a great preacher, a tremendous preacher," Blake said, "and a common man's theologian."
Blake said Hill would be remembered in Los Angeles "for his compassion for the poor and his commitment to the community."
Under Hill's leadership, his congregation became a center of political and social activism in Los Angeles that, like the better-known First African Methodist Episcopal Church led by the Rev. Cecil M. "Chip" Murray, drew presidents and preachers alike.
On one occasion, evangelist Billy Graham showed up unannounced so he could hear Hill preach. It was Hill's church that President George H.W. Bush visited in the days immediately after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Like other activist black leaders, Hill was an early confidant of King. In the years that followed, he fought for government programs to bring housing and economic development to the needy in the community he served. He started a program for the hungry, called the "Lord's Kitchen." His church also built senior citizen housing, started a credit union and provided clothing for the poor.
The Rev. E.V. Hill II said Tuesday that his father had developed such a reputation for helping people that the senior Hill once joked about it. " 'I guess next time you think I'm going to help a crippled crab across the street,' " he quoted his father as saying. "But if anyone was going to help a crippled crab, it would be him."
The senior Hill also gained a reputation among African American preachers as a man of the cloth cut from a different cloth. For one thing, he was a Republican. He gave the inaugural prayer for President Richard Nixon's second term in the middle of Watergate and twice led clergy committees for Ronald Reagan's presidency.
"I switched parties. I'm a conservative Republican now. But I'm no longer a Democrat. I left that in Texas," Hill said a decade ago.
"His philosophy was that you can't put everybody in the same boat. He had to get in a different boat," the Rev. Perry Jones, pastor of Messiah Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, said Tuesday. "But his objectives were the same: to advance the cause of Christ, primarily, and, second, to advance the cause of his people."
Hill became a backer of the late Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, and in 1973 backed Yorty over an up-and-coming black police officer turned politician who would later become Hill's friend, Tom Bradley. More recently, Hill aligned himself with such preachers as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and other Christian conservatives.
Hill preached on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. His back-to-basics, no-nonsense Christianity holding men accountable for their lives and marriages became a staple at Promise Keepers rallies across the country. Promise Keepers, a predominantly white evangelical men's ministry, proclaimed that men should become "promise keepers instead of promise breakers."
Its founder, former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, hoped that Hill's prominence in the African American community would help Promise Keepers break through the color barrier and appeal to blacks as well as whites. But it was a dream only partially realized.
Hill could verbally flay liberals with a passion honed by years in the pulpit. At a 1994 Promise Keepers rally in Orange County, he spoke negatively about the teaching of evolution, the abortion "epidemic" and the "satanic" American Civil Liberties Union. He denounced homosexuality.
As high a standard of fidelity as Hill held for men, he was a pastor familiar with human failings and quick to pronounce forgiveness, even in the face of scandal.