United States District Assemblies of 1949
JEHOVAH is a God of love, and his witnesses preach and practice true neighbor love. The Creator’s love for obedient mankind is shown not only by his provision of an earthly home that meets man’s physical needs, but also by God’s bounty in supplying the more vital spiritual needs of the human family. These supplies he channels to men through his Word the Bible, and also through a visible organization on earth directed by his spirit. By the distribution of Bibles and Bible helps necessary spiritual food is made available to all men of meek and humble spirit who discern that this old world and its schemes offer no real hope. But more than mere distribution of printed truth is provided: meetings for group study are a vital addition to that service. The meetings may be of only two or three gathered in His name in a private home; they may consist of dozens in a small community area, or hundreds in local Kingdom Halls, or several thousand in auditoriums or stadiums serving attenders from several states. And not only do these meetings welcome into their midst any good-will persons desiring to attend, but also these meetings reach out to private homes and public streets to extend their blessings to all men.
All of this was demonstrated by the district assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses recently held in the United States. The country is divided into seven districts, and in each of these districts two assemblies were held to serve those sections, to make a total of fourteen district assemblies in the United States in 1949. The program schedule was the same for all of the meetings, but since the various speakers were supplied with only outlines the detailed material of the same talk varied with each speaker. But the general information given at these district assemblies will eventually appear in The Watchtower, so space need not be given to that in this article. This article will endeavor to give some highlights from each of the district assemblies, points that make that particular assembly stand apart from the others.
FT. WORTH, JACKSONVILLE
Dramatic events centered around the meeting-place in the first of these district assemblies, held May 27-30 at Fort Worth, Texas. Two weeks prior to the assembly a tremendous fire devastated La Grave Field, where the convention was to be held. The stands were reduced to a mass of twisted steel, which had buckled with the intense heat, practically melting it in places. Littered over the grounds were heaps of charred debris. When one knows that this field was considered one of the most modern minor league ball parks in the country, and that along with it were destroyed expensive sound equipment and newly installed television broadcasting equipment, one can understand why the catastrophe was reported as a million-dollar loss. It was providential that the witnesses were able to get on such short notice the Northside Coliseum, to replace La Grave Field as meeting-place of the assembly.
Fire had failed to halt the assembly; now water tried its hand. Three days after the fire ten inches of rain fell in twelve hours and turned the ordinarily docile Trinity river into an uncontrollable and rampaging mass of water, rising to a height of twenty-nine feet. It flooded the fire-gutted stadium and reached to within a few feet of the coliseum. It cut off the city water supply, which was not restored until a few days before the convention date, and was not pronounced safe until Thursday afternoon, just a day before the assembly was to convene. But neither fire nor water prevailed against the assembly, and Saturday evening’s attendance of 3,109 witnesses swelled to 4,345 for the public talk on Sunday, entitled “It Is Later than You Think!” Many attending understood only Spanish, so provision was made for them to hear some of the talks in their own language. Eighty-seven were immersed to symbolize their consecration to do God’s will.
On this same week-end the first of two district assemblies for colored brethren was held in Jacksonville, Florida. This assembly was the very essence of appreciation and enthusiasm. As speakers made strong points murmurs of approval ran across the audience like the rustle of wind through pines. Applause was frequent. Speakers with little worldly education presented excellent material, by Jehovah’s grace. These brethren showed exceptional understanding of human nature and skillfully applied Bible texts to tear away excuses or to offer encouragement in overcoming difficulties encountered in the field work. The few white brethren who assisted in looking after the assembly arrangements were outspoken in their praise of the way the colored brethren did the work assigned to them. While the assembly was for colored persons, there was no color line as far as the witnesses were concerned. Vain squabbles about immaterial differences in skin color are left for quarreling worldlings, not for true Christians.
Twenty-eight were immersed, and 1,163 were present for the public lecture. Mention might be made of an interesting reaction from a local businessman who was furnishing a steamtable and other equipment for the cafeteria. When first contacted he wanted to know whether the equipment was for another convention being held in Jacksonville at the same time. When it was clarified that the request was being made for the Watchtower assembly he brightened up. Certainly they could have it. And the price? “Well, if it was for that other convention I would stick them plenty; but for the Watchtower you may have it free.”
LITTLE ROCK, NEW ORLEANS
On June 3-5 the assembly scene shifted to Little Rock, Arkansas. The people of Little Rock were hospitable in opening their homes to accommodate the visiting witnesses, and likewise helpful were the businessmen. And not only these, but also the officials of the city were very cooperative in lending the needed assistance. Quite a change from the mob-crazed city that turned on this same group of Christians seven years earlier, canceled the same auditorium and then endeavored to prevent holding the assembly at a location several miles out of the city. One of the officials referred to this by saying, “You need never fear any such action as your people received here in 1942.”
Distinctive in this assembly was the taxi service. On a lot four blocks from the auditorium two large tents sheltered kitchen, cafeteria and refreshment stands. To solve the transportation problem for poor walkers twelve cars provided a free taxi-shuttle service between auditorium and cafeteria. None were poorly fed, either temporally or spiritually. As at many of the other district assemblies, witnesses brought the householders with whom they were staying to the public lecture. One such woman, who had never heard any of the lectures before, was delighted and when the speaker closing the final session mentioned the eight-day international convention to be held in New York city in 1950, this lady declared she was going to attend that one too. A fine turnout of public were at the Sunday meeting, 3,003 being Sunday’s attendance, to compare with 2,151 witnesses present on Saturday evening. Thirty-seven were immersed.
While witnesses in reformed Little Rock were enjoying their assembly colored brethren in New Orleans, Louisiana, were holding theirs. It might not have been accompanied by the crowds and fanfare of the religious and riotous mardi gras, but it was well advertised among the colored inhabitants and far exceeded the mardi gras in benefits brought to those who attended. The opening session made it apparent that the San Jacinto Club would not be adequate to seat the crowd expected at the public lecture. Efforts to gain additional facilities were fruitless, however, so the witnesses proceeded to get the most out of (perhaps we should say into) the facilities they had. Aisles grew narrower as chairs were inched closer, with the hard-to-imagine result that accommodated for the Sunday talk were 1,553 persons! A crowd gathered in front of the building attentively listened to the loudspeaker outside, heads peered in at every window opening onto the outside walkways, and neighbors sat on their steps and gave ear as the talk was delivered.
Everyone who observed the progress of the assembly was impressed by the way in which Jehovah’s spirit was manifested upon the brethren, many of whom had little previous experience in the work of the assembly assigned to them. But organization did not lack; the work progressed smoothly from preconvention days even to the end of the last session on June 5. The witnesses present appreciated the fact that, even though forced by the law of the southland to practice segregation, Jehovah’s hand was in no wise shortened; rather, it was more gloriously seen upon his people, for it made the gifts of the participating brethren more manifest. As they left for their scattered homes the cheery call “I’ll see you in New York in 1950” was upon many lips. And when Jehovah’s witnesses meet in that northern city in international convention, with scores of thousands attending from many nations and with a variety of skin colors and many different tongues, there will be no segregation of Christian brethren necessary. A glorious prospect, that!
BIRMINGHAM, SACRAMENTO, RALEIGH
Two district assemblies at widely separated points occupied the days of June 10-12. One was held at Birmingham, Alabama; the other at Sacramento, California. Both used as assembly places the spacious fairgrounds of those states, with the traditional southern hospitality at Birmingham being matched by the western variety at Sacramento. At the southern assembly 57 new ministers symbolized their consecration by water immersion, and some 1,200 persons of good-will attended the public lecture, to swell the total attendance figure for that meeting to 3,900. In the west 309 were baptized, and attendance rose from Saturday’s 7,406 to a gratifying 10,615 for the public lecture on Sunday. Post-assembly reports state that many home Bible studies have been started as a result. At Sacramento some pioneer witnesses switched their energies from the field of gospel-preaching to fields of farming in order to stock the cafeteria with food for the conventioners, as the following report shows:
“A great saving in the food bills was realized during preconvention work when quite a contingent of pioneers engaged in fruit and berry picking daily. Thirteen hundred pounds of cherries were picked at one farm, and another nurseryman, who is a brother, devoted the whole second crop of his strawberry patch free, yielding enough for one full meal at the assembly. These same pioneers, along with the help of the company publishers in the Sacramento company, remained till after 9 p.m. preparing and putting this choice food in deep freeze for the big event. On one occasion pioneers worked all night cutting and packing head lettuce (lettuce has to be cut after midnight) which was obtained at 50c per crate (normally $6). Fifty crates were the fruits of the night’s work, realizing a saving of more than $250 on head lettuce alone.”
The district assembly held in Raleigh, North Carolina, June 24-26, had an unusual feature: an interview over one of the radio stations with the speaker who was to give “It Is Later than You Think!” This allowed for giving an excellent witness as to who are Jehovah’s witnesses and what are their methods and purposes. As it came over the air the assembly sound department recorded it and then played it for the entire assembly at the close of Saturday evening’s session. Very cooperative with the witnesses were the townspeople, businessmen, hotels, officials and newspapers, in addition to the radio station. After the assembly the following letter was received from the city manager and auditorium superintendent:
“We would like to take this occasion to state that your convention held here in Raleigh was a well-conducted affair. During all of this time we did not have a complaint, and the director of buildings stated that your group was fine and very cooperative. We hope that as individuals and as a group you will again return to Raleigh to visit us.”
As it so frequently seems to occur, this assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses in Raleigh was held about the same time as a convention of the American Legion. The Legion convention moved out of the auditorium on Tuesday; on Friday Jehovah’s witnesses were holding their sessions there. As usual, the contrast was remarkable. One hotel manager observed that he holds his breath when the Legion announces its convention, but really likes the way Jehovah’s witnesses conduct themselves. This shows that we are constantly on trial and being scrutinized in our actions. How important it is that our behavior be Christian at all times! On Saturday 2,659 attended, and on Sunday 3,778 more than filled the auditorium.
DETROIT, PORTLAND, SPRINGFIELD
Three district assemblies were held in the United States on the days July 1-4, in Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Oregon, and Springfield, Massachusetts. The program at Detroit was specially appreciated because of daily discourses by N. H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. On Sunday he delivered the public talk “It Is Later than You Think!” to 12,402 persons, a crowd that overflowed the capacity of the state fairgrounds Coliseum. On Saturday 7,500 attended and 231 were immersed.
During the course of the assembly one of the preconvention experiences was related relative to obtaining rooming accommodations. A publisher called at a nice home in an exclusive section. In response to the publisher’s request for rooms the man of the house said, “Sure, I have a room, and you can have it upon two conditions. First, that you send someone who would not object to our playing classical music, and second, that they spend an hour or two explaining your work.” And the room would be free. The sequel was told by the witness having the good fortune of occupying the room. After a long day’s work at the assembly, this brother and his companion arrived at the room about 11 p.m. The family, along with three friends, were waiting up for them, reminded them of the requirement for occupying the room, and requested that the Society’s work be explained. Discussion lasted till 2 a.m. Between then and Sunday afternoon more discussion followed, with the result that this family attended the public lecture. When the publishers were preparing to leave on Monday, they were persuaded to stay over another night to further explain the work. Does this not show how great a witness can be given by lodging in the homes of the people at convention time?
A joyous throng delighted in the assembly at Portland, where opening day saw 3,308 present, to be followed by 4,337 on Saturday, 6,755 on Sunday and 4,334 on Monday. Immersed were 130. An interesting incident took place at the close of the public talk on Sunday. A well-dressed businessman went backstage to talk with the speaker, told him that he appreciated the truths that he had just heard, and said he had something that he had intended giving to one of the prominent clergymen of the city but after hearing the talk “It Is Later than You Think!” he had decided to give it to Jehovah’s witnesses for their work. With that he thrust into the speaker’s hand some bills and quickly walked away. He had contributed $50 toward the work of gospel-preaching.
Outstanding at the Springfield assembly was the publicity given in the newspapers. A few days before the assembly one local paper printed a report on the witnesses that sounded the usual sour note, due to a false report submitted by a prejudiced reporter. A feeling of distrust was evident on the part of officials that came to make routine inspection tours. But they were surprised and pleased with what they found, and one official notified the papers that they had better cover this assembly, as something was really happening. The papers did, and, to their credit, covered it honestly. So effective was the advertising conducted by the witnesses that one priest said, “After all, someone must counteract the work of these people.” So he did. How? By attaching a derogatory sign about the witnesses to a car and driving it all over the city, honking the horn. Less tooting of a horn and more preaching of the Bible might make Bible truths declared by Jehovah’s witnesses less embarrassing to Christendom’s clergy. All the counteracting priest got out of it was a ride, for more than 4,000 persons of good-will attended the public talk, and, added to the witnesses attending, this made an audience of 10,789. Immersed were 169.
The effects of this district assembly were felt beyond the limits of Springfield itself. Note the following editorial that appeared on July 5 in the Daily Transcript and Telegram of the neighboring city of Holyoke:
“It is not possible to pass over that great convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Eastern States ground over the past week-end without taking some time for study of what it means. In the intense heat of the past few days some twelve thousand men, women and children gathered to thrill over the ancient Biblical prophecies that betoken a manifestation of God among His children.
“The group gathered at Eastern States come from New England, New York and New Jersey. What is it that inspires such a following of what to many people seems like a phony interpretation of Scriptural teaching? These people have no ministers and no regular church organization. Each man is his own master in the sect but his mastery includes working closely with those other independents who think as he does.
“It is doubtful if any other of what we might call the Protestant groups would gather in such force amid the Fourth of July discomforts of the eastern states. These people are terribly in earnest. They study their Bible as modern man does his sports pages. They believe that Jesus was the promise of Jehovah, but that he was only part of the promise. They have conned Scripture and later writings for proof of their faith in sacred prophecy. They glory in the praise of Jehovah, the one God whom they wish to prove.
“With all their hazy organization the Witnesses held 450,446 meetings last year. On the whole, there is youth among the Witnesses. Pictures of them in convention showed that they were on the young side of middle life. They brought their children with them. They seem to be filled with a tremendous zeal to put nothing between them and their God—not even the American flag.
“Each of the Witnesses believes himself or herself to be personally a witness in truth to God. They look to see the world regenerated. There must be no bar against a personal relationship with their God.
“In convention they seemed to have been led by representatives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. They were told to put on their armor of God and go forth and preach the gospel as Jesus and His disciples did. They accept this command.
“What is it that gets such a following among plain average American men and women? Is it the natural yearning of men to somehow get to something out higher than he is, and perhaps touch its hand or feel the hem of its garment? In an age where there are so many churches, can it be that the churches have missed something in their reach to people?
“The fact of twelve thousand people attending Jehovah’s Witnesses’ summer convention, a few miles down the river, and there thrilling to the promise that the old world is dying and the new world of Biblical prophecy is at hand is not something to be just looked at—and passed over. The movement must give faith and hope to people who feel they have missed the way in more established religious forms.”
INDIANAPOLIS, LINCOLN, SIOUX FALLS, BALTIMORE
Indianapolis is a friendly midwest city of almost half a million population, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Speedway City’ because of the annual 500-mile automobile race which attracts crowds of 100,000. There it was that the state of Indiana played host to the eleventh district assembly held in the United States. Advertising was specially intensive in Indianapolis, the witnesses swarming through the city’s downtown areas like locusts. Handbills, placards attached to publishers, window signs, car signs, all these and other means were used till the title “It Is Later than You Think!” became a byword with the inhabitants of the city. But it had the desired effect, for from nearly 5,000 on Saturday the attendance increased to 8,123 for the public talk on Sunday. Baptized were 130.
A little farther west and a few days later, and we are at Lincoln, Nebraska, for the next assembly, July 15-17. Victorious surmounting of opposition added zest to this convention. About three weeks before time for the assembly the contract to use the fairgrounds was canceled. The excuse given was that the roads on the grounds needed to be oiled. When this feeble excuse was released to the press, the Lincoln Star called in representatives of the Watchtower Society to inform them that the American Legion members were filing complaints with the governor’s office, the fairgrounds board and other state officials, objecting to the use of the grounds by Jehovah’s witnesses. The Star said it was going to publish the complaints, and that alongside these the witnesses were welcome to have printed their side of the story. This was done, and when exposed to view in cold print the complaints sounded rapid and silly. The Lincoln Journal also lived up to its reputation for fairness in its handling of this matter. The contract was reinstated and the fairgrounds used.
This episode had the usual result, advertisement of the assembly and Jehovah’s witnesses. It paved the way for an opportunity to broadcast over radio station KFOR, at which time many pertinent questions were answered concerning Jehovah’s witnesses and their work. Another broadcast was given over an Omaha station, WOW. Both radio stations and newspapers gave straightforward and fair reports on the assembly. Nearly 4,000 heard the public talk, and 61 were immersed.
For the following week-end the assembly scene shifted to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There 3,422 heard the key lecture “It Is Later than You Think!” Expressions from persons of good-will who attended parts of this three-day assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses prove what was stated at the outset of this report, namely, that the witnesses practice neighbor love. One man said he could never fathom why a group of people would gather from towns and cities surrounding Sioux Falls and then, without expecting one cent of payment, spend time and energy for four to six weeks going from house to house preaching and obtaining lodgings for others. He thought that people who would do that must have the real thing; so he attended the assembly to find out what that “real thing” was.
One newly interested person said after one session, “That settles it. For some time I’ve been studying with Jehovah’s witnesses, but still going to church. I couldn’t make up my mind, and came to this assembly to try to decide once for all. As soon as I get back home I’m breaking off from my church for good!” A man, husband of one of Jehovah’s witnesses, would never attend meetings before; but he did this time. “I can’t find a stranger among them, they’re all friends!” was his comment. Nothing could keep him away after that. Many other similar experiences indicate that Sioux Falls and vicinity will provide a fertile field for backcalls and home Bible studies for the future.
The fourteenth and last of the United States district assemblies was held in Baltimore, Maryland, August 26-28, and it was the second American one attended by Brother Knorr. The most unusual feature of this occasion was the appearance on television of Brothers Knorr and Larson, using about eight minutes of a program in an interview at the station’s studio. A large television receiving set was placed on the auditorium stage during this time, and part of the audience was able to see and hear this unique convention addition. Closing off his public talk to the 11,668 that overflowed the armory’s main auditorium, Brother Knorr stressed the lateness of the time and the importance of each one’s studying his Bible. Two hundred and nine were immersed at the Baltimore assembly.
On the day after each of these fourteen assemblies closed a representative from the Society’s headquarters met with the district and circuit servants and their wives to discuss organizational problems and methods to assist companies and field workers. Such meetings forward better organization and enable more efficient preaching work to be done among the peoples in the various territories.
Surely these district assemblies have been a blessing to Jehovah’s covenant people, and they accept them as a further expression of his love for them. But also these occasions were used by the witnesses to preach to thousands of persons in those cities, calling on them at the homes and businesses, and meeting them on the streets. Thousands of these visited persons responded by coming to the assemblies as guests of Jehovah’s witnesses, and they benefited by what they heard. It was love for their neighbors that prompted the witnesses to invite and welcome these persons to their conventions, to enjoy with them the spiritual food there provided. The combined figures of the fourteen assemblies show that 49,641 attended the Saturday sessions, and on Sunday the grand total was 85,441. At the fourteen assemblies 1,644 symbolized their consecration to do God’s will, being baptized by water immersion.
And now The Watchtower looks forward to the time when it can report on the next convention to be held in the United States of America, the big international convention of 1950 in New York city.