Few tears fell Friday afternoon at Tabernacle Baptist Church.
Instead, family, friends, and admirers tapped feet to music, clapped hands, laughed and smiled at memories, speaking fondly of the late leader, the Rev. Charles Spencer Hamilton.
Those who knew him well called him "Hamp." From political leaders to fellow clergymen; from former students to longtime friends; from his wife and children to strangers who'd only heard of his works - more than 200 people filled the church on Laney-Walker Boulevard he served as pastor for 40 years.
Funeral proceedings started at 1 p.m. But those arriving an hour early still had a hard time finding parking spaces and seats in the church. After the balcony filled to capacity, guests were directed to the basement where they could watch the proceedings via closed-circuit television.
People near and far came to say a final farewell to a man who touched nearly every education, political and religious facet of his community. But speakers sent a message, one that was repeated throughout the memorial service.
"Hamp would not want us to be mournful and sorrowful today. He would want us to celebrate on this day," said Dr. Harold Baker, a fellow minister and friend. "He would want us to rejoice in knowing that he is now with the Savior. Rejoice in knowing that his influence still lives among us. The song of life is over, but the melody will linger forever."
Perhaps the most moving message came from Dr. C. Mackey Daniels, also a fellow minister and friend. The Rev. Hamilton was a member of the Progressive National Baptist Convention along with the Rev. Daniels.
"We have not come to mourn over a defeated cause or relent in a crusade that has ended in shame. This is not a sorrowful funeral. We have reasons to rejoice," he said.
"A believer has gained eternal life. One who was redeemed in the Lord has crossed over into Canaan. He has entered into his Father's inheritance. He has now received the kingdom of God. We celebrate a battle that has been victoriously fought and won."
Speakers credited the Rev. Hamilton's with building Tabernacle's membership, attracting young people to the church and developing children's day-care centers.
The Rev. Hamilton died Sunday at University Hospital. He'd been in and out the hospital during the past year after undergoing triple-bypass surgery in December.
The choir sang their former minister's favorite spirituals including one entitled He Understands, He'll Say Well Done, Sweet, Sweet Spirit and I'll Fly Away.
The Rev. Hamilton had a historic record of civil rights leadership. He fought to get black officers on the Augusta Police Department. He also served as the first president of the local chapter of the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People. He later served 13 years on the City Council. He also ran for mayor.
Political allies said his leadership and influence stretched beyond the city's boarders.
"I never made major decisions that I didn't discuss with Rev. Hamilton," said Sen. Charles Walker. He was one of a few people who could reach between two worlds - the secular and the religious - and touch people. He was able to do this honestly and fairly because the man was a giant and had no personal agendas."
Former Mayor Charles DeVaney agreed that his fellow friend and civic leader, had no personal agendas or hidden angles.
Mr. DeVaney said his friend fought not just for African Americans, but for the equality and justice of all people. The Rev. Hamilton crossed cultural barriers because of his warmth and honesty, he said.
"He brought a wonderful sense of humor, dignity and wisdom to the city council. He brought style to the city council.
"Together we accomplished many things. He crossed many bridges and built many more. Even when we disagreed, the friendship always remained in tact," he said. "We're here to rejoice in the fact that we had C.S. Hamilton to lead us. We're here to honor his life. Thank you C.S. for a job well done."
Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, a pastor from New York, eulogized the Rev. Hamilton. The two became friends at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
The Rev. Hamilton was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park on Deans Bridge Road.
"We know that Hamp has not gone to the cemetery, he has gone through it. For his home is on the other side " said Dr. Whalum.
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