Rev. David Hilliard Eaton

(1932 - 1992)

Rev. David Hilliard EatonIn accepting the congregation’s call in June 1969, Rev. David Eaton became the first African American minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian as well as the first African American minister of a large Unitarian Universalist congregation in the United States. Rev. Eaton was a tall charismatic figure, much beloved and respected for his thoughtful, powerful preaching, his commitment to love, justice and activism, and for being a bridge builder in the community. Under his courageous leadership, All Souls became a trailblazing UU church in several ways.

At All Souls, Rev. Eaton established a spirited religious community which was a model of inclusivity and diversity. During the 1970s, African American membership increased significantly, making ASC the most diverse UU congregation in the US at the time. He inspired and nurtured a wave of BIPOC UU seminarians. He took the church’s justice ministry in new directions, extending it into the surrounding community. He engaged in important local initiatives such as building more affordable housing in the neighborhood and serving on the DC School Board. He was influential in local and national politics from the 1960s until his death. Historian Dr. Allison Blakely noted that at Eaton’s memorial service, Rev. Bill Schulz, who was president of the Unitarian Universalist Association at the time, stated that David Eaton had accomplished in 20 years what all of Unitarian Universalism had not accomplished in 200.

Biographical Information

Long-time All Souls member and historian, Dr. Allison Blakely, authored the Eaton chapter in the updated volume of the church’s history, Washington Unitarianism: A Bicentennial History of All Souls Church, 2021. Borrow a copy from the church library or order a copy online.

Long-time All Souls member, Paula Cole Jones, and UU historian, Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, authored the chapter, “David Hilliard Eaton,” in Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism (ed. Mark Morrison-Reed, Skinner House Books, 2011). Available at UUABookstore.com.

Rev. Charles Howe, a member of All Souls from 1990 to 1995, authored an analysis of Rev. Eaton’s ministry in The Journal of Unitarian Universalist History, Cambridge, Mass., Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society, c 1997. pp 84-109. Available here.

All Souls Church, Unitarian (DC) Archives contains Rev. Eaton’s sermons, Silver Souls’ written and photographic discussion of his ministry as part of a larger permanent ministerial photo exhibit, and other materials related to his All Souls ministry in the DC community. To request a visit to the Archives, write to executivedirector@allsouls.ws.

For more detailed information about Rev. Eaton’s role on the DC Board of Education, consult School Board Archives and his board-related papers, stored at the Sumner School Museum & Archives. To view them, contact kimberly.springle@dc.gov.

The Rev. David H. Eaton Memorial Wall

Below are photos and text from the exhibit displayed on the second floor of All Souls Church along with audio and video links related to some moments captured in the photos. To see the memorial quilt made as part of this exhibit, and learn more about it, click here.

Ministry

Preaching

Rev. Eaton delivers a sermon from the All Souls pulpit, March 1974
Rev. Eaton delivers a sermon from the All Souls pulpit, March 1974

Rev. Eaton frequently recited this beloved Biblical passage (Psalms 19:14) before he began preaching: “May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, my Lord and my Redeemer, always. Amen.”

Listen to selected sermons by Rev. Eaton.

Take the Blindfold Off the Lady. Rev. Eaton preached this noted sermon, a criticism of the DC Crime Bill, on Sunday, May 3, 1970.

“…Tyranny and oppression often disguise themselves under the banner of loyalty, patriotism and law and order. . . . Some of you may remember three years ago, I rejected any concept of law and order that does not deal first with the concept of justice. Where there is no justice there can never be real law and order. No order of spirit. No law of reciprocal decency…”

Listen to All Souls congregant and actor, Morgan Duncan, offer a dramatic reading of this sermon.

Watch a video of Rev. Eaton’s final sermon on Palm Sunday, 1992.

Child Dedications

Rev. Eaton dedicates Marion Christopher Barry, seen with his parents, DC Mayor Marion Barry and Effi Barry, January 17, 1981
Rev. Eaton dedicates Marion Christopher Barry, seen with parents, DC Mayor Marion Barry and Effi Barry, Jan. 17, 1981

As part of the dedication, Rev. Eaton is reading a part of Khalil Gibran’s poem, “On Children.”

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.

Ordinations

Rev. Eaton participates in the ordination of Rev. Yvonne K. Chappelle, the first female African American Unitarian Universalist minister, November 21, 1981. Rev. Leon E. Wright (left) and Bishop John T. Walker (right) participate in the service.
Rev. Eaton participates in the ordination of Rev. Yvonne K. Chappelle, the first female African American Unitarian Universalist minister, November 21, 1981. Rev. Leon E. Wright (left) and Bishop John T. Walker (right) participate in the service.

The All Souls Jubilee Singers

The Jubilee Singers celebrate their tenth anniversary, November 1987, under the direction over the years of (left to right) Dr. Ysaye Barnwell (founder), Dr. Robert Murray, and Mrs. Anita Jones
The Jubilee Singers celebrate their tenth anniversary, November 1987, under the direction over the years of (left to right) Dr. Ysaye Barnwell (founder), Dr. Robert Murray, and Mrs. Anita Jones

The All Souls Jubilee Singers were established in 1977 as part of expanding musical offerings during Rev. Eaton’s ministry. The diversity of the members and the music of this choir exemplified the unity of souls that Rev. Eaton conveyed to the All Souls congregation and to the entire Unitarian Universalist Association.

Ysaye Barnwell's setting of Khalil Gilbran's poem "On Children" to music
Ysaye Barnwell’s setting of Khalil Gilbran’s poem “On Children” to music

Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, a member of All Souls, was inspired by Rev. Eaton reciting Gibran’s poem “On Children” during the dedication of children and decided to set it to music. This is what started her career writing music. She composed this piece specifically for the All Souls Jubilee Singers. Listen to Ysaye Barnwell talk about why she came to start the Jubilee Singers.

Rev. Eaton's Favorite Benediction

“Now, since the struggle deepens, since evil abides, and good does not yet prosper, let us gather what strength we have, what confidence and valor that our small victories may end in triumph, and the world awaited be a world attained.” By Barrows Dunham (Dunham, 1947)

Community

Rev. Eaton actively promoted racial and economic justice through various efforts in the community and through formal and informal social and political roles in DC.

Employment and Housing

In 1964, Rev. Eaton co-founded the Washington Institute for Employment Training, which later became Washington’s local Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC).

During Rev. Eaton’s ministry, All Souls Church, through the All Souls Housing Corporation, partnered with CHANGE Economic Development Corp to develop Columbia Heights Village, low-income housing at 14th Street and Columbia Road, which still thrives today. Listen to ASC member Allison Blakely talk about the church’s involvement with the Columbia Heights Village project.

Public Education

Rev. Eaton was elected to the DC Board of Education and served as an at-large member from 1981 to 1992. He served as Board president for three terms, 1982-1985.

Later Years

Trip to India

In 1989, Rev. Eaton participated in YMCA Board trip to India with Thomas Hargrave, president of the local YMCA, who, along with his family, were active members of All Souls. Rev. Eaton sought to make his congregation realize that they were part of a world community.

Listen to Thomas Hargrave’s daughter, Anna, discuss the significance of this trip.

Trip to the Grand Canyon

“Dad was in Howard University Hospital terminally ill and asked my Uncle Harold to get him out to take a trip to the Grand Canyon with me. He told me that he wanted to go there and … ‘gaze upon its beauty with you by my side’. … A month before dad passed, he said the following to me, ‘We do things for each other, based on the most powerful force in the Universe: Love’. … He loved till the end.”

Listen to Claudia Eaton reflecting on this trip and its tender moments.

Tributes

The DHE Memories
A Tribute to David H. Eaton, by Gail Whitley

Memories straight from our hearts
Has a certain message to impart
To those we love, from days gone by
Bring tears and laughter to the eye
Memories of childhood things
And memories that made us dance and sing
And All Souls celebrations so dear
Will always linger on the air
For those of us who really care for many years
Remembrances all signed with his love
And the super boys who brought him joy
And the pretty little girls with the dancing curls
Are etched in gold upon our souls
As we touch the cold stone
Of his memories are told
No matter what the times may be
The All Souls memories are here you see
So, don’t hide from the many stories inside with pride
For DHE’s memories will never go
Because All Souls and DC friends love them so.

David Eaton - It's in His Name

“…I can only say that I am privileged and honored to have worked with an intellectual giant of a man who could navigate the dangerous waters of social change with such skill.  His approach was not to reject, but to include diversity and engage it in genuine dialogue.”

Rev. Harry Quiett

“When thinking of Reverend David Eaton, I am reminded of when I was learning to counsel and was called to go to a family who was experiencing loss. They were in a painful crisis. I was apprehensive. I did not want to go because I did not know what to say. The kind and mindful reverend said ‘Don’t worry about what to say. What you say is not important. What will be remembered is your presence, the fact that you’ll be there supporting.’ I will never forget that conversation.”

Yvonne K. Seon, October 2021

In an article written by Rev. Charles A. Howe in The Journal of Unitarian Universalist History, he quoted Rev. William F. Schulz, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who paid tribute to Rev. Eaton. These remarks were made at the 20th anniversary of Rev. Eaton’s ministry at All Souls Church in 1989. “We are here this morning to honor a revolutionary,” Schulz declared, “a man who has helped to bring a peaceful revolution to this church and to the Unitarian Universalist denomination.” Schultz’s sermon, “The Best Minister I Know,” was published in 1991. In the magazine Connections, Rev. Howe referred to Rev. Eaton’s minister as “A model of Diversity and Inclusivity.”

Agape According to the Gospel of David Eaton
(excerpted from a memo by Dorothy Holmes, April 24, 2015)

I was eager to hear David Eaton’s sermon on Agape (selfless love). It recalled to me a magnificent expression of agape I had experienced years earlier (April 15, 1967), when Martin Luther King and Benjamin Spock led hundreds of thousands in a march from Central Park to the United Nations to mobilize peace in protest of the Viet Nam War. I was one of those participants in that march. So, years later, on that All Souls Agape Sunday, I was filled with many positive memories and eager anticipation of David’s message. However, there was a particularity and powerfulness of the agape message at All Souls that Sunday that was totally unanticipated and stunning. At a point in the service several elements before the sermon, a woman emerged from the congregation and processed towards the pulpit, making loud by incomprehensible utterances. She appeared quite deranged and somewhat agitated. Anxiety amongst the congregation and stewards of the service was palpable.

David, however, was calm. He stepped don from the pulpit, met the unsettled woman as she approached the pulpit, extended his arms to her and brought her to the pulpit to sit next to him. That action became the sermon. Yes, he went on to preach, but the agape message was delivered most powerfully in his selfless action towards the woman who remained calm throughout the remainder of the service. I do not remember any of his words from his sermon. What I do remember is that David fully conveyed the power and generosity of agape by selflessly giving of himself to someone whose actions provoked fear and rejection, not love.

Dorothy Gilliam's Remembrances of David Eaton in the Washington Post

On the occasion of Eaton’s passing, Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam offered a two-part tribute.

Listen to Dorothy Gilliam talk about the inspiration behind her articles.

The Standing Tall Quilt, Living Histories

You can read more about the Standing Tall Quilt here.

For additional Black histories and stories of engagement and commitment to All Souls, by Black members see:

Stories to Tell: Longtime African American Unitarian Universalists and Social Justice. This oral history project consists of 31 long-time African American All Souls members reflecting on their involvement with the church. Two versions are available:

The new All Souls Black Members History Project website was created for the church’s bicentennial to provide a platform where we can celebrate and share memories about the lives of Black church members who held a special place in our church history. You’ll find remembrances of some of our earliest church leaders. This is an ongoing project and further contributions are welcome.

The Standing Tall Quilt