Alfred Knighton (Tony) Stanley was born July 15, 1937 in Dudley, N.C. He was the youngest of five children of the Rev. Joseph Taylor Stanley and Kathryn Turrentine Stanley. It was in tiny Dudley at First Congregational Church and in the loving arms of his older sister, Joye, that he first experienced God’s presence. It was in the loving arms of Joye’s son, Victor McLean, that he entered into God’s eternal presence on Sept. 21, 2013 in Atlanta.
Tony attended public schools in Greensboro, N.C. and later, Talladega College in Alabama. There he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Among those the fraternity hosted was civil rights icon Andrew J. Young Jr., a family friend, who years later would be his father-in-law as a result of his marriage to Young’s daughter, Andrea. Tony Stanley graduated from Talladega in 1959 and went on to earn a master’s degree from Yale Divinity School in 1962.
Rev. Stanley returned to Greensboro and joined the staffs at North Carolina A&T State University and Bennett College. He emerged as a principal strategist in the all important sit-in campaign there against Jim Crow laws. The Bennett students were especially active, particularly Beatrice Perry, who Rev. Stanley recalled “never saw a protest she didn’t like.” She later became his wife. It was also in Greensboro that he brought into the movement, and later Christian ministry, a heralded student athlete at A&T, Jesse Jackson, whose life he forever changed.
He left Greensboro in 1966 to become an associate pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Detroit. Two years later, he was called to lead Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., in the shadow of its longest serving pastor, the Rev. Arthur Fletcher Elmes, and at a time when the city was on the brink of race riots.
During his 38 years as senior minister at People, Rev. Stanley displayed an intellect and a compassion that could open doors and bridge differenced. His was a progressive ministry for the masses rather than for the few, the friends, the more faithful, the more fortunate. He had an undying love for and an interest in children, including his own three. “Taylor is my joy, Kathie is my heart and Nathaniel is my rock,” he was fond of saying.
Peoples Church became home to a day care center, a community credit union and D.C.’s largest Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs. It expanded a scholarship program that still recognizes church and community graduates from pre-school to Ph.D. Classic Negro spirituals, urban gospel and jazz became common musical fare, along with sermons of national leaders and his own, in which he characteristically blended biblical teachings with folk wisdom and current events in a manner that nurtured Christian souls. The church membership grew threefold, and Peoples built a new sanctuary that he described as “an African hut of cathedral proportions.”
The Rev. Dr. Stanley, who received a doctorate degree from Howard University in 1974, extended his service and leadership beyond the church’s Petworth neighborhood. He accepted the many calls to public service in the District and to continuing community concerns, and was a regional and national leader in the United Church of Christ.
He retired from Peoples Church in 2006 and preached his last sermon in September, 2012. He had served for two years as an assistant minister of church development at St. Albans Congregational United Church of Christ in Queens, N.Y. Back in Atlanta, his ministry continued through Facebook and weekly handwritten notes to family and friends.
The Rev. Dr. A. Knighton Stanley was preceded in death by his parents and three siblings, Joseph Taylor Stanley Jr., Joye Stanley McLean-Bridges and Thomas W. Stanley. He leaves many to cherish precious memories, including three children, Nathaniel T. Stanley (Washington, D.C.); Kathryn V. Stanley (East Point, Ga.) and Taylor M. Stanley (Washington, D.C.), a sister, Ollie Mae Stanley (Bradenton, Fla.); nephews, Victor McLean, Thomas, John and William Stanley; a niece, Rev. Natalie V. McLean; sisters-in-law, Joan Stanley, Paula Young Shelton (Hillary) and Lisa Young Alston (Douglas); a brother-in-law, Andrew “Bo” Young III (Angelica); a special daughter, Yeme Mengistu-Gunn (Chris); godchildren, Sushama Austin-Connor (Rob), Julian Austin, Leah Austin and Ariana Austin; “soul children” Hope Tribble and Rev. George Walker, special grandchildren, Blaine Gunn and Clark, Jason and Andrew Washington; a host of sons and daughters in ministry, and countless others.