The Reverend Dr. John Harold Gillison, an African-American ‘Son’ of Colleton County, Blazed Trails in the Areas of Ministry and Civil Rights


Another great “Son” of Colleton County, The Reverend Dr. John Harold Gillison and youngest of eight siblings, was born October 26, 1938 in Hendersonville, South Carolina to Reverend George Washington Gillison and Mrs. Myrtis Robinson Gillison. The environment that nurtured him played a very unique role in molding his ministerial aspiration. As a boy, Dr. Gillison would come home from church and imitate his father in a creative worship service with young cousins and friends. Many of the adults in the community frequently called him “Little Rev.” His father passed away when he was 13-years-old; however, he was blessed with a wonderful Christian mother who kept her son focused on the positive things in life.

In 1955 Dr. Gillison graduated from Colleton High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, and he earned his Master of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Allen University honored him with the Doctorate of Divinity degree in 1975. Distinguishing himself in many endeavors, Dr. Gillison was a professor at Allen University and Morris College. He was an A.M.E. Pastor and Elder, having served in active ministry for 55 years upon his retirement in 2015. Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the one that suffered nine tragic losses in June 2017, is where he formerly served as the Pastor for 25 years.

Dr. Gillison was one of several who delivered remarks at Senator Clementa Pinckney’s funeral, the Pastor of Mother Emanuel who lost his life in this “hate-driven” tragedy, and they can be seen and heard on YouTube. The focus of Dr. Gillison’s remarks was that of an old Negro Spiritual, “I Done Done What You told Me to Do.” In his remarks he was trying to tell Mrs. Pinckney and her daughters, other family members, President and Mrs. Obama, the Clergy, other dignitaries, parishioners, friends, well-wishers, and all others who watched by television that Senator Pinckney had done what God required of him, and now he has gone “from labor to reward.”

Having served on a number of boards on the local, state, national, and international levels, Dr. Gillison even served as a delegate to the World Methodist Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in Africa. He was a life member of the NAACP and was very active in the Civil Rights Movement. One of his greatest inspirations was the opportunity to visit with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his home in Atlanta. He was a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc., the same fraternity to which Dr. King belonged. Believing that “a family that prays together stays together,” over the years, Dr. Gillison was very actively involved in the Robinson side of his family’s reunion, the Descendants of Tom and Sarah Robinson from Hendersonville. They were his grandparents and my great-grandparents!

Dr. Gillison was married for 46 years to Mrs. Jean Waymer Gillison of Elloree, and they were the parents of two daughters, one son-in-law, and the grandparents of two grandsons. At the time of his passing October 21, 2015, he and his wife were residing in Columbia, South Carolina. One thing I will always remember about his wife is that she has one of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard! Dr. Gillison’s funeral was held at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church; I have never in my life seen so many members of the Clergy, family, dignitaries, and friends, among others, come to pay their last respects. That spoke volumes of the man of God and leader that he was.

Rev. Yvonne B. Simmons, who was serving as the Pastor of St. Phillip A.M.E. Church in Charleston, sent this message of sympathy in part about Dr. Gillison, when he went home to be with the Lord: “There was a man sent from God and his name was John. When I was privileged to introduce him, this was one of the many ways I began the introduction. He was truly sent from God as leader extraordinaire. He was the unrelenting catalyst for my change from a local to an itinerant elder. I consider him the Father of my pastoral ministry. He was very encouraging and supportive…”

Thank you, Reverend Dr. John Gillison, for all that you contributed to minister, teach, and mentor so many, both young and old. You blazed trails for many ministers, other church leaders, and those involved in civil rights. Therefore, you were a great pillar of this community and so many other places and will always be remembered.