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Dr. Wilson Fallin Jr.: The Building of a Birmingham-Area Teaching Icon

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Wilson Fallon Jr. has taught at Birmingham-Easonian and the University of Montevallo, serving as an instructor in a variety of history courses. (PROVIDED)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Wilson Fallin Jr. grew up in a strict Christian household and during one conversation with his father vowed to never to teach school nor pastor a church. “And guess what happened?” he said during a recent interview. “I followed right in his footsteps and learned to love all of it.”

Fallin not only learned to love all of it, but he also excelled at both.

Earlier this month, Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College (BEBBC), located in the city’s southwest community, named its administration building after Fallin, who was first appointed president of the institution in 1971.

Fallin went on to pastor for 50 years spread across two churches in the Birmingham metro area and teach at Birmingham-Easonian and the University of Montevallo, serving as an instructor in a variety of history courses.

Last year, Montevallo renamed the building formerly known as the University on Main to Dr. Wilson Fallin Jr. Hall which houses the Behavioral and Social Science programs.

Also, The Dr. Wilson Fallin, Jr. Lecture Series was established by the University of Montevallo Board of Trustees in 2021 to honor his lifelong efforts in the Civil Rights movement and support of social justice.

While he’s had the buildings named after him, he’s also helped name buildings. One of his most important steps in his early days as president of the Bible college happened when people didn’t fully understand the mission of Birmingham Baptist College, he said. He had the school renamed to Birmingham Baptist Bible College in 1977.

“People in the community didn’t know what we were . . . [I said] let’s be what we are. We are not a liberal arts school. We are not a Birmingham-Southern, we are not a Miles College, and we are not a Samford…But we have one principal focus, and that is to train religious leadership,” Fallin said.

In addition to pastoring, serving as president and leading courses at the Bible College, Fallin taught at Miles College from 1978 to 1980, teaching courses in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as well as philosophy.

A Son of Bessemer

Wilson, 80, grew up in Bessemer, the son of Ethel and Wilson Fallin Sr. Fallin is the oldest of three, with a sister, Laquinta, and a brother, Joseph Towns, who died in 2009.

His father Wilson Fallin Sr. worked as pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Bessemer for 54 years and as a social science teacher at the former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in that city. Ethel Fallin was a stay-at-home mom but served as president of the Women’s Convention auxiliary to the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention from 1985 until 2002.

In his childhood, Fallin said, the family lived in New Jerusalem’s parsonage, a house provided for the pastor, which he described as an “old-fashioned but adequate” living space. The “high rules and regulations” that his parents set for the children also left an impression, he said.

In 11th grade year, Fallin said, he started coming around to the idea of ministry, while being taught by his father in and outside the classroom. At that time, he said, he was going through spiritual maturation.

“When I was young, I didn’t quite see it, but as I got toward being a junior in high school, and being involved with the church, and my father was a strict moral man, as well. He set a tremendous moral example in that church, for 50 years, so [I began] seeing the value,” Fallin recalled.

After graduating from Dunbar, Fallin attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he studied history. Aided with money from a scholarship, and his parents, Fallin left for Atlanta.

However, it wasn’t his parents’ intent to financially support him always, Fallin remembered.

“[My parents] believed tremendously in education, and they would often say, ‘I won’t leave you money, but I’ll leave you with some training, so you can do your own fishing,'” said Fallin, referring to the saying, that “if you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

To help pay for the rest of his education, Fallin worked as a stock clerk for a shoe store, where he made $50 a week.

At Morehouse, Fallin said, he was influenced by Dr. Benjamin Mays, who served as president of the college for 24 years and as an intellectual guide to many involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

“[Morehouse] did a lot for me because I saw what Black people could do, and Dr. Mays was quite a taxing person, and he would talk to us in chapels about being scholars, and he talked against segregation,” Fallin said.

Fallin even sat in on a short-lived philosophy class taught by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was too busy to finish the course. However, that would not be the last time Fallin would meet King.

After getting his Master of Divinity at CRDS Fallin said he earned a fellowship to study at Emory University’s divinity school in Atlanta and later became pastor at New Zion Baptist Church in Bessemer in 1968.

That same year, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), a Martin Luther King Jr.-initiated push for economic justice, occurred. As part of the PPC, King traveled the U.S. looking to garner support and to gather demonstrators to bring to Washington, D.C.

“[King] called me because he had heard that I was pastoring in Bessemer, and my church had become kind of the headquarters for meetings of the Voter’s League and that kind of thing…He said, ‘I’m coming through Bessemer, Alabama,'” Fallin recalled.

Fallin said King stayed for a full week in Bessemer, during which time he got to know the Civil Rights legend better.

“King loved life … If you knew him, you could joke with him. During that week, I provided dinner…and he and Shuttlesworth and Abernathy and all that crowd, they’d just be so joyful and cracking jokes on one another,” Fallin said. “That was their way of relaxing because they were under heavy strain,” he added.

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968.

‘Kept It Open’

Shortly after he started at New Zion, Fallin said, he began supporting what was then known as Birmingham Baptist College through his church. He also started serving on the College’s board of trustees.

In December 1970, the school’s administration building was destroyed by a fire and caused financial turmoil for the school. Fallin was asked to take over. “I often say they looked for somebody who didn’t have much sense to take over that debt…so I said, ‘I will try it.’ I’ll be a pastor and a president,” Fallin said.

Fallin assumed the role of president in 1971. In addition to pastoring and serving as president, Fallin also taught courses at Miles College in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, as well as philosophy.

He previously served for five years as president of Selma University, from 1983 to 1988, and as a professor of history for 28 years and has served as Adjunct Professor at Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and in several secular institutions in Alabama.

In 1988, Fallin took over as pastor for Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Brighton, while he returned to the presidency over Birmingham Baptist Bible College. (In 2015, Fallin and Oak Grove Missionary separated in a dispute that ended up in court, but left him no bitter feelings, he said).

In 1989, Fallin earned his history master’s degree from the University of Montevallo and his PhD in the subject from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 1992.

The educator oversaw Birmingham Baptist Bible College’s merger with Easonian Baptist Seminary in 1994, when the school’s name changed to Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College.

In 2016, Fallin left pastoring Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church and continues serving as president of Birmingham-Easonian Baptist Bible College, 52 years after he first took the job (he’s served 47 total years as president of the institution breaks of breaks in his tenure)

“The school has grown and become, I think, more effective as a religious and Bible training institution. I’ve enjoyed the work, and I think, in some instances, I’ve been helpful towards the work, and at least I’ve kept it open,” Fallin said.

As for the building renaming, Fallin accepts it, with a healthy amount of humility.

“It’s just an honor that I appreciate,” Fallin said. “I didn’t seek it, but I’ll take it, as they say.”