John M. Perkins

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Dr. John M. Perkins
John M. Perkins
Lawrence County, Mississippi

Dr. John M. Perkins is an American Christian minister, civil rights activist, Bible teacher, author, philosopher and community developer. He is the founder and President Emeritus of the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation with his wife Dr. Vera Mae Perkins (also known as "Grandma Perkins"). He is Co-Founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). Despite being a 3rd grade drop out, Perkins has been recognized for his work with 14 honorary doctorate degrees from schools including Belhaven University, Lynchburg College, Wheaton College, Gordon College, Taylor University, and Northern Seminary. He has served on the Boards of Directors of World Vision and Prison Fellowship.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1930 in New Hebron, Mississippi, John Perkins' mother died of pellagra when he was just seven months old.[1][2] Her death was brought about by starvation. Abandoned by his father, he was raised by his grandmother and extended family, who worked as sharecroppers.[1][2] In 1947 he moved from Mississippi at the urging of his family, who worried that he might be in danger following the fatal shooting of his brother, Clyde, by a police officer.[1][2] He settled in southern California, where in 1957 he underwent a conversion to Christianity following his son Spencer's inviting him to attend church.[1]


In 1960 he moved with his wife (Vera Mae Perkins) and children from California to Mendenhall, Mississippi, which neighbors his childhood hometown of New Hebron.[3] There, in 1964, he established Voice of Calvary Bible Institute.[4][5]

Motivated by a desire to help their neighbors as well as their own children, Vera Mae started running a day-care center from their home that from 1966 to 1968 became part of the federally funded Head Start Program.[6] Initially concerned solely with evangelism and Bible literacy, Perkins had a growing conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ addressed spiritual and physical needs.[7]

In 1965, Perkins supported voter registration efforts in Simpson County, and in 1967 he became involved in school desegregation when he enrolled his son Spencer in the previously all-white Mendenhall High School.[5][8]

In the fall of 1969, Perkins became the leader in an economic boycott of white-owned stores in Mendenhall. On February 7, 1970, following the arrest of students who had taken part in a protest march in Mendenhall, Perkins was arrested and tortured by white police officers in Brandon Jail.[2][5][9]

Remarkably, Perkins emerged from this terrible experience with a commitment to his vision of a holistic ministry — one that saw the bondage racism inflicted on whites as well as the damage and deprivation of the black community. He summarized his philosophy of Christian ministry in the "three Rs" — relocation, redistribution and reconciliation.[5] He expounded on this philosophy in the 1976 book A Quiet Revolution: The Christian response to human need, a strategy for today.[10]

By the mid-seventies, Voice of Calvary, Jackson and Mendenhall Ministries were operating thrift stores, health clinics, a housing cooperative, and classes in Bible and theology. Perkins was in demand as a speaker in evangelical churches, colleges, and conventions across the country.[4][5]

1982, the Perkinses left Voice of Calvary Ministries to return to California, where they founded Harambee Christian Family Center, now called Harambee Ministries, in northwest Pasadena.[4]

In 1989, Perkins founded the Christian Community Development Association, a network of evangelical congregations and organizations working in deprived urban settings.[5][11]

After the death of his son Spencer in 1998, Perkins returned to Mississippi, bought the property once owned by his son and his Antioch Community,[clarification needed] and established the Spencer Perkins Center, the youth arm of the John M. Perkins Foundation.[12] It has developed youth programs such as After School Tutoring, Summer Arts Camp, Junior and College Internship Program, Good News Bible Club, Young Life and Jubilee Youth Garden. The foundation also has a housing arm, Zechariah 8, providing affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income families, with a focus on single mothers.[13]

On September 17, 2016, Perkins became President Emeritus of the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation as his three daughters, Elizabeth, Priscilla, and Deborah Perkins, became co-presidents of the organization.[14][15]


In 2012, Calvin College began the John M. Perkins Leadership Fellows, a cohort of students who address issues like poverty, injustice, racism and materialism, and strive to be servant leaders who are committed to the renewal and restoration of their communities.[16]

In 2004, Seattle Pacific University opened the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.[17]

In 2009, the band Switchfoot released the song "The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)". It includes the line "John Perkins said it right / Love is the final fight."[18]


  • A Quiet Revolution: The Christian response to human need, a strategy for today. Word Books, 1976. ISBN 978-0-87680-793-4
  • With Justice for All. Regal Books, 1982 ISBN 978-0-8307-0754-6. (Baker Books).
  • Let Justice Roll Down. Regal Books, 2006 ISBN 978-0-8307-4307-0. (Baker Books).
  • Restoring At-Risk Communities: Doing It Together and Doing It Right. Baker Books, 1996 ISBN 978-0-8010-5463-1.
  • He's My Brother: Former Racial Foes Offer Strategy for Reconciliation (with Thomas A. Tarrants and David Wimbish). Baker Books, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8007-9214-5.
  • Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development. Baker Books, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8010-7122-5,
  • Follow Me to Freedom: Leading as an Ordinary Radical (with Shane Claiborne). Regal Books, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8307-5120-4. Baker Books.
  • Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community, Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, October 2009). ISBN 978-0-8308-3453-2.
  • Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development. Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2013). ISBN 978-0-8308-3756-4.
  • Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2017). ISBN 978-0-8010-0778-1.


  1. ^ a b c d Perkins, John, Let Justice Roll Down. Regal Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8307-4307-0
  2. ^ a b c d "John M. Perkins in Conversation with Charles Marsh: Let Justice Roll Down," (.pdf transcript), Project on Lived Theology, 2009
  3. ^, 2008 Archived 2010-12-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b c Biography of John Perkins", Billy Graham Archive, Wheaton College, IL.
  5. ^ a b c d e f The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (New York: Baker Books, 2005)
  6. ^ Mobilizing for the Common Good, eds Peter Slade, Charles Marsh, and Peter Heltzel (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013)
  7. ^ Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From The Civil Rights Movement to Today (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 168-169.
  8. ^ Dr. John Perkins - Mississippi Civil Rights Project.
  9. ^ 455 F.2d 7, Reverend John M. PERKINS et al., Petitioners-Appellants v.STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, Respondent-Appellee. No. 30410. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Jan. 14, 1972.
  10. ^ A Quiet Revolution: the Christian response to human need, a strategy for today, (Word Books, 1976)
  11. ^ "What is CCDA all about?" - CCDA website
  12. ^ Christianity Today, December 7, 1998 [1]
  13. ^ Jessica Kinnison, "Radical Faith: The Revolution of John Perkins", Jackson Free Press, December 17, 2008.
  14. ^ "Staff". The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. 8 February 2016. Archived from the original on 12 April 2017.
  15. ^ "Welcome to our blog!". The John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. 13 November 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  16. ^ The John M. Perkins Leadership Fellows at Calvin College official website.
  17. ^ "About the John Perkins Center at SPU" - official website
  18. ^ "The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)" song lyrics.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins, eds. Peter Slade, Charles Marsh, and Peter Heltzel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2013). ISBN 978-1-61703-859-4
  • Charles Marsh, "Unfinished Business: John Perkins and the Radical Roots of Faith-Based Community Building", in The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, (New York: Baker Books, 2005) 153-188. ISBN 978-0465044160

External links[edit]