Pressure has followed the Rev. Raymond Hayes for much of his life.
The feeling was there in high school when, in 1958, he chose to transfer as a junior from Frederick Douglass School to Hickman High School. Hayes felt pressure on the football field where he was the first black football player for Hickman.
He felt pressure in Hickman’s classrooms and hallways where he had to excel. Because what would white people think? Not just about him, but about all of Columbia’s blacks. What would white people think if he didn’t do just as well if not better than the other students? How could he open up doors for black students that came after him if he didn’t excel?
Pressure followed him everywhere he went. Through the University of Missouri and through the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, where he earned his Master’s of Divinity in 1969. He felt it when he pastored Wilson United Methodist Church in Cleveland in a neighborhood so dangerous some church members carried guns to protect the congregation from neighborhood gangs.
There was pressure when he was 15 and he met his father-in-law and then a moment later laid eyes on his future wife, Celestine Guyton.
Hayes was standing outside St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, the church he pastors. He had heard there was going to be a new preacher, and he wanted to get a look at the man. He wasn’t planning to go to church. He only wanted to see who the new preacher was.
Hayes stood outside and waited, and when the preacher arrived, he surprised Hayes because he didn’t walk straight into church. Instead, the preacher walked past the front door, introduced himself to the boys and invited them inside.
When Hayes walked in, he saw Celestine, the youngest of the preacher’s three daughters sitting in the aisle across from him.
Hayes never left church again.
Maybe Hayes was not the only one to feel pressure to achieve. Maybe the Rev. John R. Guyton felt it, and maybe Celestine felt it, too. Perhaps it was the pressure to excel that drove Celestine Guyton-Hayes to be a National Honor Society member, to receive honors in math, history, English and music; to be a member of the Girls’ Athletic Association and Triship, the girls’ service organization.
Not to mention being a member in verse choir, pep squad and the Spanish club.
“It was a difficult time because there was a major change taking place in the country, and these two (Hayes and Guyton-Hayes) had dreams, and they had hopes and they wanted very much to succeed because they were in that group doing something new at that time,” says Hank Steere, Hayes’ guidance counselor.
Steere and Hayes would come to know each other well. Hayes worked in Steere’s office during the day’s first period.
“I knew that Ray felt this pressure, that he needed to succeed,” Steere says.
Says Hayes, “You know, we were there for a purpose. We were there to some extent to break down barriers. We went there because we wanted to be there. We wanted to prove that we could compete to set an example. Because one of the things that we had to deal with a lot, at least coming up, we were constantly reminded, at least in situations like that, whatever we did reflected on our entire race.”
Then there was the pressure of slipping into what Hayes calls a “no-man’s land,” the open space between attending a predominantly white school and coming home to a black community. His school transition was smooth. Outside of one fight when a Hickman football teammate called Hayes a racial slur, there had not been any problems for Hayes.
He knew some of the players from Khoury League Baseball (Little League) when they were kids, and he had spent his junior year on the practice team because of transfer rules. When his senior year came, he says he “was able to step right in.”
Still, there was no socializing with teammates after games or practices.
“We hung out only if it was in the context of the team being together for some reason somewhere,” Hayes says.
“My wife and I, we made some friends. We were invited to a few parties here and there, but as far as hanging out, running with them, that was not the case. Although we were good friends on the field and good friends at school, it pretty much confined itself to a school setting.”
When Hayes came home, there was the pressure of fitting in with the black community.
“Not everybody was happy that I went to Hickman, and I lost friends over there,” he says.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever really completely recovered from that. It leaves scars because that disrupted my social life for one thing, and I kept a few friends, but then others shunned me.”
Hayes wasn’t alone in feeling alone. John Kelly, who transferred to Hickman High in the same year as Hayes, can remember feeling as though he had turned his back on his old school.
“I would have to walk down Providence Road and instead of turning right to go to Douglass, I would have to turn left to go to Hickman,” he says.
“Well, I could hear the band practicing every morning, and that was kind of a heart-wrenching situation because it was so much fun to play with that group and then you gotta turn and literally walk away from them. I’ve always said that if I were presented with that same choice again, I don’t know if I would make that choice to go to Hickman.”
There is a sense Hayes, Kelly and other students who voluntarily switched schools lost something intangible in their choice to transfer to Hickman. In the first interview he did for this story, Hayes immediately turned to a clipping he keeps in his Hickman yearbook of the Douglass class with whom he would have graduated.
Still, Hayes says his decision to voluntarily integrate was pivotal because it set in motion the events that would continue to define his life: his marriage, his work and his education.
“It’s one of the biggest decisions I ever made in my life, and it was very, very pivotal in what happened afterwards,” he says.
Those life definitions are intertwined in his work with St. Luke’s where he leads the church, and Celestine leads the choir.
Hayes began preaching in 1972 when the Hayes family returned to Columbia from Cleveland.
Hayes worked as a full-time teacher and full-time minister until 1996 when the pressure Hayes felt his entire life burst, and he had a massive heart attack.
He retired from teaching at the end of the 1996 school year, but he continues to pastor. Much of Hayes’ work with St. Luke’s is focused around outreach to Columbia’s black community. Hayes is committed to HIV education, which he describes as an epidemic among African Americans, and he runs an after-school tutoring program for all students. His sermons are filled with historical references to Columbia’s black community and America’s black history.
There is a sense with Hayes that as much as he gained from transferring schools, he also lost something in that transition. That loss can be heard in his sermons at St. Luke’s, where he uses his words to reach out to Columbia’s black community.
That loss is reflected in those scars he speaks of that he has not recovered from. Despite this loss, he describes his choice of transferring schools as part of the beginning of integration in Columbia, and he says he has hope for the future.
“What I say to my own kids, I say, ‘You know, it hasn’t been that long since we were segregated,’ but to them it was ancient history.
“When you understand how change takes place throughout history, it hasn’t been that long. So, you can have hope. Those of us who went voluntary went with that purpose in mind.”