African American Leaders: Charles Marks, Jr. | Presbyterian Historical Society

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African American Leaders: Charles Marks, Jr.

March 15, 2024
Portrait of Charles Marks, Jr., 1968. [ RG 414 (Biographical Vertical Files)]

Each month, the Presbyterian Historical Society is bearing witness to the lives of African American leaders throughout the history of the PC(USA). Click here to learn how PHS is collecting records of the Black Presbyterian experience through the African American Leaders and Congregations Initiative.

Additionally, a free bulletin insert about each figure is available for download at the end of each blog.


Writing in 1977, the Rev. Dr. Frank T. Wilson highlighted Charles Marks, Jr.’s ability to weave “preaching, pastoral care, community involvement and administration” together as “interrelated and interacting aspects of ‘doing the Gospel.’" While Wilson aptly captured the young Charles Marks’s vision for holistic mission and dedicated community service at that time, these qualities remained constant throughout Marks’s ministry.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Marks, Jr.’s spiritual roots were cultivated at Butler United Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia where he, his parents Charles Sr. and Eldora, and other family members were active. After completing secondary school at A. E. Beach High, Marks attended Knoxville College. He graduated in 1964 with majors in Sociology and Religion and immediately went on to attend Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS).

In addition to coursework and field education, which he completed at Bidwell Street Presbyterian Church, Marks was awarded the Chevy Chase Christian Education Award. This honor was established by the youth of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. for excellence in ministering to young people. Marks was also involved in civil rights activities—both on campus and in the city of Pittsburgh. Notably, this included participation in a joint Seminary-Southern Chrisian Leadership Conference voter registration drive for his home state of Georgia. At PTS Marks also met his future spouse, Amal Rizkallah Halaby. Halaby, who was born and raised in Lebanon, would become an organizer of the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus, and the couple’s family would grow to include their two children, Ameer and Reema.

PC(USA) staff visit to Israel/Palestine, 2000. Charles and Amal are standing in the front row, second and third from the right. From the Amal Halaby Marks papers [Accession 19-1005, box 1]

After completing his master’s in divinity in 1967, Marks answered a call to the Urban Intern Project, which was sponsored by the Board of National Missions through Olivet Presbyterian Church in Chicago. When the pastor of Olivet resigned, Marks was asked to step into the role. During his time at Olivet, he not only saw to his pastoral responsibilities, but he also served on Chicago Presbytery’s Urban Crisis Commission and Illinois Synod’s Committee on Church and Race.

Marks later described community involvement as “the participation of members of the congregation and its leadership in the life of the community, in ways that initiate and demonstrate the freeing of the Human spirit for purposes for which God created us.”  This deep conviction was evidenced by his involvement with issues related to housing and education in Chicago. He joined the efforts of North Side Cooperative Ministry and SCLC Operation Breadbasket; he helped develop a youth program called REACH that was designed to build power through education in Black and Puerto Rican communities; and he committed additional time to teaching high school students and advising Black students at McCormick Theological Seminary.

In 1969, Marks was invited to return to Pittsburgh’s Bidwell Street Presbyterian Church. There he stepped into a call to associate pastor where his responsibilities included directing Bidwell’s Community Center. The Center was a tangible bridge between the church and its surrounding community. It offered a range of programs from lunches and vocational training to youth and adult recreational activities. This combination of pastoral care and community involvement became even more fully blended in Marks’s vocational life when the Synod of Southern California called him in 1973 to resource churches in developing and redeveloping ministries that would meet the needs of urban Los Angeles. In this capacity he provided staff support for the Black Advisory Committee, which was a coalition of the synod’s eleven predominantly Black Presbyterian churches.

Marks stepped further into urban and racial ethnic ministries through national committee work, significantly, as a member of the Task Force on Improving Prospects of Minorities in the Ministries of the Church. In 1979 the Improving Minority Prospects (IMP) Committee established an annual conference for seminarians of color that would offer not just preparation for ministry, but recognized the importance of seminarians of color and offered a framework of support. Since then, over a thousand seminarians have attended the conference, and its participants have included many who serve or have served in national leadership.

In each of these roles—and others as he completed a Doctor of Ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS), as he accepted a call to SFTS chaplain, and as he served as interim pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles—Marks lived and demonstrated the inseparable connection between ministry to the church and service beyond the church.


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