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'We're Here To Reach Out': Zan Holmes Dedicated His Life To Service & Made A Habit Of Showing Up

Zan Holmes
Jesse Hornbuckle Photography
Courtesy of Zan W Holmes Jr Community Outreach Center
St. Luke “Community” U.M.C. Pastor Emeritus Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr. speaks to the audience at In Conversation 2020.

Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr. made a vow to uplift the Black community and stop racism. His life of service ranged from being a pastor all the way to serving in the state legislature.

This month KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches in North Texas. KERA's Sam Baker spoke with Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr., longtime pastor and activist in Dallas.

Holmes served at the St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas for 28 years, and also was an adjunct professor at the Perkins School of Theology at SMU for 24 years. He was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972 and has been a longtime activist in the community.

In the second of a two-part interview, Baker asked Holmes about his legacy of helping others in Dallas.

Illustration that imitates stained glass with Black figures standing outside a small church.
This month, KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches on life in North Texas. Immerse yourself in stories, history and memories from across the region.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

SAM BAKER: Community activism is very important to you.

ZAN WESLEY HOLMES, JR.: Yes, it is. To show up in the community, be involved in the community. When I first came to Dallas, I shall never forget. I came to Dallas to attend Perkins School of Theology and we, my wife and I, were renting a home down in the South Dallas area.

One day I heard a lot of noise going on. I saw people were running up the street up to the freeway, which was nearby. I rushed up there to see what was going on. When I got up there to the top, I noticed there was a Black man that had been hit by an automobile that was just there bleeding.

There were two white ambulance drivers there, two white police. They were just there. I could not understand what was going on. I went over to them and I said, why don't you all do something to help this man?

Well, they told me they were waiting for the Black ambulance to arrive. Now that was in 1956. While we were waiting for that ambulance to come, that man died. I asked myself on that occasion, what killed that man? You know, racism killed that man.

I looked in the eyes of both ambulance drivers and the police drivers, I could see they were bothered by that. But anyway, I made a vow on that day that if I was going to seminary and SMU, whatever I'm doing as pastor, if it did not have anything to do to deal with that issue, I had no business being there. That has driven my whole life, my whole career. And the issues are still bad.

Outside of Holmes middle school.
Keren Carrión | KERA News
There is a Dallas middle school named for Holmes.

BAKER: Give me some examples, an example of two, of how you followed through on that vow.

HOLMES: I also made a vow that wherever there was crisis in the community, that there was need in the community, that I would show up as a congregation. That's what I preached.

You know, we're not here to just take care of ourselves, but we're here to reach out to the community politically, socially, no matter what the need is, we have a challenge to be there and to make a difference. It has driven that congregation. It's certainly driven me in all of my, my life and my ministry.

BAKER: Why you? Why were you chosen so often?

HOLMES: You know, I eventually got elected to the state legislature primarily because I showed up at a meeting and we were trying to get somebody else to run. Our first African American legislator got killed in a plane crash. So we were there to decide who would run. We're trying to name everybody... different people saying, I can't run. They said, you run. They said, we pay your salary. You run. And that was the beginning. I ran. The community supported me.

I ran for three terms and I got reelected. I resigned because I got a different church position. But anyway, when the schools desegregated, we had problems, they segregated the schools.

I was driving on my way to Dallas and the newsman announced on the radio that the judge had appointed a Tri-Ethnic Committee to help oversee that the school district would follow through on the audit that ended. I was coming to work through all of that. I mean, that was a long, long jury, that Tri-Ethnic Committee. I got into so much stuff because I showed up.

The roots of St. Luke Community U.M.C in Dallas stretch back to 1933.
Keren Carrión | KERA News
The roots of St. Luke Community U.M.C in Dallas stretch back to 1933.

BAKER: Are you pleased with what you accomplished?

HOLMES: Not in the sense that I did all that I wanted to do all that I could have done. But I am proud of Saint Luke Community United Methodist church. I'm proud of the Dallas Pastors Coalition and what they have done. I am proud of so many soldiers in the field.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.