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Church Refuses to Marry Interracial Couple, Family Says

April 2, 1996

THOMASVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ An all-white church that backed down from an attempt to remove a mixed-race baby from its cemetery is refusing to marry the child’s parents or let them join the church, the family said Tuesday.

Lila Wireman, the baby’s great-grandmother, said deacon Logan Lewis told her the child’s parents, Jamie Wireman and Jeffrey ``Bubba″ Johnson, would not be allowed to wed at Barnetts Creek Baptist Church.

``I told him they wanted to join the church, get married and straighten out their lives,″ Mrs. Wireman said. ``Logan said they’re living in sin and their child was born in sin because they were not married.″

Jamie Wireman, 18, who is white, and Johnson, 25, who is black, have lived together for more than two years.

Lewis said he had not received a marriage request, but he acknowledged talking to Mrs. Wireman about the couple joining the church.

``I said, `Mrs. Wireman, I don’t think it’s the appropriate time for this because I don’t think there is any repentance in their heart,‴ he said.

The deacon called the new controversy an attempt to persecute the 200-member church.

Blacks make up about 38 percent of the 40,000 residents of Thomas County, along the Florida state line.

The couple’s baby, Whitney, was born March 18 without a completely formed skull and died 19 hours later. She was buried next to her grandfather in the church’s cemetery.

After learning the baby had a black father, the church’s seven deacons voted unanimously to remove the infant’s body, citing a church policy dating from the 1800s that barred minorities from the cemetery.

The deacons later decided to let the baby stay, and church leaders offered an apology Friday during a meeting with the family.

That seemed to end the dispute _ until Jamie Wireman decided she wanted to become a member of the church, have a church wedding and buy two cemetery plots for herself and Johnson next to their baby.

Mrs. Wireman said she phoned Lewis with the request Saturday.

``He said we had to wait a long time, let this all calm down and they could consider if that was possible,″ she said. ``But he didn’t think so.″

Mrs. Wireman said she had considered leaving the church because of the burial controversy but decided to stay after the apology.

``I love the church,″ she said. ``There are good people in the church that are being hurt as well as us by one man’s dictatorship. I don’t want the nation to feel bad about the whole congregation, because they’re not like that. They’re loving Christians who would do anything for anybody.″

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