|Photo from the 1916 Howler, Wake Forest University Special Collections and Archives, ZSR Library.
“A Little Hill To Climb”
The life of W. T. (William Thomas) Tate is a story of a young man who reaches down to his boot straps, takes a firm grip, and tugs and tugs until he has lifted himself a surprising distance. Tate was born January 22, 1887 two and one half miles south of Henrietta. His early life is recorded in his remarkable book Up A Little Hill which is reproduced here.
Although he mentions working in the mill at Cliffside, for some reason he does not note that he was licensed to preach by the Cliffside Baptist Church on August 14th, 1909 and ordained by the same church on July 20th, 1911.
We will briefly cover that portion of his life, not included in the book, which follows his graduation from Wake Forest. But first here is what was said about Tate in the 1916 Wake Forest yearbook.
“If industry were to be incarnated W. T. would fill the place without any modifications. He is one of the most conscientious students that has ever been on the Campus. Nor is he satisfied with theoretical college training; but ever since he entered he has been pastor of from three to five churches. Yet his classroom work has been of such a nature you would think he studied text-books all the time. We would not render him justice without mentioning another item. When it comes to a healthful bunch of bright-eyed boys and girls, his family stands head and shoulders above that of any member of the faculty.”
While it is not absolutely certain, the evidence seems to indicate that for a time after graduation from Wake Forest Tate served as pastor—in some order—to the following churches: Judson Mill Baptist Church in South Carolina, and New Hill and Bethesda Baptist Churches both in North Carolina.
It is certain however that from 1918 to 1920 Tate was pastor of the Caroleen Baptist Church. Rev. Tate was enrolled in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky during the 1921-22 school year, and then from 1922 to 1925 he was again pastor at Caroleen. On October 11, 1925 W. T. Tate began his pastorate at Pacolet Mills Baptist Church. And there he remained for 28 years. (Pacolet Mills Baptist Church was formed in 1884 as Trough Shoals Baptist Church; in 1902 it was renamed.)
Tate’s service in Pacolet Mills must have been impressive—to say the least. In 1935, in the midst of the depression, “the church by unanimous vote adopted a resolution to pay expenses and send the pastor, Rev. W. T. Tate, on a trip to the Holy Land.” But this did not tell the whole story. When Tate recalled the trip years later he said he was indebted to the church for “sending him to Europe, Asia, and Africa, with all expenses paid.” He also remarked that his salary was paid during this trip on which he visited 13 countries.
In November of 1950 Tate was “honored on the 25th anniversary of his pastorate at Pacolet Mills.” He was given an engraved watch and a knife and chain, his wife was given a cameo pin and “a freewill overflow in gifts was also presented to them in silver dollars.” There is yet another indication of the regard in which Rev. Tate was held. In 1960 the Pacolet Mills Baptist Church formed a “mission church” some few miles away. This church was named the Tate Memorial Baptist Church and it functions today.
On May 3, 1953 Rev. Tate submitted his resignation effective July of 1953. Tate served as moderator of the Southern Baptist Convention several times. He was on the General Board of the Convention for many years and he served on the Board of the Connie Maxwell Orphanage at Greenwood, S. C. W. T. Tate died May 6, 1964 and is buried in the Greenlawn Memorial Gardens, Spartanburg, S. C.
Presented here in PDF format are images of the actual pages of W. T. Tate’s account of his early life, marriage, and education.
The book is available thanks to Katherine Scruggs.
— Don Bailey
W.T. Tate's family had multiple ties to Cliffside. In 1906 he married Dovie Melissa, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Sparks, also the parents of Robert Sparks, who would in time become one of Cliffside's barber. One of W.T.'s brothers, Thomas Spurgeon, was a well-liked insurance man in Cliffside. In June of 1930 the town was saddened by his accidental death.
W.T.'s father was General George Washington Tate (called simply "General Tate" in the 1900 Federal Census). General's parents were James Madison and Elizabeth Betsy Goode Tate.