Two unique Baptists from Yazoo City, Mississippi: Owen Cooper and Jerry Clower
Article copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
Two of the most famous Baptists from Mississippi were laymen, not pastors. Both were members of the same church in Yazoo City, and one worked for the other.
Owen Cooper, an industrialist and deacon at First Baptist Church, Yazoo City, was a leader in Mississippi Baptist life for four decades, beginning in the 1940s. He founded Mississippi Chemical Corporation and led many humanitarian projects. Cooper eventually became the most influential layman in the Southern Baptist Convention in the twentieth century. He served as chairman of the board of trustees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at the time the seminary was relocated. He served on the Foreign Mission Board, where he worked closely with the area director for Southern Asia and the Pacific, Clinton native Jerry Rankin, on supporting indigenous missionaries in India. In 1959, he began serving on the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, a tenure that lasted 21 years. He was elected chairman of the SBC Executive Committee in 1971. In 1972, Cooper was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving two years. Other Mississippians had been elected president of the SBC, but they lived in other states at the time. Cooper was the first to live in Mississippi at the time he served as president of the SBC. An advocate for lay involvement in missions, Cooper was also the last layperson to be elected president of the denomination in the past 50 years. He died of cancer in 1986.
A native of Liberty, Jerry Clower was a fertilizer salesman who worked for Owen Cooper and a fellow church member of First Baptist, Yazoo City. When Clower released a record of his humorous stories, Cooper encouraged him, guaranteeing him a job if showbusiness didn’t work out. The record became a hit in 30 days, and the rest was history. In the 1970s, he began to appear regularly on “Country Crossroads,” a country and western show sponsored by the Southern Baptist Radio and TV Commission. In 1972, Clower nominated his boss and fellow church member Owen Cooper to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention with the memorable words, “Now y’all know he didn’t come to town on no watermelon truck.”2
1 The Baptist Record, June 10, 1971, 1; June 22, 1972, 1; Don McGregor, The Thought Occurred to Me: A Book About Owen Cooper (Nashville: Fields Communications & Publishing, 1992), 94, 109, 127-128, 146, 149, 166-167, 169-170; “Owen Cooper (1908-1986) Business Leader and Humanitarian,” by Jo G. Prichard III, Mississippi History Now, accessed on the Internet March 7, 2023 at https://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/issue/owen-cooper-1908-1986-business-leader-and-humanitarian;
2 The Baptist Record, September 14, 1972, 1; McGregor, 169.
(Dr. Rogers is writing a new history of Mississippi Baptists.)