By Dave Ongie, News Editor
On a clear, crisp Thanksgiving morning nearly two months ago, Rev. Charles “C.H.” Charlton’s voice boomed over a loudspeaker as he offered a thunderous invocation prior to the start of the annual Turkey Trot 5K. The prayer ended in a familiar crescendo, which echoed from Tannery Knobs to the TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
“Amen, amen, AMEN!”
Last week, that influential voice fell silent as Charlton passed away at the age of 79, leaving folks in Johnson City to reflect upon the enormous influence Charlton had on the city and the region as a whole. During his time on this earth, Charlton was a trailblazer, a pastor, an educator, an author, an elected representative, a tireless advocate, a dedicated husband and father and a servant leader.
All told, Charlton spent 55 years as a pastor, the last 43 at Friendship Baptist Church in Johnson City, where he retired in 2019. As a young clergyman in Virginia, he was the first African-American Board of Education member in Radford before going on to become the city’s first African-American mayor.
Charlton continued his public service in Johnson City by serving on the Johnson City Commission, which included a two-year stint as the city’s vice-mayor. He also served on Johnson City’s school board for five years and spent six years on the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission, including one year as the chairman.
During his time on the City Commission, Charlton worked side by side with Congressman Phil Roe, who served on the commission before representing Tennessee’s First District in Washington, D.C. Roe quickly grew to admire Charlton’s thoughtful approach to government, and he said he was saddened to learn last Thursday morning that his good friend “Rev” had passed away.
“Dr. Charlton was a faithful pastor, a public servant and a good friend. I was proud to have served with him on the City Commission, where he served two years as vice-mayor of Johnson City. He was truly a shining star on a hill. Clarinda and I are keeping his family in our prayers as we mourn the loss of this great man,” Roe said in a statement.
Charlton wrote several books and served as a professor at Northeast State Community College. He was also a member of the inaugural admissions committee for ETSU’s Gatton College of Pharmacy.
Over the years, Charlton became a trusted advisor to many, including State Senator Rusty Crowe.
“He was our rock, a true renaissance man who was loved by all who knew him,” Crowe said in a statement on Thursday. “He was my early inspiration, my mentor, and my early teacher. He pulled me aside when I first decided to run for office and taught me to articulate and speak.
“He was the consummate statesman and diplomat who could bring together, even the most divided, with great kindness and wisdom. He literally raised our community, a true servant leader and a shining example for generations to follow.”
Charlton is survived by his wife Janet and his son Charles Melvin Charlton.