Surrounded by loved ones, Duane Adkinson looked up at his family one last time and smiled lovingly. Then he was gone. "He must have seen into Heaven," said his daughter, Laney. Willard Duane "Swampy" Adkinson died March 31 after a prolonged battle with cancer. Duane's passing means a deep loss for those who loved him, but also for those the Bible calls "outcasts." A Christian advocate for peace and social justice, Duane devoted his life to being a voice for those who were rendered powerless by injustice and oppression: the hungry; the homeless; prisoners; immigrants and exploited workers were just some of the people who had a friend in Duane, who said: "Christians are required to love one another."
In a 2011 interview, Duane said: "I believe that Jesus came to witness to the oppressed, to free the captives, to feed the hungry and the poor and the downtrodden. He came to poor people, and he came to the oppressed people. And he came to sinners. One of the major charges against him was he ate with sinners. He was not above going to the lowest, people considered the lowest, He witnessed to these people.
"I'm not saying I'm like Jesus, but I try to follow that example. He's the model."
Adkinson spent all of his adult life as a "Union Man," which are the words on his N.C. vanity license plate. After graduating from Greensboro High, Duane moved to Detroit to take a union job with the Ford Motor Company. He was a dues-paying member of the United Auto Workers union for 62 years. As an activist, Duane stood vigil each Monday in front of Raleigh's Central Prison calling for an end to capital punishment. He joined a first-Wednesday monthly vigil on Fayetteville St. calling for nuclear disarmament. He and his wife, Betty Anne, delivered Meals on Wheels and gave food to the hungry at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church's Back Door Ministry. Duane was arrested during the Moral Monday protests at the N.C. General Assembly. He marched in support of labor unions and for immigration reform, and he gave his support to myriad causes for justice and peace.
In February, the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans named Duane "Vice President Emeritus." The honor included these words: "Time after time you have been on the battlefield, campaigning for the needs and rights of Seniors and Labor. Brother Adkinson, your calling to serve and to serve well is richly documented. You are a true leader in the Movement and a true Trade Unionist."
Adkinson, the only child of the Rev. Willard Cecil and Annie Davidson Adkinson, was born June 10, 1935 in Austin, IN. His family relocated to North Carolina when his father took a job as a Baptist pastor. In 1954, the family moved to Garner when the Rev. Adkinson was called to pastor Garner First Baptist Church. Duane and his wife, Betty Anne, moved back to Garner after his parents' deaths in 1992.
Duane is survived by his wife of 22 years, Betty Anne, and his children and his step-children: Janice "Laney" Williams, Andrew Adkinson, Rebecca Evans, Crystal Hopkins, Cynthia Ponder, Cheri Ponder; the grandson he raised as his own, Jacob Case, nine other grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
In a letter to Duane last February, Pullen Baptist pastor, the Rev. Nancy Petty, who will officiate at Duane's memorial service Friday, said Duane was her "strongest advocate and supporter."
"Through your life, your faith in God, and your passion for justice you have taught me what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus," Petty wrote. " If there ever was a person who embodied the words of Micah 6:8 it is you, Duane. You have made real the words: do justice, love compassion, and walk humbly with God."
Duane's body has left us; we are feeling sad, but his spirit of love and compassion lives on and gives us hope for Peaceful Tomorrows.