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Honoring the legend, Rev. James McMearn 

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The late James McMearn, founding pastor and longtime member of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Fountain, began his ministry over 40 years ago.

But it was a criminal justice case involving a young boy, and what happened as a result of that case, that led him to become a passionate civil rights activist in the community, says Kevin Daniels, current pastor of New Jerusalem. “His church and his community really expanded because of that case,” says Daniels.

According to his defense, David Lee Scott, a black 15-year-old, was target shooting with a stolen gun in 1978 when a bullet ricocheted and killed William Lamore, who was walking home from work. Lee was interrogated without being warned against self-incrimination, and without a parent or lawyer present, ostensibly because he was originally considered a witness, not a suspect. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1980.

McMearn, who felt the tragic incident was an accident, led the rally to have Lee’s conviction overturned. The Colorado Supreme Court later reversed the judgment and remanded the case to a lower court — citing prosecutorial misconduct and the failure to warn Lee against self-incrimination — where Lee was convicted of lesser charges.

The night before the march, the KKK demonstrated outside McMearn’s church, threatening his life and that of fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, recalls McMearn’s daughter Liz McMearn. “I remember him saying to me he was scared,” she says, “but his fear was overcome by calmness because he trusted that God would never leave him somewhere alone.”

McMearn’s support of Lee was one of many notable events in his life.

Recent legislation aimed at naming a road in his honor (House Joint Resolution 18-1011, sponsored by Colorado Springs Democrats Rep. Tony Exum and Sen. Michael Merrifield and Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf) notes that he was born in 1940 in Crockett, Texas, served in the Air Force in the 1960s, and was ordained in 1967. He later worked for the county health department before founding his church in 1972. Mentored by the Rev. Milton E. Proby, the highly respected local civil rights leader, McMearn worked to see Proby’s legacy preserved following his death in 2005, working with the city to name Milton E. Proby Parkway in his honor and with El Pomar Foundation to establish the Milton E. Proby Cultural Heritage Room Induction Ceremony to address community needs and honor a minority leader each year. 
McMearn served on the advisory group for the Pikes Peak Community Development Initiative/College Readiness and Success Program and participated in the Emerging Leaders Development Program. Most notably, he was the recipient of the Drum Major award from President Barack Obama and received an invitation to the White House.

McMearn died in May 2016 at the age of 76. There’s a saying that goes, “What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you.” Those who were close to McMearn believe that’s what’s happening for him now.

In 2017, McMearn was an inductee of the El Pomar Milton B. Proby Cultural Heritage Room — the one he helped establish. That bill to name a road in his honor was signed earlier this year, and designates U.S. Highway 85/87 as James H. McMearn Memorial Highway.
Liz chairs the James H. McMearn Legacy Foundation, which is hosting the celebration for the highway designation on Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. at First United Methodist Church in Fountain. She says her father was a great relationship-builder and his ministry stretched from the Springs to Kenya, Ghana and the West Indies.

“My father really stood for unifying across racial lines, unifying the community, unifying law enforcement agencies [with] the community,” she says. “It’s symbolic as it unifies Fountain and Colorado Springs where he [was most] active.”

She says growing up, her dad’s example to help improve the quality of life for others was always around her. He was constantly using his influence to better education and housing for the poor.

These days, Liz is committed to ensuring that her father’s legacy lives on. She says her dad had the foresight to build relationships with people in positions of leadership: “It was important [to him] to have a seat at the table, to where we didn’t have to worry about some of the things that other communities have to worry about around racial inequalities.”

Now, just as McMearn carried Proby’s torch after his passing, Liz vows to carry the torch her father lit so many years ago.

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