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He's Just 93: Reverend William L. Bethel

| June 19, 2020

Born a slave in the North Carolina and a soldier in the Union Army at 22, "after the Yankees came and got me," Rev. William L. Bethel, Oklahoma City, who has just celebrated his 93rd birthday is still hale and hearty and retains that soldierly bearing instilled in him during those early days of Lincoln's freedom.


Rev. Bethel lives now with his daughter, Mrs. Bessie Smith, at 534 East Third street and is also the father of Dr. A. P. Bethel proprietor of the Bethel Drug Store at Fourth and Phillips.


Although he is now in many ways unable to look after his many interests in Oklahoma City, Rev. Bethel has for many years been one of the substantial property owners of the city. He has been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church for more than 60 years, being one of the early day graduates of the theological department of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania.


Life most aged persons Rev. Bethel reckons time by certain great events, while he is of extremely clear mind for his advanced years and without assistance goes where he pleases. He says "I was born during President Polk's administration," or "I came to Oklahoma the year McKinley was killed."


Fortune and misfortune has trailed in the wake of the old stalwart Presbyterian preacher, for awhile he was never able to establish his right to a federal pension "because I lost my discharge papers" and was later unable to convince the Dawes commission at Muskogee that his wife's name belonged on the Cherokee Indian roll, which would have entitled her to an Indian allotment. Rev. Bethel has otherwise had the Midas touch in his materialistic endeavors. All of his property holdings in Oklahoma City have proved of great value and for years he has lived in a very substantial way.


It is interesting to hear Rev. Bethel tell of how free Negroes had to dodge "nigger-traders" during ante-bellum times. "They would take free people and sell them down the river where no one could identify them," declared Rev. Bethel in his interview in the Black Dispatch office. He told other interesting stories of travail and sorrows black men and women suffered in pre-war Dixieland.


The name Bethel like in most slave holding families came from his master, Rev. Josiah Bethel a white slave holding minister at Raleigh, on whose plantation the near centenarian was born.


Another son, Rev. Martin Bethel has for many years been an instructor at Tuskegee Institute and still another is a doctor in Detroit. "I had every one of my children complete the course at Lincoln," declared Rev. Bethel proudly as he talked of his alma mater.


When asked to state his greatest hobby, Rev. Bethel said, "I've gotten enthusiasm out of teaching and preaching. I like to help people. I want to help everybody. My wife scolds me all the time about giving away so much, but I tell her we won't be here long and as God has been good to us we should be good to everybody. Mamma jumps in and helps me do a lot of things, though, even if she does scold me sometimes,"  added Rev. Bethel, who spends most of his time these days writing religious articles, which he has printed and scatters freely among the people.