Rev. G. Mansfield Collins, a Tuskegee Airman, confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the founding members of the Western Christian Leadership Conference (WCLC)—the west coast arm of the SCLC— has died. He was 101.
Collins was a key figure in the civil rights movement on the west coast. Under his leadership as executive director, the WCLC raised more than $6 million in the struggle for civil rights, mostly through fundraisers at the homes of Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dr. Irving Lichtenstein and Beverly Hills businessmen philanthropists John Factor, Victor Carter and Mark Boyar, as well as events held at the Sports Arena and Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke and Mahalia Jackson.
In 1963, Collins played a key role in organizing and coordinating the “Los Angeles Freedom Rally,” one of the largest civil rights rallies in the country, which drew nearly 40,000 people— including Dorothy Dandridge, Rita Moreno, Paul Newman, Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Gregory and Marlon Brando— to Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak.
In 1965, Collins personally chartered four airliners to the Selma to Montgomery marches. On one occasion, Dr. King asked him to organize a singing tour for his wife, Coretta Scott King who was subsequently booked for concert dates through four western states, while sending along famed civil rights activist and broadcasting executive, Xernona Clayton as her traveling companion.
In August of 1965 during the Watts Riots, he is credited with saving the life of a white man who was targeted by a group of rioters in an L.A. Times newspaper account.
Born in Pueblo, Colorado on September 27, 1920, Gamaliel Mansfield Collins was the elder son of Rev. H. Mansfield Collins, a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mrs. Amelia Davis Collins, a former schoolteacher of Kansas City, Missouri.
The family moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1935 with the appointment of his father to the pastorate at First AME Church, then known as Eighth & Towne”. He graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1936—where one of his classmates was Tom Bradley— and attended the University of Southern California.
In 1943, he was drafted into the armed forces and assigned to the 2044th Quartermaster Unit and sent to Tonopah, Nevada. The unit was transferred to Hamilton Field where he initiated plans to take the test for flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama.
With recommendations from a Congressman and army general, he was cleared to take the test for the segregated Air Force Flight School at Tuskegee. He was the first member of his class to fly solo and graduated in the class of 441 at Tuskegee becoming a flight officer assigned to the Medium Bombardment Group at Godmen Field, Kentucky under then Colonel Benjamin O. Davis.
Collins’ first experience in activism came during his time in Tuskegee. In 1945—in what was dubbed as the “Freeman Field Mutiny”— members of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 477th Bombardment Group attempted to integrate an all-white officers’ club, demanding equal privileges for Black officers. The mutiny resulted in 162 separate arrests of black officers.
Collins—who proudly declares, “I was an agitator”—was one of them. It was the beginning of a focus on civil rights that would shape his lifelong service.
Upon his return he continued in his service as assistant pastor and musical director at the Neighborhood Community Church, which was organized by his father in 1940, while also singing in and around Los Angeles with the chorale formed by famed actor/negro spiritual composer, Jester Hairston. Through his work with Hairston, he had bit parts in several films including “Mighty Joe Young” (1949), “Imitation of Life” and “Porgy & Bess” (1959) starring Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dorothy Dandridge.
In 1961, he joined together with Rev. Maurice Dawkins, Rev. Larry Odom, Bishop H. Hartford Brookins, Rev. John Doggett, Rev. E.V. Hill, Rev. James Hargett (all now deceased) to form the Western Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1962, Collins organized the All Saints Community Church in Los Angeles. The ministry thrived as a gospel choir became one of the top-flight choirs in the city under the leadership of the late Albert Goodson.
Some years later, Collins elected to become an itinerant minister in the AME church and in an agreement made with the Bishop Harrison J. Bryant—serving then as the presiding prelate of the 5th Episcopal District, the church was renamed Bryant Temple AME Church.
Collins served out his years as in AME pastor with pastorates in Tacoma, Washington, Perris, California, St. Louis, Missouri and Oakland.
In 1995, he served as a founding board member and advisor to his daughter, Lisa Collins in the establishment of L.A. Focus Newspaper, which has become one of the city’s pre-eminent African-American community publications.
The father of five passed peacefully in his sleep on September 23, 2022, three days shy of his 102nd birthday. Services are scheduled for 11am on Monday, October 10, 2022 at Bryant Temple AME. In lieu of flowers, please send cards or notes of sympathy c/o of L.A. Focus, 333 West Florence, #C333, Inglewood, CA 90301.