Members of Goodwill Full Gospel Church will honor Otis Wiley, Abilene’s first African-American sheriff, Friday at Hardin-Simmons University with a dinner and ceremony.
Wiley, 79, is the pastor of Goodwill and is known as a pioneer of his time.
In 1967, Wiley was the first African-American hired by the Taylor County sheriff’s department. He started as a jailer and had no prior experience. He worked there for nine and a half years, becoming a sheriff in the process, and went on to work for the Veterans Service Office.
In 1997, Wiley retired and became a pastor. Now, 18 years later, he still pastors Goodwill.
Billie Sneed, Wiley’s stepdaughter and member of Goodwill, is helping to organize the event.
“In the 1960s, he was a real pioneer here in Taylor County when discrimination was still very much in play,” Sneed said. “In those days, a black was lucky to get a hotel room, so we thought we should do something to honor him.”
Joyce Belvine, chairman and organizer of the event, is also a member of the church. She said didn’t know about his accomplishments until last year while talking to her previous pastor from California.
After that, she went digging for information at the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office where she got in contact with Lt. John Cummins.
“I called him my hero,” Belvine said. “Jon had been so helpful. He told me about Otis, and that’s where the event was born.”
Soon after, she made it her goal to recognize him properly. She, along with some help, has been working to make the event a reality.
“We want to let him, as they say, ‘smell his flowers’ because you never know when he’ll get another chance,” Belvine said. “We want to acknowledge that he is a pioneer in Abilene.”
Wiley was recognized by the city when he retired but wasn’t recognized during Black History Month, which is part of the reason Belvine wanted to create this ceremony.
“This is like a late Black History Month celebration,” she said. “They recognize people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but they’re dead. People need to know we have a pioneer like Martin Luther King in Abilene now.”
Belvine has even gone as far as to try to find some of the men he worked with, though she has hit a few snags. Many of Wiley’s fellow employees have died or are too ill to make it to the event.
Sneed said the whole city is invited to attend the ceremony, however. Representatives from the Abilene Police Department, sheriff’s office and City Council will be present, and Dr. Kelvin Kelley, assistant professor of theology at HSU, will be featured as the guest speaker.
The event will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Johnson Building.