Biographical Sketch On The Life Of Coleman Overby
Coleman Overby, one of the truly great preachers of this century, was born of Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Overby near Murray, Kentucky on January 30; 1889. His mother died soon after he was born and his father remarried. He learned the Truth in early life and became obedient to it. His obedience to the gospel led to troubles in his Baptist home, and the step-mother did not get along with the children very well anyway, and he left home for about a year. Christian friends helped him in this time and he was always grateful for their kindness.
He soon decided he wanted to be a preacher and began that work at the age of seventeen. He was able to baptize all four of his brothers, his one sister, and many other friends and relatives in the area. In his late seventies, his father gave up the doctrines of men and became obedient to the one faith. His step brother became a Baptist preacher, preaching in Detroit, Michigan for many years. Throughout life he returned to Murray, again and again and was able to convert many of his relatives and acquaintances. He also had a step-sister who was a Baptist.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1911 he was married to Miss Susan Beatrice Hargrove of Almo, a small place a few miles north of Murray. Though her father was a Primitive (Hardshell) Baptist preacher, he had converted her before they were married. Four daughters were born to them: Rachel, who died in 1933; Teresa, (Mrs. Perry Cotham); Laurel; and Frances, (Mrs. Robert Snider).
As a child, Brother Overby had attended the available schools, but felt the need for more training in his preaching work. Having learned of the school at Cordell, Oklahoma, he went there and studied for two years. During this time he also lived for a time in Henryetta in the Eastern part of Oklahoma, and here his second daughter was born. Here he also preached for the church.
After two years of study at Cordell he left Oklahoma and returned to Murray in Kentucky. For a time he lived on a farm but soon built a house in Murray and made his home there. (This house still stands.) He immediately became busy preaching and debating. Many of his meetings were held under a tent. In August, 1922 he began work as "county evangelist" in Calloway County where he had been reared. (Many churches used this arrangement for evangelization. It was an arrangement where several churches in an area would agree to support a man and keep him busy preaching in destitute places.)
In the late years of the last century and the early years of this one, the church was in constant turmoil, brought on by those in the church who were pushing to have the church use instrumental music and the missionary society. At the first they almost swept the whole church away in their digression, but in most places there were a few who would not "bow the knee to Baal." The "digressives" as the loyal brethren usually called them, took not only many of the preachers, but most of the meeting houses. Because these buildings had often been paid for by those who did not accept the digressive position, feelings were often bitter when loyal brethren were ousted from property they had paid for. This happened in Kentucky - Tennessee - Texas - everywhere there were New Testament churches. Those pushing for these innovations liked to call themselves "progressives" and those who opposed them "non-progressives," or "non-progs." The "non-progs" usually called the others "digressives," refusing to accept the idea that their innovations were really "`progress." (Time has vindicated them, for the non-instrumental group has grown much more than the others. All over Calloway County, Kentucky there are strong churches of Christ, and very few "Christian churches," or Disciples.)
Coleman Overby grew up in a time when preachers had to make a fight to save even a remnant in most of the churches. The digressives would usually work in every possible underhanded way to gain control of a church, they seldom were willing to lay the case before the people in open, honest debate. Sometimes one could be found who was willing to try his case in the crucible of public discussion, and brother Overby was able to meet at least two such men: J.H. Walker in Murray in 1923 and in 1927 he met Frank S. Perry on the same subject at Valley Point near Milan, Tennessee. Following the debate with Walker The Church in Murray began to grow, and today is a very strong church. Perry Cotham, who grew up in that same County and married Brother Overby's second daughter, Teresa, remembers having attended that debate, the first debate he ever attended. The division in Murray took place in 1899, leaving only a few there who were determined to worship "as it is written," meeting at various places where ever they could, and perhaps not meeting all the time. In 1909 James A. Harding, and his son, Leon, as song leader, held a meeting there, and another one in 1910. He re-established The Church with thirteen members. They began to grow and in a few years were able to build at South Sixth and Maple Sts. Later they had to have more room and built on Popular Street. Such things happened all over the brotherhood. David Lipscomb and others on the Gospel Advocate fought these innovations, and were largely responsible for saving anything from the digression. Lipscomb would say: "When the organ is put into the worship it ceases to be a church of Christ." The Lord's church in Murray and surrounding country has grown across the years, the digressives have not.
Many of our brethren today do not know of the terrible times through which the Church passed in those years. Because they do not know, they often badly misrepresent our brethren of those times. Many today who oppose debates do so through complete ignorance of the very effective work done in that period. Such brethren should be treated with kindness, of course, and completely ignored, at least on that point.
He held many debates, usually with the Baptists, and once his father-in-law, who was a Primitive Baptist preacher, moderated for his opponent. He said he would not do that again. (He was never able to convert his in-laws.) In all his debates he made the Bible stand out as the sole authority as he met such men as A. U. Nunnery, and Freed Taylor. From that time, the church in Western Kentucky grew and prospered.
In 1923 he moved from Murray to Lexington, Tennessee where he worked with the church about two years when he moved to Union City, Tennessee, then to Jackson were he worked with the Central church.
In the mid-twenties, with Cecil Douthitt, he was involved in the publication of the Primitive Christian, first a monthly, then bi-monthly, and finally a weekly. This paper did much good in West Tennessee and surrounding area. In 1929 he began serving as editor of it. It continued until he moved to Oklahoma.
While living in Jackson his oldest daughter, Rachel, contracted tuberculosis and he decided to "move West" to help her. In September1932 he moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, but she only lived until the following January. Her body was returned to Murray.
In Muskogee he began one of the most useful works of his life, the publication of Bible study materials, first using a mimeograph. Bible Women was the first book printed. He also produced Sermon Outlines, Scriptural Surveys, Book Of Acts, and others. In March, 1937 he moved to Dallas, Texas to work with the Sears and Summit St. church (now Skillman Avenue). He continued to produce teaching materials, and in a few years gave up local work to devote more time to such writing. He did preach for a short time for the church meeting on the campus of Boles Home at Quinlan. Later he accepted an invitation of the Pearl and Bryan Street Church to work with them. This is the oldest church of any kind in Dallas, and now meets on Garland Road (Nov., 1985, Known as "Highland Oaks"). He worked for this church for seven and a half years, and helped establish a number of other congregations in the city, including the Cockrell Hill church. He also did a Sunday morning radio program from WRR and helped Olan Hicks in the beginning of the Christian Chronicle. He was always interested in mission work and gave much help to the work of Eldred Echols in South Africa. Perhaps one of the most far-reaching things he did was the establishment of the annual Teacher Training Course still held each Spring in Dallas. He pushed the Bible school, for he felt that it was the key to church growth. He helped others publish teaching materials including Mary Oler and Mrs. Hulen Jackson. Much of his work is still in print and can be ordered from his daughter, Mrs. Robert Snider, 3408 Lynnwood Ct., Arlington, TX 76013.
At the midweek service, September 27, 1950, at the Pearl and Bryan St. church he read and commented on a portion of the 19th Psalm and made some remarks about Brother Echols and his work in Africa. The next morning with T.J. Moon, a gospel preacher, and Robert Snider, his son-in-law, and Bro. Overby went to Lake Texoma for some fishing. While out in a boat he was stricken with a heart attack, and though they got him to medical help as quickly as possible, it was too late. At the comparatively early age of sixty-one, his great work was finished, the course was completed. Services were conducted by Hulen Jackson, Foy L. Smith, and E.R. Harper at the Pearl and Bryan St. meeting house. It was estimated that two hundred gospel preachers attended the funeral and about a thousand others. Again the 19th Psalm was read. Following the Dallas service the body was returned to Murray, Kentucky where on Sunday afternoon Boone L. Douthitt, another life-long friend, conducted the final service, including the 19th Psalm, and they laid the body in the earth there. Here in Calloway County he had grown up, obeyed the gospel, preached his first sermon, did some of his greatest work, and held his last meeting.
His companion continued until April 8, 1965, when she too, went the way of all the earth. After his death she had kept his books in print, mailing them from the home to the many people who ordered them. Her body too, was returned to Murray, and there they sleep side by side awaiting the sounding of the last trumpet.
Following his death Frank J. Dunn wrote: "It is my conviction that there had never been a man in Dallas more highly esteemed, or his passing more deeply mourned by the church than brother Overby. He was one of the finest, fairest, truest, purest, and most capable men I have ever known. Brother Overby was a true friend and closer than a brother to every gospel preacher who knew him." A. O. Colley said of him: "He was a good and safe teacher and one that always wanted to see things done right and in harmony with the Lord's will. He was a strong man among us in defending the truth when it was assailed by denomination teachers. When the 'Christian Church' thought they were taking things over in West Kentucky and Tennessee, Brother Overby was one who stood firm for the truth which drew him into some good debates with them and truth always triumphed, and error suffered defeat. We will never be able to tell how much good he did for primitive Christianity in those days. He had been on the firing line ever since he began preaching in Kentucky. He has also stood firm for New Testament principles since he has been in Dallas, We never had to ask him the second time to find out his position on thing that involved the truth."
Brother Overby was well and favorably known throughout the brotherhood. For his purity of life, deep devotion to the Lord and His word, and his great ability as a preacher he was highly respected. It is a wonderful thing to contemplate the gathering of the saints of all the ages. With The Lord let us exclaim: "...unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:21). We firmly believe Brother Overby is now in that "glory."
-Loyd L. Smith, editor, Gospel Preachers Of Yesteryear, pages 267-271, This Sketch First Appeared In The Christian Worker, December, 1981 Some thoughts were added from In Memoriam by Gussie Lambert, pages 210-212
The Church Grew
Where He Labored
(Editor's note: I asked brother Cotham to write this brief story of the life of his illustrious father-in-law.)
Coleman Overby, well known gospel preacher and writer, was born near Murray, Kentucky on January 30, 1889, to Mr. and Mrs. W. S. Overby.
Soon after his birth his mother died and later his father remarried, but his stepmother was none too kind at times to him and the other children of the family. Early in life brother Overby learned the truth and obeyed the gospel, but after his baptism he had to leave home for about a year. However, there were Christian friends who helped him during those trying times as a young lad. He never forgot their kindness to him.
DESIRE TO PREACH
Having a desire to share the news of simple, pure New Testament Christianity, brother Overby began preaching at the early age of 17. He was able later to baptize all of his four brothers (John, W. S., Frank and Edgar), his half-brother (Bradley), his sister (Mrs. Ludie Cole), and his father, who was then in his late seventies. He had a half-brother (Hafford) who remained a Baptist and preached for a number of years for a Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan. Mrs. Ruth Crider, of Murray, a half-sister, is the only living relative of the immediate family, and she is a member of the Baptist church.
Even after leaving Murray to preach in other places brother Overby always returned to the place of his birth each summer to preach in a gospel meeting, usually under a large tent. In this way he was able to teach and baptize the members of his family. (He baptized his father August 11, 1926.) Brethren would come from far and near to these annual meetings.
Brother Overby married Susan Beatrice Hargrove on Thanksgiving Day, 1911, across the state line in Tennessee. Her father was a "Hard Shell" Baptist (Primitive) preacher, but brother Overby had taught and baptized Bea in a pond before they were married. To this union four daughters were born.
Shortly after marriage, learning of the school in Cordell, Oklahoma, he borrowed $50 from a brother that he might go to Oklahoma and study the Bible and better prepare himself for his life's work of preaching the gospel. He became a great admirer of James A. Harding and the writings of David Lipscomb. While in Oklahoma he lived in Henryetta and commuted home to preach for the church there on the weekends. While here his second daughter, Teresa, was born, September 17, 1914. His first daughter, Rachel, was born in Murray prior to his move to Oklahoma, in 1912.
RETURNED TO MURRAY
Upon leaving school at Cordell after two years of study, he returned to Murray and did county preaching; holding meetings (sometimes under a tent), preaching on Sundays and conducting religious debates. He lived on COLEMAN OVERBY a farm near town for a few years, but later bought a lot and built a house in Murray. (The house still stands.) During this time his third daughter, Laurel, was born, in 1916. He began work as county evangelist in August, 1922.
At this time the Lord's church had been greatly damaged by the move of digression sweeping the congregations, and those who stood against the instrument and missionary societies were, at most places, few in number and poor in this world's goods. But Coleman Overby prepared himself to meet the challenge. This "Circuit-rider preacher" met J. J. Walker in a public debate on instrumental music in the worship in Murray in 1923, which was well attended. From that day forward the Lord's church began to grow in numbers following the take-over a few years before by the instrumental music faction. (Today the church is strong in Murray and Calloway County.) I can remember, as a little boy, going with my father to this debate one day; it was my first debate ever to attend.
The division in the church at Murray over instruments of music being introduced in the worship took place about 1899. Only a very few were determined to worship "as it is written," meeting at various places wherever they could. However, as a result of a meeting held in the summer of 1909 in which James A. Harding did the preaching, assisted by his son, Leon, as song leader, the congregation was established, consisting of 13 members. In July, 1910, James A. Harding came back for his second meeting. In a few years a lot was bought and a small building was erected, located at South 6th and Maple Streets. This building served the congregation for several years, until a much larger building was erected on Poplar Street.
Another example of division was in the church in Union City, Tennessee. This happened in the summer of 1891, and came as a result of the introduction of the organ into the worship. Again, a few did not go along with the instrument and began worshipping elsewhere. Soon thereafter about 50 members bought a lot and erected a small meeting house in which to worship according to divine order.
This had been happening all over Western Kentucky and Western Tennessee in the late 1800's and the early 1900's. Brethren gave up their nice church buildings they had worked so hard to build and pay for. One must understand this background to fully understand the work of Coleman Overby (and other faithful men of his day) in those early years of his hard work as a preacher. With the passing of the years the "digressives" have continued to become smaller in numbers and weaker spiritually, but the plea for New Testament Christianity has met with great success over the last few years.
During the years of the 1920's and the early 1930's brother Overby held a number of religious debates in Western Kentucky and Western Tennessee. Most of the men with whom he debated were missionary Baptists. Upon one occasion when meeting a Baptist preacher, his father-in-law was the moderator for his opponent. But after this debate brother Overby said he would never do this again. Brother Overby, was never able to convert his father-in-law, but Mr. Hargrove always held him in high esteem and considered him a sincere man. Mrs. Hargrove had been a member of the church prior to her marriage to Mr. Hargrove.
In all of his debates brother Overby pressed his opponents with the word of God, and what the Bible said always stood out clearly in the minds of all honest listeners. These were the days when the church grew in that part of the country.
IN THREE TENNESSEE CITIES
In 1923 brother Overby moved from Murray to Lexington, Tennessee, and there he labored with the church about two years. While there his fourth daughter, Frances, was born. From Lexington he moved to Union City, Tennessee in 1926, and after some time there he moved to Jackson, Tennessee, to work with the Central church, beginning in June, 1928.
Being interested in the spread of the gospel by means of the printed page, realizing its value, he assisted in publishing a paper, Primitive Christian, printed at Martin, Tennessee, first edited by Cecil Douthitt. The first edition was dated June 20, 1925; it was printed each month at first. Brother Overby took the paper over in 1929 and had it printed in Jackson by brother Laycook. The paper had a great influence for the spread of New Testament Christianity. These were the busy years of preaching, debating and writing. He had a debate with A. U. Nunnery in 1926 in Westport, Tennessee, and with Freed Taylor in 1928. Both men were Baptists. He had a debate with Frank S. Perry on instrumental music, December, 1927, at Valley Point church, near Milan, Tennessee.
While the family lived in Jackson his eldest daughter, Rachel contracted tuberculosis and he decided it would be best to move her to a different climate. So they moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in September, 1932. Rachel died the first of January, 1933, and was buried in Murray.
While in Muskogee he began his work of publishing study outlines and Bible school lessons, first using a mimeograph machine. Bible Women was the first printed book of study, designed especially for Ladies' Bible classes. Brother Overby always studied and memorized from the American Standard Version (1901 A.D.).
WORK IN DALLAS AND OTHER PLACES
In March, 1937, brother Overby moved to Dallas, Texas, to work with the Sears and Summitt congregation (which is known today as the Skillman Ave. Church of Christ). In addition to local work he continued printing outline study courses. Then after a few years he gave up local work for a while in order to do more book work and to conduct gospel meetings. In addition, he preached for a few months for the church that meets on the campus of Boles Home, Quinlin, Texas.
Later brother Overby accepted the invitation of the elders of Pearl and Bryan church to work with them. This was the oldest church in Dallas and today is the Garland Road Church of Christ, the fastest growing church in the city. Here he labored for seven and one-half years. While here he helped to establish other congregations in the city, Cochrell Hill being one among the number. He also helped establish the Urbandale and Mesquite congregations.
He began a Sunday morning radio program over WRR. He assisted Olan Hicks in the beginning of his monthly newspaper, The Christian Chronicle. .He encouraged the work in South Africa, as the church was then helping Eldred Echols in Johannesburg. Perhaps one of his best works with the churches was the beginning of the annual Teachers Training Course for all the churches. This continues to be held each year in March and is well attended by hundreds of Bible School teachers and workers. Brother Overby often said, "As the Bible School goes, so goes the church." Sister Mary Oler, then at Boles Home, assisted him in the first of these yearly sessions.
Brother Overby published for Mrs. Hulen (Guille) Jackson a study course designed to help primary teachers. Other courses of study for young people and adults include such titles as: "The Book of Acts," "The Parables," "The Church," "The Churches of the New Testament," "Romans," and "Scriptural Surveys." All of these continue to be kept in print and orders are filled by the youngest daughter, Mrs. Robert (Frances) Snider, 3408 Lynnwood Ct., Arlington, Texas 76013.
Following the Wednesday night midweek Bible study at Pearl and Bryan in which he read a portion of Psalms 19 and commented on the beauties of God's Word and then some remarks about brother Echols and his work in Africa, he got up early the next morning to go to Lake Texahoma to do a little fishing. This was his favorite way of taking a little relaxation from a busy schedule. T. J. Moon, a gospel preacher, and Robert Snider, a son-in-law, accompanied him on .his trip. About mid-morning, while out in the boat, he was stricken by a severe heart attack. His companions in the boat got him to the shore as quickly as possible and to the car and then to the nearest doctor, but by the time they arrived at the doctor's office in a near-by town he had already departed this earthly life. The date was September 28, 1950. (I had just concluded a meeting on Wednesday evening with the South Highland congregation in Columbia, Tennessee and was enroute home.) Soon the news of his sudden death spread to all the churches in the Dallas area, and brought shock to every one.
Funeral services were held on the following Friday afternoon at the Pearl and Bryan church building. It was estimated that over 200 gospel preachers were in attendance and some 1000 members of the church. Hulen Jackson read the 19th Psalm, Foy L. Smith said a few words and led the prayer, and E. R. Harper, a friend of many years, gave the sermon.
Following services in Dallas, the body was taken to Murray, Ky., and on Sunday afternoon, in the new beautiful church building, and in the presence of his many relatives and a great host of lifelong friends, another funeral service was conducted. Boone L. Douthitt, a long time friend, gave the message. Psalms 19 was again read. Burial was in the city cemetery. In Calloway County Ky. he preached in his first and his last gospel meeting, and there his body sleeps to await the resurrection.
Until her death, April 8, 1965, his widow continued to keep in print the work-books, mailing the orders from the home address.
Brother and sister Overby have three surviving daughters and all live in the Dallas area. One is my wife, Teresa. We are members of the Skillman Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. This church helps me as a full-time evangelist all over the world. Another of brother and sister Overby's daughters is Laurel who lives at the home place in Dallas (she has never married) and she is a member of the Garland Road congregation. The other daughter is Frances (Mrs. Robert Snider) and she and Robert live in Arlington, Texas and are members of the North Davis Street Church, where Robert serves as a deacon.
Brother Overby's oldest grandchild, Perry Coleman Cotham, preaches for the Westwood Church of Christ in McMinnville, Tennessee.
Brother A. O. Colley, a Kentuckian who moved to Texas, wrote: "Minister of Pearl and Bryan Streets Church of Christ, Dallas, Texas, brother Overby, has passed from our presence to the great beyond. He was a good safe teacher and one that always wanted to see things done right and in harmony with the Lord's will.
"He was a strong man among us in defending the truth when it was assailed by denominational teachers. When the "Christian" church thought they were taking things over in West Kentucky and Tennessee brother Overby was one who stood firm for the truth which drew him into some good debates with them and truth always triumphed and error suffered defeat. We will never be able to tell how much good he did for primitive Christianity in those days.
"He has been on the firing line ever since he began preaching in Kentucky, not far from Murray, Calloway county. He has also stood firm for New Testament principles since he has been in Dallas. We never had to ask him the second time to find out his position on things that involved the truth. He will be missed among us. I for one (and there are many others) was not ready for him to go; but the Lord always knows best. We believe he went to his eternal rest. We join with his family in sorrow."
May this summary of the life of Coleman Overby be of encouragement to many to "Preach the word." Men like him are needed in the Lord's church in every generation until the Lord comes.
(Editor's note: Brother Cotham says in the foregoing that brother Overby was an admirer of James A. Harding, but he does not say he went to school to brother Harding. In brother Doran's story on this opening he points out that brother Sears says Coleman Overby did go to school at Potter Bible College under brother Harding.)
Perry Cotham, World Evangelist, March, 1982 p.11,13
Coleman Overby's Signature
Courtesy of Terry J. Gardner
Directions To The Grave of Coleman Overby
Coleman Overby is buried in the Murray Cemetery Murray Kentucky. In West Tennessee, take I-40 to Exit 126. Take Hwy. 641 north through Paris, Tennessee into Kentucky. When coming into Murray, on Highway 641, turn east on Chestnut Street (641 Bus) and go three blocks. Beale Street should be to the right, and City Cemetery Street to the left. Enter the Seventh Street Entrance and head toward the rear of the cemetery. Turn right at Truman street and the Overby plot is about 10 rows on the left. While in the cemetery be sure to visit the grave of another Restoration preacher, S.P. Pittman. His plot is in the section to the right of the one in which the Overbys are buried.
The GPS Location
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This is to show how near the Overbys plot is to S.P. Pittman
The S.P. Pittman Plot is in the next section in the distance