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Couple attribute their long marriage to respect

Ezra and Eleise Kinlow attribute their reaching the milestone of 51 years of marriage in January 2014 to their mutual respect.

Eleise and Ezra Kinlow

Eleise and Ezra Kinlow reflect on their more than 50 years of marriage.

Who they are in public ministry and serving the community is who they are at home.

“We always felt it was important to show respect to each other, because in raising children, what they see at home is what they will portray in their lives,” Eleise said.  “We tried to create a Christian atmosphere, so our children have had something to fall back on.”

They had six children.  One died in a car accident.  They have 11 grandchildren.

“Fifty years looks like a milestone,” said Ezra, “but being part of those 50 years one day at a time and growing through them, it does not seem possible.  We still have dreams to accomplish,” said Ezra, senior pastor at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ (COGIC). 

Along with their respect, he said, they work collaboratively.

Eleise takes her role as a pastor’s wife in stride.  For her, it means “being a servant through counseling people in the congregation and community about their lives and relationships.”

She responds to phone calls from people with marital and life struggles, sharing insights from her life, faith and marriage.  She also leads the church’s women’s group and for 20 years led a women’s retreat.

“I hope our witness in the community and church influences others that marriage is great, good and fun,” Ezra said.  “We have fun in our house.  What people see in public about our relationship is real.  We seek to be examples, to be living epistles.”

Both were born in Arkansas, but Eleise grew up in Seattle, where she graduated from an integrated high school in 1961.  As a girl, she would go from her home only to school or to her church. 

“We did not go any place alone,” she said.

Eleise said in her early years, she did not experience victimization because of her race.

Ezra’s father was a prominent pastor whose father owned a plantation in Dumas, Ark. He experienced respect, recognition and appreciation in that community.

Ezra remembered when his father drove a new car to Louisiana.  A gas station attendant was suspicious and would not serve them when his father said it was his car.

When Ezra graduated from high school in 1956, he did not join a class outing to Greeneville, Miss., because 14-year-old Emmett Till had been lynched that year.  Ezra was aware of racial incidents, but they were not part of his daily life.

Eleise and Ezra met at a Mother’s Day church dinner in 1961.

After graduating from high school, Ezra went to Los Angeles to live with an uncle, then to Fresno until 1960 when he came to live with his brother in Tacoma. 

His brother was a deacon at New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, so Ezra went to church and came to know the Lord. 

After Eleise and Ezra met, they dated, and then she went to California to spend a year with her sister.  They corresponded and reconnected when he went to his grandfather’s funeral in Los Angeles and invited her to come back, and they married in 1963.

Ezra worked at Boeing until 1969.  Then he became a customer service technician with IBM until he retired in 1985.  He moved to Spokane with IBM in 1981.

In 1972, he had decided to enter ministry.  While working, he earned a college degree through correspondence courses  and online studies. 

Ezra went to seminary in Seattle, earning a master of divinity degree at A. L. Hardy Academy after his move to Spokane, where he began serving Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. 

The church, which was established in 1948, was then located at 312 E. Third Ave.  In 2004, the church moved to 806 W. Indiana. 

“The church struggled my first few years there, but then I reached out to the community to bring people to knowledge of Christ and reality of life,” Ezra said.

Both said that in 1963 when they married, they did not fully realize the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. 

They found the speech moving, but had not felt personally victimized as others were.  However, when they moved to Spokane where there were few blacks, it took on new meaning.

“Often we are the only African Americans in a room here,” said Ezra, who goes into the wider community to reach out and try to help white people feel comfortable around black people.

His goal in the community has been to bring cohesiveness to the work of different organizations and to advance the life of African Americans in the area, where most people have little exposure to people of different races.

“It’s hard to gain respect in a community that is predominantly white and feels no need to reach out to African Americans.  Many were comfortable where they were,” he said.

However, Ezra found allies in other churches involved in the Spokane Christian Coalition/Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries.  He helped them establish Churches Against Racism.

“I was in the community so people would know who I was and seek to enhance their lives,” he said,  “but race relations happen slowly.  We still have a ways to go.”

Ezra worked with the police department to include African Americans on the police force.  Once they agreed to do so, he helped recruit people.

He has also interacted with the school board to bring visibility in schools, so African-American children would see an African-American adult involved in their education.  Most teachers and administrators in Spokane School District #81 are white.

“African-American teachers and counselors who would advocate for African-American students have been sparse,” he said.

While gaining some visibility for African Americans in schools and police force, Ezra sees need to make more inroads in those settings and in employment. 

“It’s still hard for African Americans to find jobs that pay enough to support their families.  Most earn minimum wage and lack opportunity for advancement,” said Ezra, uplifiting the recent news about $15/hour wages in Seattle.

At schools, he said, African-American children have some problems being bullied and being bullies, especially when some students flaunt the “N” word.

“African-American children receive the brunt of exclusion,” Ezra said.  “Some want to be active in sports, but end up on the sidelines.”

Eleise said their sons were often bench warmers on school basketball, football and wrestling teams.

“They had to excel to be seen,” Ezra said.  “Plus, their counselor would not direct them to courses they needed to advance themselves in the world.”

One daughter in Georgia, however, has earned a master’s degree in business, and another daughter in Arkansas, who has four children, is going to school part time.

Ezra has been less visible in the community in the last three years because of health challenges, but he has rebounded.

The church’s six associate ministers and an administrator have lightened his load and run the church.  He remains senior pastor. 

For information, call 534-7565 or email

Copyright © January 2014 - The Fig Tree