Years-old photos recently went viral of an Oklahoma pastor dressed as Ray Charles and a Native American woman, sparking outrage by community groups and online commenters. But Sherman Jaquess, who is white and is pastor of Matoaka Baptist Church near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is defending his actions and refuting claims of racism.
In an image from 2017, Jaquess wears blackface, an Afro wig, bright lipstick, and sunglasses to portray late musician Ray Charles. In an image from 2014, which the pastor said is from a church youth camp, he’s dressed as a Native American woman, complete with brown face makeup, a dress, and a braided wig.
Oklahoma Pastor: ‘I’m Not Racist at All’
In an April 19 sermon posted online, Jaquess told congregants, “I don’t have a racial bone in my body. I’m not racist at all.” About the Ray Charles impersonation, the pastor said he loves the musician’s work and was “honoring” him, not being derogatory.
“How can you portray Ray Charles if you’re not a Black man?” asked the Oklahoma pastor. He told worshipers that people are “blowing this thing up” and are too easily offended. Jaquess, who said he’s received death threats because of the photos, added he has “a lot of racial friends.”
Speaking to a reporter, Jaquess said, “I don’t apologize,” adding, “This church is multiracial, has all different kinds of racial people in it.” On the church website, the pastor’s page indicates his congregation “will strive for unity, while walking in love.” Yet on his personal Facebook page, Jaquess has posted material that could be deemed offensive—including an image comparing former President Obama to monkeys.
Regarding the time he dressed as a Native American woman, the pastor explained it was at a camp from when he served as youth pastor. The night’s theme, he said, was “Cowboys & Indians.” Jaquess defended his outfit by saying he had “Cherokee blood.” The church’s name, Makoata, is another name for the Native American historical figure Pocahontas.
‘He Gives a Bad Name to Real Christians’
Marq Lewis, a community organizer who shared the photos of Jaquess in costume, said it’s “very troubling” that the pastor isn’t apologetic. “You can honor anyone by not putting on blackface, and he is ignoring the historical references and all of the satirical types of caricatures that African Americans have gone through in this country,” Lewis said.
“For him to say that’s not racist says to me that he is completely out of touch with the reality of what this world and this country has dealt with,” he added. “It’s actually a slap in the face of African Americans and all people of color.”