‘It Wasn’t Anything’: Oklahoma Pastor Slammed for Wearing Blackface and Jheri Curl Wig Says He Was Honoring Ray Charles, People Should Not be Offended

An Oklahoma pastor is under fire after a video of him in blackface resurfaced on Facebook.

The pastor of the Matoaka Baptist Church in Tulsa believes the uproar is baseless and has been taken out of context.

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Bartlesville pastor Sherman Jaquess wears blackface during an event. (Photo: Marq Lewis/Facebook)

Bartlesville pastor Sherman Jaquess, a white man, said he was paying tribute to Ray Charles when he painted his body in black smudge and wore a Jheri curl wig during a 2017 Valentine’s Day performance.

Images from the event show that others were dressed as celebrities. An individual standing next to him appeared at the event dressed like Willie Nelson, sporting his signature two long braids and a bandana.

“We have people [who] are offended by a lot of things, but it’s hard to play Ray Charles if you don’t play a Black man; it wasn’t anything,” Jaquess said to the Examiner-Enterprise.

Adding that his performance was “honoring” Ray Charles and that he and the other person did their best with the song.

Unlike the Nelson look-alike, Jacquess’ character looked nothing like the light-brown-skinned Charles, who wore his hair for most of his career in a military-styled crew cut.

Marq Lewis was the activist who created the original Facebook post and says he is not buying the preacher’s excuse. Despite the obvious dissimilarities between Jacquess’ costume to Charles’ persona, Lewis says the religious leader ignored the social injuries blackface has inflicted on the African-American community.

“You can honor anyone by not putting on blackface, and he is ignoring the historical references and all of the satirical types of caricatures that African Americans have gone through in this country,” Lewis said.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,” Lewis continued. “It’s actually a slap in the face of African Americans and all people of color.”

The Tulsa leader said that “the saddest part” for him was that Jacquess leads a congregation of people who feel it “is OK to do these types of depictions.”

“If he is not going to take accountability for his own actions, his parishioners are certainly not going to take accountability for his actions, which is even worse,” Lewis said.

On Sunday, April 19, during his sermon, he addressed the controversy and said, “I just want to publicly say I don’t have a racial bone in my body. I’m not racist at all.”

“There wasn’t anything racial about it. I was singing Ray Charles ‘Seven Spanish Angels,’ and I said, ‘I love Ray Charles’ music. How can you portray Ray Charles if you’re not a Black man?’” he rationalized in a sermon posted online.

This is not the first time that the pastor has dressed up as a different race. During a Cowboys and Indians-themed night at Falls Creek church camp, he arrived as an indigenous woman, appearing in brownface.

The Rural Oklahoma Pride released a statement about Jacquess’ current debacle, saying that the preacher has a history of hurting people.

“We at Rural Oklahoma Pride have viewed the images in the incident of what occurred at the Matoaka Baptist Church and are unable to comprehend the level of suffering and anger that Pastor Sherman Jaquess has caused the people of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. We believe that this pastor should be directing and leading acceptable, respectful, and appropriate activities for his congregation to partake in, not activities that are discriminatory. We have seen racism and intolerance against people of different ethnic backgrounds,” the statement read.

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