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Fred Phelps
Fred Phelps as young man.jpg
Phelps in 1962
Fred Waldron Phelps

(1929-11-13)November 13, 1929
Died March 19, 2014(2014-03-19) (aged 84)
Occupation Pastor, lawyer
Organization Westboro Baptist Church
Political party Democratic
Margie Marie Simms
(m. 1952)
Children 13, including
Shirley Phelps-Roper and
Nathan Phelps
Relatives Megan Phelps-Roper (granddaughter)

Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. (November 13, 1929 – March 19, 2014) was an American minister who served as the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, worked as a civil rights attorney, and ran for statewide election in Kansas.

In 1955, Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its extreme ideologies, especially those against gay people.

Early life and education

Fred Waldron Phelps was born on November 13, 1929, in Meridian, Mississippi, the elder of two children of Catherine Idalette (née Johnston) and Fred Wade Phelps. His father was a railroad policeman for the Columbus and Greenville Railway and a devout Methodist; his mother was a homemaker. In 1935, Catherine Phelps died of esophageal cancer at the age of 28. Her aunt, Irene Jordan, helped care for Fred and his younger sister Martha Jean until December 1944.

Fred distinguished himself scholastically and was an Eagle Scout. He also was a member of Phi Kappa, a high school social fraternity, president of the Young Peoples Department of Central United Methodist Church and was honored as the best drilled member of the Mississippi Junior State Guard, a unit similar to the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He graduated high school at 16 years old, ranking sixth in his graduating class of 213 students, and was the class orator at his commencement. After graduating from high school he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point; but after attending a tent revival meeting, decided to pursue a religious calling instead.

Fred Phelps on his pulpit
Phelps at his pulpit

In September 1947, at the age of 17, he was ordained a Southern Baptist minister and moved to Cleveland, Tennessee, to attend Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina).

Phelps dropped out of Bob Jones College in 1948. He moved to California and became a street preacher while attending John Muir College in Pasadena. The June 11, 1951 issue of Time magazine included a story on Phelps, who lectured fellow students about "sins committed on campus by students and teachers". When the college ordered him to stop, citing a California law that forbade the teaching of religion on any public school campus, he moved his sermons across the street. In October 1951, Phelps met Margie Marie Simms in Arizona and married her in May 1952.

In 1954, Phelps, his pregnant wife, and their newborn son moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he was hired by the East Side Baptist Church as an associate pastor. The following year, the church's leadership opened Westboro Baptist Church on the other side of town, and Phelps became its pastor.

Legal career

Phelps earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1964, and founded the Phelps Chartered law firm. However, in 1969, upon a finding of professional misconduct, authorities suspended him from practicing as a lawyer for two years.

Phelps' first notable cases were related to civil rights, and his involvement in civil rights cases in and around Kansas gained him praise from local African-American leaders.

In the 1980s, Phelps received awards from the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Blacks in Government and the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP, for his work on behalf of black clients.

On July 20, 1979, Phelps was permanently disbarred from practicing law in the state of Kansas for making "false statements in violation of DR 7–102(A)(5)".

Family life

Phelps married Margie M. Simms in May 1952, a year after the couple met at the Arizona Bible Institute. They had 13 children, 54 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren.

Church protest activities

All of Phelps' demonstrations and other activities during the last 50 years of his life were conducted in conjunction with the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an American unaffiliated Baptist church.

The church has been involved in actions against gay people since at least 1991.


Phelps died of natural causes shortly before midnight on March 19, 2014, at the age of 84.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Fred Phelps para niños

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