Born: Sept. 11, 1891 in Salem, North Carolina
Died: Dec. 1, 1956 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Known for: His pastoral work for Trinity Moravian Church and the popular Christmas hymn, “Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay.”
In 1915, a 24-year-old Harvard Divinity School student named Douglas Rights looked at a world spiraling into an unprecedented season of world war. In light of that, he wrote the Christmas hymn “Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay,” which was chosen for the school’s Christmas service that year, a distinct honor. The second verse of the hymn resonated most with people: It follows,
“Still the earth in darkness lies, up from death’s dark vale arise, voices of a world in grief, prayers of men who seek relief. Now our darkness pierce again. ‘Peace on earth, good will to men.’”
Three years later in 1918, Rights volunteered for military service and left the Greensboro Moravian Church pulpit to serve as an Army chaplain as American forces ramped up the assaults on the Axis Powers. Before and after World War I, Rev. Rights pursued two passions: a love of history, especially in terms of Native Americans, and a dedication to caring for people.
After WWI, Rev. Rights became pastor of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, a post he held until his death 37 years later. He oversaw growth of that congregation from 200 parishioners to nearly 1,000, as well as construction of an education building and installation of a pipe organ. He was involved with the Boy Scouts of America for decades, the Masons, and several other organizations including Old Salem, Inc. He gifted several hundred Native American artifacts to the Wachovia Historical Society, which are now housed at Wake Forest University and UNC. He was named archivist of the Moravian Southern Province, at which time he translated and edited Volume 8 of the “Records of the Moravians in North Carolina,” published in 1950.
Rev. Rights was the third and last child born to George Hanes Rights, editor of the Winston-based Union Republican newspaper for 37 years, and his wife, Emma Louise Jones. He attained several bachelor’s degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, the Moravian College and Theological Seminary (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), and Harvard Divinity School, from which he graduated in 1916. Bishop Edward Rondthaler ordained him the same year, lauding “his interest in the welfare of young people and his ability to enter into friendly contact with persons of every class and calling.”
He was consistently remembered for his good humor, his conviction that “the highest achievement of human endeavor” was to “help to one’s fellow man,” and his view that war could be and must be ended.