Founder, Alabama Freethought Association
The Cleveland family was recognized by FFRF with their very own Emperor Has No Clothes Award for their uncommon activism, generosity and outspoken freethought advocacy in the heart of the bible belt. From left are Melody and Alice Cleveland and Patricia and Roger Cleveland. Melody and Alice were Roger’s sisters and Pat was his wife.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sorry to report the death this summer of Roger Cleveland, 67, co-founder of the Alabama Freethought Association. Roger, with his wife, Patricia Cleveland, founded FFRF’s Alabama chapter in 1989.
He was born July 23, 1945, in Anniston, Ala., the son of Gilbert Ryan and Levis Brown Cleveland. He had one brother and three sisters, including Melody and Alice Cleveland, both active with the chapter.
He had lived in Talladega since 1954 and received his education in Alabama public schools. He married the former Patricia Creel, and they have a son, a daughter and several grandchildren.
Roger was featured in Outstanding Talladegans of the Centuries, 1834-2000. He successfully filed suit against the state of Alabama to remove crosses from state parks and to open up a building used as a chapel on Mt. Cheaha to nonreligious groups. He joined the original suit against state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments monument.
AFA also blew the whistle on former Gov. Guy Hunt’s use of a state airplane for preaching engagements.
Roger devoted decades of his life to defending and protecting citizens’ First Amendment rights. It was Roger who had a dream about a “Freethought Advance — Not Retreat!” in rural Alabama after he and family members purchased land around a lake abutting the Talledega National Forest.
“Without Roger, Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall and Advance would not exist,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Dan and I remember when Roger gave us a tour of the unimproved grounds in the early 1990s, outlining his ideas, and then how we watched them be achieved.”
Roger and the Cleveland family generously deeded personal land to FFRF, which raised funds to build Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall and Auditorium. Many freethought markers, including FFRF’s historic monument to Atheists in Foxholes, are on the campgrounds.
Roger was the initial tireless volunteer caretaker, spending hours and hours mowing and grooming the grounds for the annual July 4 festival at Lake Hypatia, attended by hundreds of freethinkers. His hands-on volunteerism and carpentry helped to keep costs down in building the hall and auditorium, as well as the lakeside pavilion where meals are served and diners cooled by ingenious fans using lake water.
He died after a protracted illness June 23.
FFRF sends heartfelt condolences to Pat, who co-directs AFA and has taken over caretaking of the grounds for many years, and to his sisters Alice and Melody.
To top the mountain was his goal
That twilight eve in June.
But, lo! The comet caught him up
And headed toward the moon.
This journey was not in his plans,
No bag — no map — no fare.
Yet, he complied and fled this world
Without a thought or care.
Ahead, the blackness ate the sky;
The stars did turn and toss.
With skiey speed, he crossed the line;
He felt no sense of loss.
The comet lightly sat him down;
He knew not when nor where.
But, he was in a better world ...
For things that were not there.
There was no hate or bigotry;
All myths had been laid down.
No need for vengeance or for wars;
The peace of truth he found!
He ventured up well-trodden paths
To his twilight destiny.
Yes, he was in a long-sought world
Where every thought was free.
— Alice Faye Cleveland
June 23, 2013