Late religion professor to be honored by City Council

Councilwoman Helen Gym presented a resolution on Friday at Tuttleman Learning Center to honor John Raines as an honorary councilmember.

Professor John C. Raines explained his role in a burglary that led to the the first leaks of the FBI’s COINTELPRO scandal to author Betty Medsger in her new book “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI.” Raines was a professor at Temple for nearly 50 years. FILE PHOTO | PAUL KLEIN

City Councilwoman Helen Gym came to Temple University on Friday evening to present a resolution to honor the well-known, late religion professor John Raines as an honorary councilmember.

Family, friends and Raines’ former students gathered in the Tuttleman Learning Center to commemorate Raines’ accomplishments and contributions to Philadelphia. Raines, who died in November from congestive heart failure, was known for his lifelong political activism.

The professor, who taught at Temple for nearly 50 years, participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides, bus trips taken by civil rights activists in the South to protest segregated bus terminals. But Raines is most recognized for breaking into an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Bonnie Raines, and other political activists in 1971.

The group, which dubbed itself the Citizens’ Commision to Investigate the FBI, stole documents exposing the abuse within J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI administration. The documents detailed the FBI’s domestic surveillance operation, COINTELPRO, short for Counterintelligence Program, that spied on major political organizers and sabotaged “anti-government” activist movements, The Temple News reported in 2014.

Raines drove the getaway car.

At Friday’s event, Raines’ friends, family and students passed the resolution around the room and took turns reading it aloud. Gym said Raines is a Philadelphia hometown hero who holds an incredible place in American history because of his career.

“I hope that he would see that his legacy inspires a new generation to act with a tremendous amount of thoughtfulness and humanity with the spirit of freedom and constitutional rights and an unwavering sense of justice,” Gym said after the resolution was read.  

Gym is an advocate for human rights and public schools within the Philadelphia school system. She said she wanted to honor Raines because she appreciates his close connection with her advocacy and because he represents what a great Philadelphia citizen should be.

“Throughout his life, Raines served as an integral part of Philadelphia’s social and political fabric, and his activist spirit will reverberate throughout our city for years to come,” the resolution read.

Bonnie Raines said she was ecstatic when she heard about the decision to honor her husband, who was highly dedicated to teaching his students.

“He was also just a lot of fun,” Bonnie Raines said. “He was dramatic in the classroom and his students loved that about his classes. Students from all over the world came just to work with him.”

Raines taught the honors course Interrogating Globalization during his time at Temple. He played a huge role in building the Department of Religion when he became a professor, stemming from his background as an ordained Methodist minister.

Students recognized Raines for his leadership and the extensive support he offered in classes.

Hazim Hardeman, a 2017 strategic communication alumnus, attended Friday’s ceremony. He was a student in Raines’ Interrogating Globalization course.

“I had to be here,” he said. “John Raines made a real impression on me, so I just wanted to come here to honor him.”

Hardeman received a letter of recommendation from Raines in 2017 for the United States Rhodes Scholarship, an international postgraduate award for students to study abroad at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

It was the last letter of recommendation Raines wrote before he died, and it helped Hardeman successfully earn the scholarship.

Benjamin Aitoumeziane, a junior political science and economics major, was a former student of Raines.

“[The resolution] is exciting and deserving and totally made sense because Helen Gym is a champion for a lot of human rights in Philadelphia and education, and that is exactly what [Raines] stood for,” he said.

Jordan Konell, a legislative aide for Gym, said city councilmembers often write resolutions to honor Philadelphians who inform and inspire the work the Council does, and Raines did just that.  

“I hope that John would look down and know that his legacy lives,” Gym said.

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