NEW YORK (AP) -- New Castle native Israel L. Gaither becomes the leader of the Salvation Army Friday.

The organization is poised to install a black leader for its U.S. operations, the first time a black church official has led the predominantly white, evangelical denomination in this country.

Gaither will become the commander of the Salvation Army in the United States at a ceremony featuring brass band and choral flourishes.

"I'm not here because of my color, and I wouldn't be here if I thought I was," Gaither said. "I want to serve all men and women. I am aware I can serve as a model to African-Americans, as well as to whites and Hispanics."

Gaither's wife, Eva, will be installed as national president of women's ministries.

Eva Gaither is white and their 1967 marriage was the first interracial marriage between American Salvation Army officers.

Gaither was a black Baptist preacher's son in New Castle. He had contemplated a clergy career before attending Salvation Army youth programs -- a summer working at a Salvation Army camp "was the hook God used to attract me" to a Salvation Army career.

Gaither underwent officer training in New York, took added coursework at Gordon College and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and led congregations in Pennsylvania and New York.

He became America's first black divisional commander, in southern New England and western Pennsylvania, and first territorial commander, supervising Eastern states. He also commanded the Southern Africa territory, the first U.S. black in such a post overseas.

Since 2002, Gaither has been chief of the staff, the second-ranking officer at world headquarters in London.

The installation ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Memorial Temple in New York City. A Web cast will begin at 8:30 p.m. on the Salvation Army's Web site.

To view the ceremony, log on to and click on the Web cast link. Real Player is required to view the Web cast.

(New Castle News sections editor Dan Irwin was scheduled to interview Israel Gaither Friday morning. Look for his story in next week's News.)

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