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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Civil Rights Movement has been well covered by previous writers and I have enjoyed most writings on the subject. In A Stone of Hope I see a fresh perspective, a stone that has not been turned before. The role of religion,especially the "old time religion " of southern Black people has now been elevated to its proper height in the analysis of the success of the movement for equality and freedom. God's voice was echoed by the leaders of the movement and an evil system was dismantled. Faith gave them the fire that moved a race of people to stand up for what was theirs and the world is better for their having believed that God would not allow the Oppressors to continue in their sins. It was truly a prophetic movement. I think that all who are interested in the history of the struggle for justice in America should read this book
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"Approaching this story as an atheist, I was surprised and skeptical to hear so many of my subjects-- whom I admired from afar--expressing what Bayard Rustin called "fundamentalist" views. Even had I been a believer in the sense that most educated folk use the term I doubt that any isolated testimony of miracles could have struck me as worth copying down in my notes. But it was repeated so much and perhaps because it was so foreign to me ..I kept copying it down and ultimately it appeared a key to the beliefs... and strategic choices of my sources"
David Chappell, author of Stone of Hope

Faith in God allows a man to see more clearly into the reality of things but apparently it has taken Atheist Chappell to write this penetrating book defining the civil rights movement as a religious revival. He plays the righteous pagan Virgil in guiding Christian Dantes through the biblical prophetic theology and working of the Spirit which signaled the civil rights movement as the third American Awakening.
While Chappell is obviously more comfortable with the reasoning and rationales of the Bayard Rustins of the movement, he is also an honest man. All those miracles and fundamentalists kept intruding in his story. He takes religion seriously enough not to study only the protesters but to analyze the inability of the segregationists to mount a serious religious argument against integration. His look behind the "southern white mob" reveals 1) a divided white church, 2) respectable opponents of integration trying to distance themselves from the rabble, and 3) politically potent segregationists unmatched by a similar certitude among religious authorities.
American churches are bellwethers for the nation. In the 1840's the Baptists and Methodists split into northern and southern churches. In 1861 the Presbyterians did the same. When the Civil War came, a white man could go to a southern church and hear why a Christian had a duty to fight northern tyranny. When a soldier was buried, his death was seen as part of the Christian tradition of male sacrifice for the community. This kind of religious sanction never became such a force in the South during the sixties. Before the Supreme Court Brown decision on school desegregation (1954), the PCUS (Southern Presbyterians) had passed resolutions supporting desegregation. Just after Brown, the Southern Baptists overwhelmingly did the same. Since 1954 Billy Graham never allowed segregated sitting at his rallies. All of his rallies throughout the South were integrated and he once complained that national news stations chose to never report that fact. The chapters in Chappell's book that look seriously at the intellectual and religious movements supporting segregation support his thesis that the "The historically significant thing about white religion in the 1950's and 1960's is that it failed in any meaningful way to join the anti civil rights movement. The white southern churches never lived up to the militant image that southern politicians had shown."
There was in the post WWII era a more pressing evangelical development being led by such men as L Nelson Bell intellectual leader of the Southern Presbyterians. "Bell was part of a conservative insurgency within southern Protestantism known as Evangelicalism. The evangelical movement emerged during WWII as an aggressive effort to reestablish the popularity, legitimacy, authority and institutional strength of conservative doctrine." Educated Protestant conservatives felt neither the Bryan fundamentalism at the Scopes trial nor the theological liberalism of the Social Gospel adequately proclaimed the Gospel in America or in the foreign missions. That Chappell can see all of this as well as understand that Martin Luther King was not a product of the Social Gospel nor Tillichian Ground of our Being theology shows a remarkable clarity for any reporter. It is downright miraculous from an atheist. There is an especially insightful notation that Rev King rejected the flattening of religion into "ethical religion". The whole anthropology of religion as ethics led to an unwarranted optimism about the nature of man and the struggle needed to confront evil with a more powerful force. Education was NOT the key to prophetic religion. God, judgment, conversion, sin, demons and miracles constitute the vocabulary of the prophets. King's God was a highly personal God--the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob not the god of the philosophers. He could be trusted in times of travail and prayed to in times of danger. Andrew Young was quoted, "the civil rights movement brought a resurgence of religious feeling in the South. When folks start shooting at you--- you do a lot more praying." When Bayard Rustin was asked if King believed in the fundamentalist active personal God, he answered "Oh yes profoundly, it always amazed me how he could combine this intensely philosophical analytical mind with this more or less fundamental-well I don't like to say fundamentalist --but abiding faith." As Thomas Gilmore another civil rights veteran said--"the Holy Spirit guided us. I got strength facing the sheriff he was the biggest man in the county but I felt we were walking next to someone bigger. God is real, man. Years later Gilmore became the first black sheriff of his county.
Chappell has little time for the flatteners of history who in the name of "people's history" try to paint the civil rights struggle as the ever present but under reported fight of the common man against oppression. Chappell argues that something happened here that was extraordinary indeed and the people who stepped out of the routines of their everyday lives to enter the political arena and national historical narrative were extraordinary people. He found the source of their courage and hope (that "stone of hope" they somehow chipped from the mountain of despair). What is unique about his study is that he does not stress the easy lesson that the biblical prophetic tradition was a foe to racism. He instead contrasts prophetic religion as a more effective and truthful actor for justice than position paper rationalistic liberalism. What did those Baptist preachers; Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth know and do that eluded Gunnar Myrdal, John Dewey, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Lionel Trilling. Chappell's answer is that the civil rights movement was not the inevitable maturation and triumph of philosophical liberalism. It was not education for progress. Rather it was a Spirit driven melding of characters and events living out the biblical narrative by confronting the soul of a nation. This prophetic witness employed a "coercive non-violence" necessary to confront evil and men wedded to evil. Such nonviolence is much more like war than pacifism and is grounded in a realistic Christian anthropology which saw both struggle and an embrace of "unrequited suffering" as the redemptive route to justice. It was a stunning paradox of this fitting time that there was no group more convicted by this witness--not into joining the cause but chastened to inaction--than Southern evangelicals who were also seeking a renewal of lived out religion in the daily life of the nation.
Returning military veterans of WWII and Korea as well as preachers infused the civil rights movement with the intersecting language and claims of religion, patriotism and righteous warfare. The charismatic soldier-preacher Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham said in 1958, "this is a religious crusade, a fight between light and darkness, right and wrong, fair play and tyranny. We are assured of victory because we are using weapons of spiritual warfare." In 1964 the fire still burned in the man whose eloquence was only surpassed by his courage. "We have faith in America and still believe that Birmingham and Alabama will rise to their heights of glory in race relations. And we shall be true to our ideals as a Christian nation."
The civil rights movement "carried the Constitution in one hand and the Bible in the other." This crucial book by an atheist historian should challenge American Christians to distinguish the great religious awakening of the civil rights movement from the contrary spirits of black power and the sexual revolution. These profane pretenders have hobbled our national gait. Black and white evangelicals are now religious brethren separated into the voting army "bases" of two opposing parties. How long asked Elijah can Israel hobble on divided between Baal and Yahweh. Can the third great awakening stir American Christians to be one again promising a second reconstruction more just than the first? Chappell's book gives no answer but he has led us to the question.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
If you don't have a subscription to the magazine, you will not be able to read the review, but here is the first paragraph.

New & Noteworthy

by Benjamin Schwarz

Chappell's is one of the three or four most important books on the civil-rights movement, but because its conclusions will unsettle, or at least irritate, much of its natural constituency, it will surely fail to gain the attention it deserves. This unusually sophisticated and subtle study takes an unconventional and imaginative approach by examining both sides in the struggle: Chappell asks what strengthened those who fought segregation in the South and what weakened their enemies. His answer in both cases is evangelical Christianity.
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Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
There are countless books that have looked at the Civil Rights Movement from a variety of perspectives. I have read ones that have dealt with everything from a basic biography of the major players in the movement to the relationship with the powers in Washington to the secret surveillance that the FBI was running against them. But none of them have dealt with the deep religious and philosophical issues that motivated the two sides during the struggle and this is a little surprising when one looks at the number of clergy that was involved in the movement. A Stone of Hope looks at the Civil Rights movement from this perspective and makes a very persuasive argument that this is one of the key reasons for its success. The author argues that those who fought for segregation were able to use the black churches and the social networks and moral authority that they provided in a way that the other side could not do despite trying. Interestingly he contrasts this with the struggle against Slavery 100 years previous when the Southern protestant denominations played a much more active and vital role. The author points out several of the inherent contradictions in the Jim Crow system that made it very difficult to defend on theological grounds as well as the class contradictions that existed among the various pro segregation forces. The latter subject has been dealt with in other books but I found it especially interesting when examined through the lens of the fundamental contradictions of the Jim Crow system.

In the conclusion of the book that author admits that his general approach to history is the materialist perspective and that he finds himself identifying more with Marx than Weber. But he also say that he thins that the ideological aspects of social movement should not be ignored that is what inspired him to write this book. I am very glad he did! This book provides a fresh perspective on a very familiar subject and by doing so makes issues that have been raised by other authors much more clear.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The book as a whole academically is very well done, most of the research backs up that of other well respected authors of the field. Overall I like the actual book with one exception. The author seems to need to throw stones at Ronald Regan m, not saying Regan is perfect, but the way in which this comments are made seem biased, When I read a book on history I don't want to be able to really tell how the author voted, in this book it is obvious. Now I am not saying the book goes Regan bashing , 99% of the book has nothing to do with Regan , save a few lines in the intro and final chapters it says very little. But to say because Regan visited G. Wallace makes him a racist is a bit of a stretch, when a president visits a state, it is customary to visit the governor, and it is customary to be pleasant to that person even if you do not really care for them, especially if they are in the same or similar party as you. And sharing a party affiliation with a racist does not make you a racist. If you can get around this small issue this is a very good read and is very much worth you time. Regan was IMO somewhat apathetic towards race, this does not make him a racist , but he was not a civil rights activist either. To many liberals anyone not a civil rights activist must be a racist, I don't get it.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
One of the most important books in recent years on the civil rights movement by an up-and-coming historian who takes no prisoners, pulls no punches. An absolute delight to read and meticulously researched. Demonstrates the crucial influence of religious ideas on the civil rights movement and the end of Jim Crow desegregation. Must reading for students of 20th-century American history and religion.
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