on October 22, 2012
Most of us are familiar with the sit-ins, the demonstrations, the fire hoses, and the boycotts in the struggle for civil rights in the 1950's and 1960's. As a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, however, Stephen Haynes began hearing about "kneel-ins," the attempts to integrate the last bastion of segregation, the churches. Beginning with an overview of this movement throughout the south, he then focuses on the attempt by black and white college students to worship together at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. His documentation is superb--I spent as much time in the footnotes as I did in the body of the work-- and it includes interviews with a wide range of perspectives...college students who led the movement, church leaders whose position on segregation hardened throughout the crisis, as well as a number of people caught in the middle.
I found it riveting. Though Professor Haynes is a top-notch scholar, his writing style is imminently readable and is more than fair in his critique of the intransigence of the church leaders. He includes interviews with current church leaders who describe how they have tried to move beyond their racist past through attempts at repentance and reconciliation, including a stronger emphasis on ministry within the community. But Haynes also points out their inability to go beyond a "change of hearts" and see some of the larger structural and societal issues of justice.
For anyone interested in the civil rights struggle, the history of the southern Protestant church, and the dynamics of social change, this book is highly recommended. It remains amazing to me how this "historical event" took place in my own lifetime, and reading this made me wonder how future generations might judge the church in its current stands on women and gays.
on October 11, 2012
I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and learned a lot from it. I am a faculty member at Rhodes College, and so a colleague of the author. I'm also new to Memphis and curious about its very interesting and tangled history of race relations. This book offers a general picture of an overlooked part of the civil rights movement, efforts to desegregate churches, and it focuses on a particular church, Second Presbyterian, in a particular city, Memphis. Our college played a central role in the drama due to its longstanding relationship with Second Pres, among other Memphis Presbyterian churches.
To me the strongest part of the book is the author's even-handed treatment of all the actors. Of course to us the notion of keeping people OUT of church is bizarre--that is a sign of how different the past once was. Those who aimed to open the doors of Second Pres are admirable and dedicated to nonviolence. A few of the deacons and elders, to be sure, did not share the love of Jesus Christ for all people. The clergy were about as much the object of historical forces as they were leaders, and no doubt many of those in the pew wished things could go back to the way they had been. Haynes is fair to all parties and a real master of the brief but insightful character sketch.
A great read for those interested in civil rights history, Memphis, and recent church history.
on October 10, 2012
Steven Haynes' THE LAST SEGREGATED HOUR is a riveting portrait of an important but little-known moment in the civil rights movement, the 1964-65 non-violent campaign to desegregate a large Presbyterian church in Memphis, Tennessee. Using primary sources, including numerous interviews with the individuals involved, Haynes, a professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, has reconstructed this deeply troubling chapter in the politics of mainline Protestantism, which could have occurred anywhere in the Jim Crow South. The result is a revealing analysis of how hypocrisy, deeply conflicted motives, and the insidious power of racism can cause good people, pillars of the church and the community, to betray the ideals they espouse and the trust placed in them.
As a teenager, I was an eye-witness as the Ruling Elders of the all-white Second Presbyterian Church formed a human wall across the front portico to bar the entry of an integrated group of local students and faculty into the 11:00 Sunday service, a standoff that was to be repeated often over the coming months, and that very nearly tore the church apart. Reading Hayne's vivid account I felt the same sense of dismay and outrage I first experienced on that long-ago Sunday in 1964. And I was surprised to discover through his research that I was not the only impressionable young person for whom it was a life-changing experience that called into question the institutions I had been taught to trust.
Through the years there has been considerable distortion of the facts and denial of the inconvenient truths surrounding these events by various apologists at Second Presbyterian. Combining an historian's scholarly precision and a novelist's sense of drama, Haynes fearlessly sets the record straight with his no-holds-barred account. Not everyone will welcome his analysis, but for anyone who is concerned about what it means to live out the message of the Gospels with courage and integrity, it should be required reading.
-James Williamson, author of THE RAVINE and THE ARCHITECT
on December 9, 2014
I loved the book because I lived it - lived in Memphis with my parents, was a member of Second Presbyterian Church and also a student at Southwestern. The protesters were classmates. I was not attending church at the time and was aware of little that was going on - neither the newspaper or the college addressed the protests and if they did, their opinions were certainly not prominently expressed. When I realized the protests were taking place at the church my family and I had attended since moving to Memphis as immigrants in 1954, a friend and I went to a service. When we arrived, a small group of people were quietly standing in front of the church. I stopped to talk to the only woman there from Southwestern(her older brother was also a protestor) and immediately, a reporter came from nowhere, shoved himself between us and rudely demanded that I tell him her name while he tried to push his camera in my face. I told him to ask her, not me, moved his arm and walked away as he shouted - yes, shouted - "she won't tell me". I can still see him as I write this. My friend and I turned quickly and climbed the stairs to face two closed doors. These were opened by two men who then immediately closed them behind us. However, once inside, we simply could not stay and left before the service started. I returned when the church took the vote to desegregate but attended no more services. We read about the splinter group who left Second Presbyterian to establish their own church on Walnut Grove Road - a beautiful church, indeed. Professor Haynes has written an excellent account of that terrible. difficult time. He is objective, sensitive, takes into account the opinions of those who supported the desegregation efforts and includes the opinions of those who did not. His research covers an immense amount of material and includes a great deal of history making the book relevant and interesting - not just for those of us who have ties to SPC and/or Memphis, but for so many others. It is a good read!
on March 6, 2013
In this excellent book, Professor Steve Haynes of Rhodes College (Memphis, Tennessee) illuminates for modern readers some of the roots, tensions, and consequences of the “Sit-Ins" which from 1960-66 helped to end segregation in the American South. Many readers of this book who are of a certain generation will recall those painful and often devastating days because they lived through them. Many members of younger generations, however, which now only know about the 1950 and 1960 Civil Rights Movement from history books, have little personal acquaintance with the painful -- and sometimes deadly -- prices paid by earlier activists.
In this book, Haynes focuses on specific events in Memphis,Tennessee, and the religious roots of those events. Specifically, he describes and analyzes the determination of Memphis college students and Presbyterian Church, U.S. (PCUS) denominational officials to desegregate Second Presbyterian Church. There were then (and still are) various shades of Presbyterianism in Memphis, but Second Church was well known as the bastion of Presbyterian ecclesiastical conservatism. In fact, the church eventually withdrew from the PC(US) over the race issue.
The desegregation effort began in the early 60's, when students at Southwestern College at Memphis (subsequently renamed Rhodes College), a PCUS-related institution, joined with Black students from Memphis State and the local NAACP chapter to seek admission of Black worshippers to Sunday-morning worship services at Second Presbyterian Church. Students and others decided to kneel in prayer on the steps of the church, while deacons and elders of the church stood with arms locked to prohibit entrance. Initially, protesters typically prayed and then left, and there were no incidents of violence. Newspapers and TV cameras, however, eventually weighed in and brought the events to national attention. Sadly, even national leaders of the PC(US) were unable to persuade the Session of Second Church to change its policy discrimination. As a result of the church's recalcitance, the PC(US) national offices changed denominational plans to hold their General Assembly annual meeting at Second Church, Memphis, and instead moved shifted the 1965 meeting to the national church's retreat center in Montreat, NC.
Haynes analyzes these events in the light of extensive research into written documents and newspaper accounts, as well as numerous personal interviews with many students and others who were part of the kneel-in events. He inquired both into what the students were thinking at the time and how they regard their actions now. His work clarifies that the Senior Pastor of Second Church, Reverend Dr. Henry Edward Russell, supported the admission of all persons to worship, but the Session would not agree. After the congregation finally voted to limit the terms of Session members and thus was able to get some fresh voices and perspectives on the Session, the church eventually opened its doors in 1966 to all who came to worship.
It is an interesting footnote to this story that the years of 1950-80 were filled with drama regarding the relationship between the PC(US) ("Southern Presbyterian Church") and the PC(USA) ("Northern Presbyterian Church"). The denomination split into two factions in 1849 over the race issue and remained so until 1983, when reunion of the separate denominations into one Presbyterian Church (USA) took place. This celebrative event occurred through tireless efforts on the part of members and leaders of both denominations.
This book, so well written and researched, will be of special interest to many people: those with memories of the Memphis events, many of whom lived through the turmoil without fully understanding what was at stake for the church and denomination; to numerous Presbyterians of the PC(USA), including the once Southern Presbyterians now joined with their brothers and sisters; to now and then faculty, trustees, and students of Rhodes College; and to American church historians and social ethicists. I commend it highly.
John J. Carey
Wallace M. Alston Professor of Religious Studies, Emeritus
Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, GA
on December 2, 2013
For me this was a book of remembering what it was like in 1964-65. I was a fifth-generation Memphian and a junior at Southwestern-at-Memphis that school year. I knew most of the students and many of the adults mentioned in this account of the kneel-ins. Although, regretfully, racism is still alive and well, we have made strides in recognizing that we are ALL God's childlren and treating one another accordingly.
on September 20, 2012
As a native Memphian, I found this history of two prominent churches fascinating. The stubbornness of some of the church leaders is rather amazing. I also thought the author's point that the elders and ministers were taking a stand against political agitation of the black and white visitors was based in solid theology while the people advocating for change were simply "agitators" and troublemakers was eerily reminscent to how some evangelical churches are currently acting towards women and homosexuals. The people advocating for change are political while the old guard is being faithful to their "beliefs." With this distorted viewpoint the "faithful" Christians in power can seek to take the moral high ground in their bigotry all the while claiming that they are the true victims or "suffering servants." As Robert Penn Warren said, "the past is always a rebuke to the present." To me, Haynes's biggest contribution is what his book can show us about what it really means to love. Will evangelicals who read this book do themselves a favor and apply their past to the present? We shall see.
on January 20, 2014
Well researched and large bibliography. Professor Haynes has spent a large amount of time and effort reminding us of the pain and conflict that results from depth and calamitous devotion to a "cause". The basic issues raised in this book have not been completely resolved but at least we can discuss them a little more realistically.
on February 17, 2013
As someone who has only lived in Memphis well after this time in the city's history, but who has family ties here that go back to reconstruction, I enjoyed learning about how the knee-ins played themselves out. Well-researched and well-written, the author took the time to do it right and thus contributed something unique to the civil rights bibliography; a book that honors the courage of the black and white young men and young women who participated and shines light on the various levels and manifestations of racism, which had to be dismantled so that the doors to God's house could be open for ALL of God's children.
on February 21, 2014
I had to read this book for a class and really enjoyed it. Anyone who is interested in learning about this tumultuous time in our country's history should definitely read this book. The author explores this topic from every angle and gives a very well-rounded history of the kneel-in movement and it's importance.