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Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America's First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s Hardcover – June, 2010
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David Stokes has written a book that is both entertaining and informative. Entertaining, as are all well-written true crime tales. And informative, about an important figure in American history a man who touched the lives of everyone from Herbert Hoover to Jerry Falwell to John Birch. (Yes, that John Birch.) --James Pinkerton, Contributor to Fox News and The Huffington Post<br \><br \>Everyone loves a good story, and David Stokes has unearthed one from history s archives and served it up with style and verve. --David Pietrusza, Author of 1920: The Year of Six Presidents<br \><br \>Like J. Frank Norris himself, this book moves briskly from one controversy to another. A fascinating read about a fascinating man. --Barry Hankins, Professor of History, Baylor University
Like J. Frank Norris himself, this book moves briskly from one controversy to another. A fascinating read about a fascinating man. --Barry Hankins, Professor of History, Baylor University
David Stokes has written a book that is both entertaining and informative. Entertaining, as are all well-written true crime tales. And informative, about an important figure in American history a man who touched the lives of everyone from Herbert Hoover to Jerry Falwell to John Birch. (Yes, that John Birch.) --James Pinkerton, Contributor to Fox News and The Huffington Post
From the Author
Check out my new novel, CAMELOT'S COUSIN: An Espionage Thriller, available in e-book and paperback formats at Amazon. A discovery long buried in a Northern Virginia yard contains clues to the last great secret of the Cold War -- a Soviet spy near the Kennedy White House. This enemy agent influences all the crises in the era called Camelot, from the Bay of Pigs, to the Berlin Wall, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and even a fateful day in Dallas.
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Norris actually didn't start making progress filling First Baptist Church until he turned to sensationalistic preaching. He attacked gambling, prostitution and allowed his church to be used by the city for everything from concerts to a Will Roger's appearance. Because the city used his facilities, he thought he should be tax exempt. Texas, it seems, was making up the rules as they went along. Maybe the city shouldn't have been using churches for public meetings in the first place? Regardless, he refused to pay his taxes and reacted by revealing the dirty deeds of Fort Worth's finest citizens.
H.C. Meachem was a department store mogul and mayor of Fort Worth. J. Frank Norris wrote an article insinuating adultery on the part of Meachem and had his preacher boys distribute Norris's paper, The Searchlight, inside Meachem's store. No fundamentalist would put up with that in his own church! This is what resulted in Meachem telling his friend, D.E. Chips, that something needed to be done about Norris.
Chips, a businessman known for having a rough temper after drinking, had the bad judgement to use the word `kill' a little too often. He walks into Norris's office, has words with him, turns as if to leave, then (according to witnesses) turns back around and storms into the anteroom. Norris shoots him three times and explains, in court, that Chips could easily have overpowered him since he was bigger. The gun was the only weapon of defense against this lumbering giant.
I will admit, that given the evidence in this book, a rational person could argue that J. Frank Norris was justified in shooting D.E. Chips and the `not guilty' verdict was the proper one. However, what makes this book worth reading has little to do with whether Norris is guilty or not, but the fact that Stokes is allowing us to witness the birth of the fundamentalist spin machine.
Norris wrapped himself in the mantle of a persecuted martyr. Blame the Pope! Yes, Romanism in the form of the Knights of Columbus (Chips and Meachem where members). Norris had the Ku Klux Klan backing him up and they pretty much spoke for the half the populace of Fort Worth.
The trial put Norris's Catholic paranoia into hyperdrive! They came for Martin Luther, John Knox, and now they're coming for J. Frank Norris! This insanity could have hurt his defense were it not for good ole' fashioned prosecutorial exaggeration. They argued that Norris intentionally shot Chips for publicity! Well, after he was found `not guilty', he became more popular than ever! He even accompanied Herbert Hoover on a campaign against Catholic candidate, Al Smith. This self fulfilling prophecy brought to you by prosecutorial hubris!
Norris eventually died at a youth camp in North Florida. Stoke ends his book by talking about a skinny teenager named Jerry Falwell who enrolled in a college that was affiliated with Norris. Falwell has been described as one inheriting the Norris baton. However, there is another fundamentalist legend that puts Bob Gray (my late former pastor who died before he went on trial for child molestation in 2007) side by side with J. Frank Norris and possibly at his deathbed. I think this would be interesting to explore, forgetting the fact that I also went to Trinity Youth Camp in Keystone Heights, Florida for years without hearing the name `J. Frank Norris'.
The history of American Fundamentalism seems peppered with cover ups and court cases dealing with arson, murder, abuse and child molestation. Norris was the first who fought the law and won. His victory gave other fundamentalists the validation to become power bullies in the pulpit and court room.
One of the best things about this book is the entrance of Marcet Haldeman-Julius. Her husband, Haldeman-Julius, was responsible for a series of pamphlets called `Little Blue Books'. They were to freethought what John R. Rice pamphlets were to fundamentalists. I got to see a collection of Little Blue Books when I shot and edited the documentary, Queen Silver: Pioneer of Freethought. Queen Silver, along with her mother, Grace Silver, were a mother/daughter duo known for Atheist lectures during the era of Billy Sunday and J. Frank Norris.
Marcet shows up to interview J. Frank Norris after he shot D.E. Chips. Her book, The Shooting Salvationist (from which Stokes gets the name for second edition) offers a raw look by someone not impressed with the theatrics of J. Frank Norris. She is a constant figure at the trial, interviewing witnesses and aghast that this man, responsible for choosing which books should not be in the Texas public school system, can also kill a man and, without the first hint of guilt or conscious, preach a Sunday morning sermon to the nation.
It always seems to be `the infidels' who catch on to the crimes of the clergy before anyone else. Ultimately, we owe a great salute to freethinkers of the past, and those of the present, who chronicle the misdeeds of religious criminals with reason and clarity.
During the early years of his ministry, as a young man he married and preached. At first he was rather reserved in his sermons, but as time passed, he became a strong Fundamentalist, having met William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer in the "Scopes" trial and Frank became a radical Fundamentalist. He was always ready for a good fight, had a photographic memory, and as time passed he was head of one of the largest Fundamentalist congregations in Fort Worth where he ended up. As time passed, he had a close association with many Ku Klux Klan members who attended or joined his Church, and he fought hard against any type of Catholicism. He used every trick he knew to draw followers and sometimes he deliberately selected subject matter to create enough notoriety that he drew more and more members. He published a newspaper which he sent to even non-subscribers, especially if he was out to destroy someone. If he learned local gossip, he held onto it until it benefited him to make such gossip public. That is why many feared and hated him.
In time he fought the Mayor and politicians of Fort Worth because it was taxing the property of the church, which wasn't directly related to devotion or the church proper. As a result he did everything he could to smear Mayor Meacham and O.E. Carr, Fort Worth City Manager. D.E. Chipps was a lumberman and good friend of Mayor Meacham and one day he decided Frank had smeared him enough and ended up in Frank' office at the Church where he took things into his own hands with a deadly response from Frank. Followed was one of the most famous trials of that time.
This was a well written piece of history of this man, those wild times of the twenties, making it as interesting as a historical novel, although it was written mostly in narrative style. However, I felt it was too long simply because it included too much political history of Fort Worth, which would be necessary for a history student, but not for the general reader. Although I see that some of the other reviews complained of typos and poor punctuation, I found only about three, so it may be that the author republished the e-book at some time. I recommend this book for readers of this particular genre.