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Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975 Hardcover – August 23, 2013
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“Carolyn Renee Dupont’s examination of Mississippi white evangelicals’ fervent support of segregation during the 1950s and 1960s offers historians a fresh interpretation of the confounding paradox of God-fearing whites condoning and even participating in massive resistance. […] This book successfully challenges the reader to think beyond a variety of biases inherent in discussion of literature’s relationship with ethnic, regional, and national identities.”-The Journal of Southern History
"Dupont’s prose should be the envy of historians everywhere. Crisp, incisive, and thought-provoking, it moves the reader easily through nine chronological chapters. She draws on powerful examples to make her case, covering everything from Brown v. Board of Education, to the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative reconfiguration, and the splitting of Southern Presbyterians in the 1960s and 1970s."-Marginalia
"By examining white Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian confrontations with the civil rights movement, Dupont (Eastern Kentucky Univ.) offers a compelling answer to the question of why the most religious state in the US was also its most racist."-E.R. Crowther,CHOICE
"This is an inspired and sparkling religious history of the three major white denominations—South Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists—in the state of Mississippi for the three decades of the Civil Rights movement...This is not simply a tale about what happened in the struggle for black equality in Mississippi from 1945 to 1975. It is a mirror, reflecting what is still happening in segregated churches all over America, not just in Mississippi, not just in the South, but all over this great republic."-Baptist History & Heritage
"[...] Dupont has written an intriguing and impassioned book that should stimulate debate."-The American Historical Review
“Dupont's book is an essential companion to any study of the civil rights movement, not only for its treatment of how religion impacted the movement’s history but also for the way it exposes how easily oppression can be wrapped in a cloak of religiosity that blinds its adherents to injustice occurring all around them.” -The Historian
"Dupont makes a valuable contribution to the scholarship on the intersection of race and religion by highlighting religion's centrality in the struggle for black equality. Mississippi Praying is must reading for scholars interested in religion, race, and African American studies."-Walt Bower, Religious Research Association Review
“Gripping and detailed, Mississippi Praying tells how the fight to maintain white supremacy was deeply embedded in all the state’s institutions, particularly its churches. Such a narrative challenges readers to understand how some forms of racism topple, while others yet persist.”-Southern Spaces
“Provides a wealth of insight. . . . Dupont has offered the single best study documenting and analyzing the conflicted role of white southern Protestant churches, and their leaders, in reacting to the civil rights struggle. Her analysis is compelling, her writing forceful and fluid, and her research substantial and original.”-Paul Harvey,University of Colorado
"I am grateful to [the author] for further recovering the central role of religion in the civil rights era."-Patheos.com
"Mississippi Praying helps us better understand how white southerners made sense of their Christian faith and their segregationist practices. Dupont shows how the evangelical faith of many white Mississippians, far from being a source of other worldly escape from the political realm, served as a bulwark in their fight to maintain white supremacy. It is a critical story for properly understanding both the southern civil rights struggle and the history of modern American Christianity."-Joseph Crespino,Emory University
About the Author
Carolyn Renée Dupont is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.
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Even before the Civil War, Southern protestant clergymen, such as James H. Thornwell, condemned abolitionists as atheists, socialists, and communists. During the Civil Rights era, the Biblical justifications for slavery (curse of Ham, Tower of Babel, etc.), concern for the purity of white wimmenfolk, and principles of livestock breeding were dusted off to defend segregation, especially in Mississippi. Integration (along with trade unionism, New Deal programs, taxes) was practiced by atheists, socialists, and communists, according to such celebrated theologians as Dr. Douglas Hudgins, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., and Dr. G.T. Gillespie. While many white evangelical pastors sanctimoniously rejected any role in politics for religion, their defense of law and order as it existed under state law (as opposed to big-government Federal intervention in the form of Brown v. Board of Education) in fact supported segregation.
The real surprise of this book were some genuine white Mississippian evangelical heroes, such as the 28 Methodist pastors who wrote and signed a "Born of Conviction" statement in 1963 (after the shameful violence against James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi) denouncing segregation as unchristian and condemning the closure of Mississippi public schools (to be replaced by segregated private ones), and were hounded out of their parishes. Dr. W.P. Davis, head of the Baptist Department of Negro Work (a paternalistic organization designed to help blacks overcome the wretched state of existence in which they found themselves due to their supposed inferiority and moral degeneracy), ended up denouncing white supremacy, "A power structure designed to deprive citizens of their voting rights and to discriminate in the administration of justice because of race or creed is tyranny." Dr. W.B. Selah, who initially defended segregation, resigned from Galloway Memorial Methodist Church after the congregation insisted on turning away black worshippers. The Catholics and Episcopalians integrated their churches without fanfare. The Archbishop of New Orleans threatened to excommunicate any Louisiana legislators that fought integration.
Eventually, the Mississippi Baptist, Presbyterians, and increasingly marginalized Methodists abandoned overt celebrations of segregation, pulled by the larger American society's evolving standards of decency rather than any religious epiphany, for a sclerotic fundamentalism that renounces evolution and science, advocates Biblical literalism, enshrines traditional gender roles, and builds museums that recreate unseaworthy arks and saddled dinosaurs. In 1970, Mississippi banned Sesame Street because of its "highly integrated cast of children,' although it reversed this after 22 days because of general ridicule. It was illegal to teach human evolution in Mississippi schools until 1970 (when the law was invalidated by court order). In 1950, the Mississippi illiteracy rate was 7.1% (v. the U.S. rate of 3.2%) and its annual per pupil education expenditures were $71.00 for white children and $22.29 for black children. (By comparison, Texas spent $137.22 per white child and $114.32 per black child in 1950.) Today, Mississippi comes in near the bottom among states for indicators like teen pregnancy, obesity rates, low educational attainment (among both white and black students), low school funding and high poverty. However, it comes in first for most religious state. This book helps explain why.
This is an exciting book (although, beginning life as a Ph.D. dissertation, it does have its turgid moments). Remember that you will not read exciting stories of heroic black civil rights workers or northern ones - it's simply beyond the scope of this book, which is an eloquent indictment of southern evangelical religion's outsized role in racial oppression.
Strengths of Dupont's book: Importance of extensive written records as reliable sources; Methodist references--"Born of Conviction" (Joe Reiff's "Conflicting Convictions" and yet to be published book); focus of Gospel description: spirituality of the church vs social gospel--individual sin/salvation vs corporate sin/salvation--accurate, well developed; theological basis for segregation/individual salvation--on target; solution that focuses only on changing individual attitudes/behavior fails to recognize the importance and necessity of changing systemic patterns or causes of inequity--well put; fundamentalists vs progressives examples--these two perspectives well illustrated; basic conclusions affirms she made her case--key connection between conservative faith and conservative politics, 1960s and 2013.
The Unsilent South: Prophetic Preaching in Racial Crisis
Transformed: A White Mississippi Pastor's Journey into Civil Rights and Beyond (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography)
Religion and Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946 to 1983