Name changes in American evangelicalism

The Southern Baptist Church now wants to be called “Great Commission Baptists” but none of the denomination’s seminaries will remove the word “Southern” from their names and churches have the right to reject the new name. Go figure. Sarah Pulliam Bailey has the story at The Washington Post. The suggested move is an attempt to separate from the South’s racist roots.

Evangelicals for Social Action is now “Christians for Social Action.” Kate Shellnut has the story at Christianity Today.

Ron Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, recently addressed the name change at his blog:

I want to tell you about an important name change for Evangelicals for Social Action. For 40 years, I had the privilege of leading ESA. Although I retired in 2013, I continue to serve as co-chair of the board.

Today,  September 15, ESA launched  a new fabulous website and announced its new name. Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) is now Christians for Social Action (CSA).

Here is a short (well, relatively short!) explanation of the new name.

The most important thing to say is that the title I have given this blog makes the most important point: different name, same mission.

ESA began with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern written over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1973. About 50 evangelical leaders – – elders like Carl Henry, Frank Gaebelein and Vernon Grounds and younger folk like Jim Wallis, Sharon Gallagher, John Perkins,  Richard Mouw, and myself – – spent two days wrestling with the widespread lack of evangelical engagement on social issues such as economic and racial justice, peace, and the dignity of women. Everyone at the conference, both young and old, agreed that biblical faith demanded that American evangelicals become much more engaged in issues of social justice.

The Chicago Declaration started with  our central foundation: “As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm… “  From there, the statement went on to call evangelicals to a vigorous commitment to struggle against personal and structural racism, economic injustice, “the misplaced trust of the nation in economic and military might,” and  men’s prideful domination of women.

The immediate response to the Chicago Declaration was stunning. There was massive coverage in both the religious and secular press. Almost everyone was surprised and many were delighted that evangelicals were ending a long silence and were now ready to launch a new movement of evangelical social action.

Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) slowly emerged from this historical declaration. After  several years of only annual meetings, ESA became a membership organization with full-time staff in 1978. Our basic sense of mission was to develop biblically solid materials and meetings to help evangelical Christians become much more deeply engaged on issues of social justice. (We focused on evangelicals because we were evangelicals and that was where the need was greatest!)

In the next couple decades, ESA developed programs in many areas: working to end apartheid in South Africa; opposing our government’s support of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s; developing materials and workshops on global poverty; encouraging the emergence of Christians for Biblical Equality; launching an environmental program that became the Evangelical Environmental Network; working for racial justice. In the 1990s, when we began to fear that  some younger evangelical social activists might lose their passion for evangelism, ESA launched a program to help churches  combine word and deed. We hoped and prayed that vast numbers of American evangelicals would become part of a large movement that would work through both faith-based social service agencies and political engagement to make American society more just.

But ESA (and related organizations) were soon not the only ones urging theologically conservative Christians to reengage politics. In 1979, Jerry Falwell formed Moral Majority and led large numbers of fundamentalists into politics. In his run for the presidency in 1987-1988, Pat Robertson did the same for many charismatics and  Pentecostals. Their agenda was significantly different from that of  ESA. Whereas ESA believed biblical faith called us to a “completely pro-life “agenda, Falwell, Robertson and colleagues tended to focus on a much narrower range of issues ( especially abortion and  marriage). And they identified more and more with the politically conservative part of the Republican Party. Increasingly, the media equated evangelicals with the “Religious Right”. And in 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. And they have continued to support this twice divorced sexist, who had boosted of sexual affairs, stoked racism, promoted policies that largely benefit the richest 20%, ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and lied constantly, undermining democracy by dismissing anything he disliked as fake news.

Today the word evangelical in the popular mind has largely political connotations. For large numbers of people,  it signifies a right-wing political movement irrevocably committed to Donald Trump. Large numbers of young people raised in evangelical churches are turning away in disgust – – abandoning evangelical churches and even sometimes Christian faith itself. And the larger society thinks of evangelicals  not as people committed to Jesus Christ and  the biblical gospel but as pro-Trump political activists.

The result is that ESA increasingly found that our name failed to communicate who we really are. And it also led people to click off any message with that name before we had any opportunity to  explain that the word evangelical is a rich theological term that refers to historic Christian orthodoxy and a commitment to Jesus’ gospel (the word  evangelical comes from the Greek word for Gospel.) Because of a long history of white evangelical racism, the black church has long refused to use the term evangelical for itself even though its theology and piety are very close to what the word evangelical used to mean. And since 2016, there is even more resistance among African-American   Christians to the word evangelical.

So after careful thought and prayer, we have decided to change our name – – a little! Our new name is Christians for Social Action (CSA). We believe that will help us win a listening ear with more people – – not least with African-Americans. And it certainly will avoid people refusing to even take a minute to see who we are because they see a word that for many people immediately signals  “right-wing, pro-Trump” political folk.

Read the rest here.

John MacArthur’s views on slavery sound eerily familiar

MacArthur

Someone just sent this to me. Here is Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, the subject of the recent controversy over the opening of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, talking about the benefits of slavery. The video was posted in 2012.

I hope MacArthur has changed his views on slavery, but I am not holding my breath. MacArthur sounds exactly like an antebellum Southern intellectual making a case for slavery. Any student who has taken me for a U.S. history survey course or a Civil War course will recognize this rhetoric.

Here is George Fitzhugh in 1857 on the “blessings of slavery“:

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with som muh of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the gretest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ‘Tis happiness in itself–and results from contentment in the present, and confident assurance of the future.

And this from the same document:

To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is expressly and continually justified by Holy Writ, is its natural, normal, and necessary status, under the ordinary circumstances, is on its face a plausible and probable proposition. To insist on less, is to yield our cause, and to give up our religion; for if white slavery be morally wrong, be a violation of natural rights, the Bible cannot be true. Human and divine authority do seem in the general to concur, in establishing the expediency of having masters and slaves of different races.

And this, also from the same document:

The civilized man hates the savage, and the savage returns the hatred with interest. Hence West India slavery of newly caught negroes is not a very humane, affectionate, or civilizing institution. Virginia negroes have become moral and intelligent. They love their master and his family, and the attachment is reciprocated. Still, we like the idle, but intelligent house-servants, better than the hard-used, but stupid outhands; and we like the mulatto better than the negro; yet the negro is generally more affectionate, contented, and faithful. The world at large looks on negro slavery as much the worst form of slavery; because it is only acquainted with West India slavery. But our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world. How can we contend that white slavery is wrong, whilst all the great body of free laborers are starving; and slaves, white or black, throughout the world, are enjoying comfort? . . 

Here is a defense of slavery from Thomas Dew, president of The College of William and Mary:

When we turn to the New Testament, we find hot one single passage at all calculated to disturb the conscience of an honest slaveholder. No one can read it without seeing and admiring that the meek and humble Saviour of the world in no instance meddled with the established institutions of mankind; he came to save a fallen work, and not to excite the black passions of man and array them in deadly hostility against each other. From no one did he turn away; his plan was offered alike to all—to the monarch and the subject, the rich and the poor, the master and the slave. He was born in the Roman world, a world in which the most galling slavery existed, a thousand times more cruel than the slavery in our own country; and yet he nowhere encourages insurrection, he nowhere fosters discontent; but exhorts always to implicit obedience and fidelity.

What a rebuke does the practice of the Redeemer of mankind imply upon the conduct of some of his nominal disciples of the day, who seek to destroy the contentment of the slave, to rouse their most deadly passions, to break up the deep foundations of society, and to lead on to a night of darkness and confusion! “Let every man,” (says Paul) “abide in the same calling wherein he is called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (I Corinth. vii. 20,21). . . . Servants are even commanded in Scripture to be faithful and obedient to unkind masters. “Servants,” (says Peter) “be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle but to the froward. For what glory is it if when ye shall be buffeted for your faults ye take it patiently; but if when ye do will and suffer for it, yet take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (I Peter ii. 18,20). These and many other passages in the New Testament most convincingly prove that slavery in the Roman world was nowhere charged as a fault or crime upon the holder, and everywhere is the most implicit obedience enjoined.

More Dew:

Every one acquainted with Southern slaves knows that the slave rejoices in the elevation and prosperity of his master; and the heart of no one is more gladdened at the successful debut of the young master or miss on the great theater of the world than that of either the young slave who has grown up with them and shared in all their sports, and even partaken of all their delicacies, or the aged one who has looked on and watched them from birth to manhood, with the kindest and most affectionate solicitude, and has ever met from them all the kind treatment and generous sympathies of feeling, tender hearts. 

Now go back and listen again to MacArthur. This also reminds me of recent comments from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler.

How Southern newspapers preserved the Confederacy

Mon, Oct 30, 1944 – 8 · Nashville Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.com

USA Today is running a fascinating and disturbing piece on the way Southern newspapers promoted the Confederacy and the Lost Cause well into the 20th century.

The piece focuses on the Memphis Commercial Appeal, The Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS), The Montgomery (AL) AdvertiserThe Lafayette (LA) Daily AdvertiserThe Knoxville News Sentinel; and The Nashville Tennessean.

Here is a taste:

The late civil rights leader, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, once exhorted journalists to be “a headlight and not a taillight.”

“You have a moral obligation to pick up your pens and your pencils, use your cameras to tell the story, to make it plain, to make it real,” Lewis said at a Pulitzer Prize event in 2016. But for most of American history, what newspapers in the South made plain and real was the racism that permeated so many facets of life in this country — and they did so with unabashed support for the people and systems that promoted and maintained prejudice and discrimination.

As Southern news outlets cover the latest chapter of our national reckoning with racial divides, a full accounting is not possible without acknowledging the role many of these institutions played in creating and servicing the myths that were used to justify racial oppression, in particular those tracing their roots to the Confederacy. Coverage that takes seriously issues of systemic racism today often marks a sharp departure from what Southern newspapers published in the century following the Civil War.

As part of a collaborative project on the legacy of the Confederacy and its influence on systemic racism today, USA TODAY Network newsrooms across the South have dug into our own archives to examine how our own outlets reported on those issues, as well as their stances on segregation and civil rights. Examples from six newspapers are below, and links to more reporting on each individual paper’s history are at the end of this story. Our hope is that this look back can teach us to look forward — to be a headlight and not a taillight. 

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with William Barney

Rebels in the makingWilliam Barney is Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This interview is based on his new book, Rebels in the Making: The Secession Crisis and the Birth of the Confederacy (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Rebels in the Making?

WB: A life-long interest in the Civil War era, probably spurred on by reading Bruce Catton’s books back in high school, led me into teaching and writing U.S. history as a career. During my graduate years at Columbia my interest in the Civil War focused on trying to understand the motives behind Southern secession, the underlying theme running through Rebels in the Making.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Rebels in the Making?

WB: In Rebels in the Making I argue that secession was not a mass democratic movement, but one led from above by a strategically placed minority of slaveholders. What drove secession was the need to protect slavery from the perceived threat posed by the coming to power of the antislavery Republican Party.

JF: Why do we need to read Rebels in the Making?

WB: Rebels in the Making is the first comprehensive, one-volume study of secession in all fifteen slave states, and it places secession in the economic, cultural, and social context of a maturing slave society in which, by the 1850s, opportunities for upward mobility were shrinking for non-slaveholders at the very time that the antislavery, free labor movement in the North was threatening to close off federal territories to the spread of slavery. Secession was designed to resolve this dual crisis while simultaneously demonstrating to the world the moral justice and superiority of slavery as a social system.

JF: Tell us a little bit about the source material you worked with in the writing and researching of Rebels in the Making. 

WB: I cast a broad net in searching for source materials–personal letters, diaries, and journals; slave narratives; legislative and judicial records; religious sermons; and newspapers. As much as possible, the voices of non-traditional political actors such as women, African Americans, and common whites are included.

JF: What is your next project?

WB: Currently, I’m researching how and why the near unity behind the Confederacy achieved in the spring of 1861 unraveled as the war proceeded. Among the issues I’m exploring are the depth of Confederate nationalism; the role of class in Confederate dissent; the Confederate army as a nationalizing agent; and the factors behind the soldier-civilian divide which widened as the war dragged on.

JF: Thanks, William!

The Author’s Corner with Warren Milteer

North Carolina's Free People of ColorWarren Milteer is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This interview is based on his new book, North Carolina’s Free People of Color, 1715-1885 (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write North Carolina’s Free People of Color?

WM: North Carolina’s Free People of Color, 1715-1885 is derived from my interests in my family history. My passion for researching my family roots led me to conduct research in archives and courthouses. The information that I uncovered encouraged me to ask broader questions about the experiences of free people of color, both my ancestors as well as others who shared the same status. Free people of color became the focus of my academic research during my undergraduate studies. I continued my work through graduate school and wrote my dissertation on the topic. North Carolina’s Free People of Color, 1715-1885 is a revised and expanded version of my project from graduate school.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of North Carolina’s Free People of Color?

WM: The book argues that intersections among freedom status, racial categorization, gender, wealth, occupation, reputation, and other forms of hierarchy created a wide range of experiences for free people of color in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North Carolina. The story of North Carolina’s free people of color challenges previous understandings of the American South as a place organized under a strict racial hierarchy, suggesting instead that free people of color lived in a society with a much more malleable social order that permitted some free people of color to become relatively successful while others struggled for their subsistence.

JF: Why do we need to read North Carolina’s Free People of Color?

WM: North Carolina’s Free People of Color, 1715-1885 offers us a fresh understanding of the origins and status of free people of color in North Carolina and to some extent the South more broadly. I provide readers with a careful analysis of the development of “free people of color” as a sociopolitical category in addition to exploring the diverse experiences of free people of color. Unlike most studies of free people of color in the South, I focus not only on the African origins of free people of color but also consider the importance of Native peoples in the growth of the population. This study of free people of color bridges the divide between the histories of people of African and Native descent in the South. My book highlights the importance of various forms of hierarchy in the daily lives of free people of color. The rights and privileges of free people of color were defined by their racial categorization but also by whether they were men or women, rich or poor, or considered respectable by their neighbors. Life for poor free persons of color differed significantly from the experiences of financially successful free people of color. Free men of color enjoyed privileges unavailable to free women of color. Furthermore, nearly one in eight of the South’s free people of color lived in North Carolina, making North Carolina a particularly appropriate site to examine in order to understand how freedom and slavery coexisted in pre-1865 America.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WM: I have been interested in history since childhood. As a teenager, I developed a passion for historical research, which continued through college. During college, I decided to pursue the study of American history as a career.

JF: What is your next project?

WM: My next project focuses on free people of color in what would become the U.S. South from the colonial period through the Civil War. The project examines the evolution of the political debates concerning free people of color and how free people of color responded to the back and forth of social acceptance and political attacks.

JF: Thanks, Warren!

Confederate statues by year dedicated

Lee Monument

FiveThirtyEight created a graph showing when America’s Confederate monuments were erected. The peak came in 1911 with a general upswing between 1900 and 1940.

The data also show that there was a spike in schools and colleges named after Confederates in the years between 1955 (a year after Brown v. Board of Education) and 1965 (a year after the Civil Rights Acts was passed).

The removal of Confederate monuments began in earnest after the massacre of Mother Emanuel Church and reached a peak in 2017 after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Here is a taste of Ryan Best’s piece:

In recent weeks President Trump has railed against tearing down statues across the country — and has been particularly dogged in his defense of Confederate monuments. But his argument that they are benign symbols of America’s past is misleading. An overwhelming majority of Confederate memorials weren’t erected in the years directly following the Civil War. Instead, most were put up decades later. Nor were they built just to commemorate fallen generals and soldiers; they were installed as symbols of white supremacy during periods of U.S. history when Black Americans’ civil rights were aggressively under attack. In total, at least 830 such monuments were constructed across the U.S, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which maintains a comprehensive database of Confederate monuments and symbols.

Read the rest here and explore the data.

Why so many Southern Baptists do not believe in systemic racism

0ed47-southern-baptist-convention

If you want to understand what is dividing the Southern Baptist Convention today, watch this documentary produced by a group called Founders Ministries :

The discussion of race in America picks-up at the 33:00 minute mark when Thomas Ascol of Founders Ministries starts talking about “critical race theory” and “intersectionality.”

Why are some Southern Baptists so afraid of critical race theory?

I have never met a Southern Baptist who accepts every dimension of critical race theory. So I am imagining much of the concern regarding these ideas is best explained by the old slippery slope theory. In other words, critical race theory will lead to compromises in other areas of doctrine that will put Southern Baptists on the road to theological liberalism. These conservative Southern Baptists, like the fundamentalists of the early 20th-century, are always guarding against declension. In his wonderful book The Sin of Certainty, theologian Peter Enns compares this kind of Christian faith to “sentry duty.”

We can get at this issue in a slightly different way by thinking about the debates over social justice that have been raging in conservative evangelicalism.

There is much that is true about critical race theory. For example, it forces us to come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In this sense, there are parts of critical race theory that illuminate the impact of human sin on modern life. Is anyone in the Founders Ministries group going to say that white people have not oppressed black people in American history? Is anyone going to deny that white Christians have used their power in ways that are unChristian? Critical race theory might be one way to make sense of this. If James Cone can help me become more aware of racism and teach me how to have a greater solidarity with the oppressed, then why wouldn’t I want to read him, engage him, and employ some of his ideas in my work? All truth is God’s truth. This seems to be the general thrust of the so-called Resolution 9 discussed in this video.

So what is really going on in this documentary? It seems like the folks who created it want to avoid having hard conversations about racism in America. In fact, it seems like they don’t want anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention to have conversations that might lead to more effective efforts at dealing with racism in church and society. They are trying to scare ordinary Southern Baptists by telling them that there is some evil Marxist force working in subtle ways to undermine Christianity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

When I watched this documentary, at least the parts related to race, it seemed like I was watching the Southern Baptist version of a debate that recently took place in the House of Representatives:

Let’s remember that the Southern Baptist Convention was born as a pro-slavery denomination and remained committed to white supremacy for much of its history. As a result, white supremacy is deeply embedded in all of its institutions and has been for 150 years. Repentance, apologies, and spiritual transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but so is structural change.

Those looking to bring such structural change to the convention should be glad that Founders Ministries felt the need to produce this documentary. As an outsider looking in, it tells me that despite the Trumpism of Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Richard Land, Greg Laurie, and Al Mohler, some things are starting to change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But I am also sure that folks like Jarvis Williams, Matt Chandler, Dwight McKissic, Matthew Hall, and Curtis Woods would say that the convention has a long way to go. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter reminds us, these kinds of deep structural changes often take generations and can only “be described in retrospect.”

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron has some good reporting on evangelicals and systemic racism. She quotes Redeemer Presbyterian Church founder Tim Keller: “You can’t simply say, ‘We’re going to convert everyone and convict them of the individual sin of racism and everything will be OK.”

If you want to dig deeper, a good place to start is Episode 48 (Jemar Tisby) and Episode 70 (Scott Hancock) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Alabama Department of Archives & History apologizes for promoting a Confederate view of history

Archives and history

Here is the statement from the Department of Archives & History:

As our state and nation struggle to navigate through a place of contention, fear, and uncertainty, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) recommits itself to the mission of illuminating the path that brought us here, and thereby equipping all of us, together, to build a future characterized by justice, human dignity, and a commitment to the wellbeing of all people.

Our recommitment includes acknowledgment of these truths.

1. Systemic racism remains a reality in American society, despite belief in racial equality on the part of most individuals. Historically, our governments, our economy, and many private institutions seeded or perpetuated discrimination against racial minorities to the political, economic, and social advantage of whites. The decline of overt bigotry in mainstream society has not erased the legacies of blatantly racist systems that operated for hundreds of years.

2. The ADAH is, in significant part, rooted in this legacy. The State of Alabama founded the department in 1901 to address a lack of proper management of government records, but also to serve a white southern concern for the preservation of Confederate history and the promotion of Lost Cause ideals. For well over a half-century, the agency committed extensive resources to the acquisition of Confederate records and artifacts while declining to acquire and preserve materials documenting the lives and contributions of African Americans in Alabama.

3. As an organization, we remain mostly white, especially in agency leadership and in our archival and curatorial staffs. Even with a serious, sustained commitment to understand the historical roots of injustice and its present manifestations, we cannot know the full measure of fear and frustration experienced by African Americans who have lived different realities in the past and today. We listen and study with intent and with sympathy, but our understanding requires ongoing work.

Our recommitment includes these objectives.

4. We will continue and expand efforts of the past four decades to document and tell a fully inclusive story of Alabama’s role in the American experience. If history is to serve the present, it must offer an honest assessment of the past.

5. We will be a facilitator of public dialogue, seeking opportunities to build bridges through mutually respectful discussions of personal, community, and state history. These voices will help shape our exhibitions and public programs.

6. We will pursue greater diversity at the ADAH through robust recruitment initiatives. These will include introducing high school students to career opportunities in public history and providing paid internships to undergraduate and graduate students. We will offer a welcoming, inclusive community of colleagues, and meaningful opportunities to contribute to the work of the agency.

7. We will model and advocate for responsible stewardship of historical materials held by collecting institutions as well as in the public square. As communities struggle with decisions over Confederate iconography, we assert that options are not limited to static persistence, on the one hand, or to destruction on the other.

Our recommitment includes the continued development of resources such as the following, useful for gaining a greater understanding of racism’s origins and consequences.

8. We the People: Alabama’s Defining Documents was a special exhibition of Alabama’s six constitutions during 2019, the state’s bicentennial year. The exhibit website and catalog let the historical record speak for itself in explaining how Alabama law stacked the deck against African Americans during slavery, after emancipation, and for two thirds of the way through the twentieth century.

9. Family history can be a challenging pursuit for anyone, sometimes resulting in dead ends and unanswered questions. For African Americans, genealogy comes with added complexity because black ancestors almost universally lived in slavery. When African Americans can be found in antebellum historical records, it is often in a bill of sale written by a slave trader or in an estate inventory, listed alongside livestock and pieces of furniture. To better understand how race has bearing even on researching family history, watch our two-part guide to “Tracing Your African American Ancestors.”

10. For more than thirty years, the Friends of the Alabama Archives have sponsored Food for Thought, a monthly lecture series bringing scholarship to public audiences. On our YouTube channel, explore playlists containing talks on topics such as “Slavery, Emancipation, and Reconstruction,” “Race and Equal Rights,” or “The Civil Rights Movement.”

11. Take a visual journey through African American community life in the 1960s with the Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection, containing eleven thousand images of political activism, religious life, music, sports, and black neighborhoods.

12. Find more content from the ADAH and our partners at Alabama History@Home. Steve Murray, Director, and the Board of Trustees Alabama Department of Archives and History

Mike Cason is covering this for Alabama.com.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

COurt Evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Franklin Graham is on the stump for Trump. This is from his Facebook page :

In the last presidential election in 2016, I reminded people across the country that the election was not about Donald Trump’s previous lifestyle or Hillary Clinton’s lost emails, but it was about the courts—Who do you trust to appoint conservative judges to the courts? Donald J. Trump won the election, and in the next few days he will be making his 200th judicial appointment. That’s more than any president in the last four decades during the same time frame. Thank you Mr. President! This will be a legacy that truly will keep on giving—in the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

And Twitter:

Al Mohler is questioning science and COVID-19 experts and promoting a Trumpian populism:

Charlie Kirk is running a “Students for Trump” convention in Arizona featuring Donald Trump.

A few observations:

  • In the opening prayer of this convention, the minister thanked God that “All Lives Matter.” The prayer was filled with Christian nationalism, law and order, and Trump talking points. The crowd cheered during the prayer at the appropriate points.
  • Ryan Fournier, the founder of Students for Trump, calls the event “the most aggressive political outreach movement in political presidential campaign history.” Wow!  That’s specific.
  • Florida Matt Gaetz spoke. So did Donald Trump Jr.
  • Trump said nothing new to the 2000 students who showed-up. It was just another campaign rally.

Eric Metaxas interviews one of his “mentors in terms of thinking of race in America,” conservative talk show host Larry Elder. Elder talks about his new documentary film “Uncle Tom.” Elder makes the common claim that the Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment (ending slavery), 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law for African.Americans), and 15th Amendment (African American right to vote). This is largely true, but he fails to consider that the Democratic Party of the 1860s and 1870s is not the Democratic Party of today. See Princeton historian Kevin Kruse’s debate (if you can all it that) with conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. This entire argument ignores a fundamental element of historical thinking: change over time. Metaxas totally endorses Elder’s approach, claiming that Americans “don’t know the facts.” Elder and Metaxas are peddling some really bad history here.

Elder claims that racism “is no longer a problem” in American life. This reminds me of a family member who recently told me that I was “living in the past” by suggesting that the history of racial discrimination in America might have something to do with race in America today.

In his second hour, Metaxas and his crew argue that the division in the country is the work of Satan, “the accuser.” Metaxas has the audacity to say that Satan “takes things that are true and twists them into a lie.” Wait, I thought Metaxas supported Trump! 🙂

Metaxas wants a view of history that celebrates all that is good in America. He extols all the Bible-believing Christians who were abolitionists. Yes, this is true. There were many good Christians who fought against slavery. But the present always shapes how we think about the past. As the country is trying to come to grips with racism–both individual acts of racism and the deeper problem of systemic racism–now is the time to take a deep, hard look at how we got here. That will mean taking a hard look at the dark moments of the white evangelical past. This is not the time to get defensive and engage in whataboutism. (Hey, what about Harriet Beecher Stowe!).

Metaxas then interviews Jenna Ellis of the Liberty University Falkirk Center.  In this interview, Metaxas says that “the only reason we abolished slavery is because of the Bible.” This is not entirely true, as I argued in Believe Me.  Slaveholding southerners actually used the Bible to justify slavery and accused northern abolitionists of not being biblical enough. As multiple historians have shown, the Bible was used to fortify racial discrimination to a much greater extent than the Bible was used to end slavery or advance racial justice in America. But Metaxas doesn’t care about that. He needs a usable past. Everything else can be conveniently ignored.

Speaking of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University:

And Lance Wallnau brings the fearmongering:

Until next time.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

The Pietist Schoolman weighs-in on the Confederate monuments debate

 

Fort Bragg

Chris Gehrz‘s is known to many readers of this blog as the Pietist Schoolman. Read his Anxious Bench post, “It’s Not ‘Erasing History’ to Remove Confederate Memorials.”

Here is a taste:

Every pedestal emptied of someone who fought on behalf of slavery and racism is a pedestal open to an American who struggled for emancipation and equality. That cause — not the Lost Cause — is an honest basis for national unity. That kind of commemoration can truly teach us “how we became a better nation.”

In his 2015 eulogy at Mother Emanuel Church, Barack Obama argued that taking down the Confederate battle flag “would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.” Five years later, taking down Confederate statues and taking away Confederate names can be one more step in that historical accounting, and one more chance for Americans to perfect their union.

Read the entire piece here.

Controversy over “Gone with the Wind” has a long history

Gone with the Wind protests

After the killing of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed it, HBO Max decided to temporarily remove the movie “Gone With the Wind” from its streaming service.  As Jennifer Schuessler writes at The New York Times, this is not the first time controversy has raged about this popular film. Here is a taste of her piece “The Long Battle Over ‘Gone  With the Wind‘”:

But even as white Americans embraced the moonlight and magnolias, African-Americans were registering objections. Soon after the producer David O. Selznick bought the rights, there were complaints that a movie version would incite violence, spread bigotry and even derail a proposed federal anti-lynching bill.

Margaret Mitchell reacted dismissively to the criticism. “I do not intend to let any troublemaking Professional Negros change my feelings towards the race with whom my relations have always been those of affection and mutual respect,” she wrote to a friend.

Selznick did a more complicated dance. “I for one have no desire to produce any anti-Negro film,” he wrote in a memo to the screenwriter Sidney Howard. “In our picture I think we have to be awfully careful that the Negroes come out decidedly on the right side of the ledger.”

In 1936, Walter White, the secretary of the NAACP, wrote to him expressing concern, and suggesting he hire someone, preferably an African-American, to check “possible errors” of fact and interpretation. “The writing of history of the Reconstruction period has been so completely confederatized during the last two or three generations that we naturally are somewhat anxious,” he wrote.

Read the entire piece here.

Southern Baptist Convention President: “I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel”

broadus-gavel-1024x675

Source: SBC This Week

I can’t remember if it was in college or divinity school, but somewhere along the way my professor assigned John A. Broadus‘s book On the Preparation and Delivery of SermonsI don’t remember anything about the book and I did not know that Broadus was a significant figure in Southern Baptist history and a slaveholder.

Well, it looks like the Southern Baptist Convention named a gavel after John Broadus. Current SBC president J.D. Greaar wants to retire it. Here is Sarah Pulliam Bailey at The Washington Post:

J.D. Greear, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, on Wednesday called for the retirement of a gavel that carries the name of a 19th-century Southern Baptist leader who was a slaveholder and led the convention in support of the Confederacy.

Greear said that he was “deeply conflicted” last year when he was handed the gavel named after John Broadus, who was the second president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC’s flagship seminary. The SBC’s annual meeting, which takes place in a different city every year, was held in 2019 in Birmingham, Ala., the city where several significant events took place during the civil rights movement.

“Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel,” Greear wrote in a forthcoming piece in the Baptist Press that was shared with The Washington Post. “While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.”

The decision comes amid nationwide protests around racial injustice that has led to the removal of Confederate statues and symbols, which have been challenged for years. A spokesman for Greear said the gavel is the SBC’s version of a Confederate monument and that Greear did not realize that he had the option to choose another gavel.

The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and was founded in 1845 in defense of missionaries who owned slaves. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have elicited widespread condemnation by Southern Baptists.

Greear will preside over one more annual meeting and will get to pick the gavel next year for SBC business. He wrote that he might consider using a gavel representing Annie Armstrong, a pioneer advocate for missions who fought to send the first female African American missionaries. He also might consider the Judson gavel, named after Adoniram Judson, was one of the first missionaries to travel to Myanmar, then known as Burma.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Ann Tucker

Newest Born of NationsAnn Tucker is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Georgia. This interview is based on her new book, Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy (University of Virginia Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Newest Born of Nations?

AT: The question of southern identity has intrigued me since my childhood; how and why did the South develop such a strong sense of regional identity? In college, I also developed a passion for Italian history when I studied abroad in Venice, where I became increasingly interested in the making of the Italian nation. This book grew out of my attempt to combine these interests in Italy and the South. Through my Italian studies, I had already identified some key parallels between the US and Italy, as both nations had undergone wars about nationhood in the mid-nineteenth century, and both nations had faced conflict between a more industrial North and an agricultural South. With these similarities in mind, as I started researching, I wanted to know what white southerners thought about Italy, and how those thoughts on Italy might have shaped the complicated concept of southern identity. It only made sense to me to start in the Civil War Era, when both Italy and the US fought to defend their nationhood, and when white southerners sought to create a separate southern nation.

I found a much more complex, varied, and, ultimately, significant story than I had initially imagined. White southerners’ thoughts on Italy, and on European nationalist movements more broadly, were not incidental, nor were they straightforward or homogenous. My research uncovered several strands of white southern thought on European nationalist movements, sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing, but always playing a critical role in shaping southern thought on their own nationhood. White southerners used comparisons with new and aspiring European nations like Italy to clarify their beliefs about their own nationality, and they used these international perspectives to develop and defend the idea of a southern nation.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Newest Born of Nations?

AT: White southerners in the antebellum and Civil War periods used their analysis of nineteenth century European nationalist movements to shape their idea of what a nation could and should be, to begin to conceive of the South as different than the North on issues of nationhood and to develop the idea of the South as a potential nation, and to defend and legitimize secession and the Confederacy. The international perspectives that white southerners developed by drawing comparisons and contrasts with new and aspiring nations in Europe thus played a critical role in the shaping of southern nationalism.

JF: Why do we need to read Newest Born of Nations?

AT: Newest Born of Nations reframes the American Civil War as part of the larger nineteenth century age of revolutions and nationalism. White southerners saw their actions as part of the ongoing struggle for national independence and reform that played out throughout the Atlantic World. Far from an exclusively domestic conflict, the American Civil War had profound implications for the evolving nineteenth-century Atlantic World ideas of freedom, rights, and nationalism, and white southerners used this international context to develop southern nationalism and the Confederacy.

The internationalization of the Confederacy was not straightforward, even at the time; by identifying three competing international perspectives that white southerners used to defend their preferred visions for the South’s nationhood, Newest Born of Nations reveals how complicated and complex the process of creating a southern nationalism was. While secessionists developed both liberal and conservative international perspectives to justify secession, southern Unionists also used international comparisons to argue for a continued American nationalism for the South. Although white southerners were divided on the lessons that an international context taught for the South, they agreed that the South’s nationhood could best be understood and defined through international perspectives. By placing secession, the Confederacy, and the American Civil War within this transnational context, Newest Born of Nations expands and complicates our understanding of the Confederacy and Civil War.

This work also challenges our understanding of the Age of Nationalism by showing that the ideas of liberal nationalism that inspired revolutions throughout the Atlantic World could also be manipulated and re-defined in attempts to justify movements very different than the original revolutions.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: I have always been interested in history as a way to understand how and why our world developed as it did. As a southerner, I have been particularly interested in issues of southern identity. I wondered why the South had such a strong regional identity, and I wanted to understand the inconsistencies within that southern identity. I chose to study American history in order to answer my questions about the development of a distinct regional identity in the South.

As I began my studies as an academic historian, however, I found myself equally intrigued by Italian history and the parallels I saw between Italy and the US. These parallels and interests encouraged me to approach American history through a transnational perspective. Although I am an American historian, I am also a transnational historian, because, to me, American history, and history in general, is best understand in a larger transnational framework.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: My next project is the “sequel” to Newest Born of Nations! I am interested in understanding how former Confederates’ international perspectives helped them shed their Confederate national identity, and adopt and remake their American national identity, during Reconstruction and in the decades following the Civil War. I have already found some very interesting results; in particular, I have found that in the immediate aftermath of Confederate defeat, former Confederates used comparisons with defeated nations in Europe to draw limits around what they would accept as legitimate actions by the government during Reconstruction. (This first portion of my next project was published as “To ‘Heal the Wounded Spirit’: Former Confederates’ International Perspective on Reconstruction and Reconciliation,” in Reconciliation after Civil Wars: Global Perspectives, ed. Paul Quigley and James Hawdon, Routledge, 2018). I am excited about continuing my research and considering the use of international perspectives to shape and influence issues such as Confederate monuments, the Lost Cause, and Confederate memory.

JF: Thanks, Ann!

When the Churches Can’t Provide the Social Safety Net That We Need

a3062-nodepressioninheavenIn the midst of our current pandemic, several historian friends have been referencing Alison Collis Greene‘s book No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene’s book shows, among other things, that sometimes the good work of local churches in times of economic and social crises is just not enough.  Sometimes we need the government.

Over at The Baffler, Rachel Bryan, a doctoral student in literature at the University of Tennessee, reflects on Greene’s book in the context of her own experience growing-up in the South.  Here is a taste:

IN 2005, MY FAMILY HOME BURNED DOWN. It was an old Sears Roebuck Victorian that my parents spent over twenty years remodeling a bit at a time. The fire happened in June in Alabama; I was asleep in my older sister’s bedroom while she was at the beach because she had an air conditioner in her room, and I didn’t in mine. I slept in her bed whenever I could, which saved my life when the fire started in an outlet in my room. Later that year, Hurricane Katrina came through and flooded what was left of the house’s ground level. We had insurance and were able to eventually rebuild, after a stint in a house with possums in the attic, but I remember the stifling silence of our small town’s churches during those years. Our own church was microscopic, with a few families and older people who could only offer the shirts off their backs—and many did. But I knew then, without question, that churches weren’t a social safety net. If we needed help, the church wouldn’t be the provider.

Those memories came back to me recently when, for a Southern history seminar, I read Alison Collis Greene’s 2015 study No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. Greene tells the story behind what she calls “the myth of the redemptive depression.” There is some truth to the myth, she notes in her opening. “Members of families and communities indeed turned to one another in their hardship, and many also turned to their churches for solace, for support, for meaning.” Yet in the Mississippi Delta, people quickly saw “the inadequacy of families, communities, and churches full of poor people to aid one another in their time of mutual distress. The Great Depression gave lie to the toxic notion that responsibility for poverty lies with the poor rather than with systems of oppression that make a mockery of the American dream.” With a global pandemic and economic recession—if not full-scale depression—looming, Greene’s study of religious charity and political power speaks to life and death concerns in the nation’s most vulnerable regions—and sheds light on what we’re all about to face.

And this:

Later, Greene’s book turns to the reshaping of American national memory—specifically, how the New Right emerged after World War II to rewrite the narrative of the church’s failures during the Depression, and how the church further aligned with the nation’s commitment to capitalist industry in the late twentieth century. The new story encouraged resistance to socialized poverty initiatives, and it framed the state as having gotten in the way of effective church charity

In these rosy new narratives, the Great Depression brought suffering and sorrow, but also thrift and humility. It did precisely what religious authorities had hoped it would: it stripped away life’s superfluities and brought people together, and to God. The Great Depression brought redemption—or it would have, if only Franklin Roosevelt had not interfered.

That’s the redemptive myth, and it fortified the falsehood that governmental assistance was unnecessary, and even harmful to individual initiative and religious charity. This history is important for Southern communities today, especially in places where churches are taking tithes online but will go on to offer no direct relief aid to their congregations. And communities will continue to send their prayers, find social solace in their church communities, and listen to sermons about their communities coming together, all while these churches have no loaves and fishes to spare.

Read the entire piece here.

What to the Slave Was Christmas?

Slaves on Plantation

Robert May, a historian of Purdue University, has an interesting piece about Christmas tours of Southern plantation that do not acknowledge how the slaves on those plantations experienced Christmas.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation: “Slave life’s harsh realities are erased in Christmas tours of Southern plantations”:

I read many documents to find out how slaves actually spent their Christmases. The truth is deeply disturbing.

On the one hand, the majority of enslaved people did get some them time off from work during Christmas, as well as feasts and presents. Some got to travel or to get married, privileges that they didn’t get at other times of the year. But these privileges could be withdrawn for any reason at all and many slaves never got them at all.

Slavery was a brutal system of forced labor to enrich those same owners. Even over the holiday, masters kept the power to punish slaves. A photo taken during the Civil War shows a man who was whipped at Christmas. His back was covered with scars, showing that when masters punished the people they held in bondage, they often did so brutally.

There were other cruel forms of punishment. On one South Carolina plantation, a master angry at an enslaved woman he suspected of miscarrying her pregnancy on purpose locked her up for the Christmas holiday.

Masters sometimes forced enslaved workers to get drunk even if they did not want to drink, or wrestle with each other on Christmas simply for the amusement of the master’s family.

Likewise, I learned in my research, slaveholders bought and sold plenty of people over the holiday, keeping slave traders busy during Christmas week.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With Stephen Ash

rebel richmondStephen Ash is Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This interview is based on his new book, Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Rebel Richmond?

SA: After finishing another book some years ago, I began searching for a new topic. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone (Civil War-era social history) but was ready to try something new within that field.

I’d never written an urban history. The subject intrigued me, but at first I hesitated to take on Richmond. Several general histories of the city during the war have been published, and numerous books, articles, and dissertations have explored particular aspects of its wartime experience. But in doing research for my earlier books  I’d come across some extraordinarily rich primary sources that were unused, or under-used, by previous tellers of Richmond’s tale. So it seemed to me that the full story of Richmond during the Civil War remained to be told.

The earlier general histories depended heavily on newspapers, city council minutes, and published letters, diaries, and militar reports. This dependency skewed them: they have much to say about elite Richmonders, high government officials, and the battles around the capital, but not much about ordinary Richmonders and their daily struggles. Those sources have all been very useful to me, but the others I delved into—including census reports, soldiers’ military service files, records of Confederate government bureaus and manufactories and hospitals, and the correspondence of the Virginia governors—opened wonderful new perspectives.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Rebel Richmond?

SA: Between 1861 and 1865, Richmond experienced a storm of calamities and transformations like no other American city, before or since, has had to endure. The people–men and women and children, whites and blacks, rich and poor, bosses and workers, civilians and soldiers, secessionists and Unionists, long-time residents and wartime refugees–responded to this unprecedented crisis in very human ways, sometimes nobly and sometimes shamefully, but mostly somewhere in between.

JF: Why do we need to read Rebel Richmond?

SA: It not only tells us much that we didn’t know about the Civil War but also casts light on the broader question of how human beings cope with extreme circumstances.

In making my case, I emphasize the role of religion. Christian belief was at the heart of Richmonders’ understanding of the Civil War. White secessionists believed that God was on their side and would ensure Confederate victory, as long as believers were faithful to His commands. When the war turned against the South in 1863, some concluded that the sins of the Confederate people had cost them God’s favor; but others saw the military setbacks not as a judgment but as a test of their worthiness in God’s eyes.

Black Richmonders, by contrast, saw the war as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, promising freedom to the captives. As the war went on, they drew comfort also from the book of Daniel (11:15): “So the king of the north shall come . . . and the arms of the south shall not withstand.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SA: I turned thirteen in 1961, the year that our nation began its observance of the Civil War’s centennial. That’s an age at which many people acquire a hobby and a focus, and that’s what happened in my case. I fell in love with the Civil War, read all I could about it in the succeeding years, chose to go to Gettysburg College and major in history, worked as a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg in the summers, and subsequently went to grad school at the University of Tennessee and wrote a dissertation about Middle Tennessee during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In all those years, I never really had any other aspiration besides studying the Civil War. I’m one of the lucky few who turned an adolescent fascination into a career.

JF: What is your next project?

SA: I wish I could answer this question. I think I’ve got at least one more book in me, but I haven’t yet found a topic that really intrigues me. If the readers of this blog have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them (sash@utk.edu).

JF: Thanks, Stephen!

The Author’s Corner With Matthew Clavin

ClavinMatthew Clavin is Professor of History at the University of Houston.  This interview is based on his new book The Battle of Negro Fort: The Rise and Fall of a Fugitive Slave Community (New York University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: I am captivated by stories of extraordinary slave resistance that have for a variety of reasons been largely forgotten. Historians have known about Negro Fort for a long time, but I wanted to bring the story of its rise and fall to a wide audience. More than ever, it is vitally important for professional historians to communicate directly with the general public, especially regarding the long and complicated history of race and racism both in the United States and the world.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: The Battle of Negro Fort marked a significant moment in early American history. By destroying a fugitive slave community in a foreign territory for the first and only time in its history, the United States government accelerated its transformation into a white republic, which served both the interests and the ideology of an emerging Slave Power.

JF: Why do we need to read The Battle of Negro Fort?

MC: The demonization of people of color on the opposite side of the United States’ southern border is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, American citizens and officials have long referred to these people as murderers, savages, and the like to score political points and secure what they considered important public policy. Following the War of 1812, slavery’s proponents depicted Negro Fort as an existential threat to the southern frontier. Eventually, they were able to convince the federal government to launch an illegal invasion of Spanish Florida to kill or capture the fort’s black inhabitants. The Battle of Negro Fort illuminates how—and why—in the four decades since the Declaration of Independence, much of the American republic’s ambivalence over the institution of slavery had disappeared.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MC: Since I was little, I have always been fascinated with the history of race and racism. While writing my senior thesis in college on nonviolent direct action and the Civil Rights Movement, I first considered the idea of research and writing history professionally. It wasn’t long after turning in that paper that I decided that I had to become an historian. A lot of people told me that I could never be a historian. I am so glad I did not listen to them.  

JF: What is your next project?

MC: I am currently writing a book that examines the intersection of slavery, anti-slavery, and nationalism in the United States in the decades before the Civil War. The goal is to show just how much love of the American nation justified and inspired revolutionary slave resistance.

JF: Thanks, Matthew!

The Author’s Corner With Bryan Rindfleisch

GalphinBryan Rindfleisch is Assistant Professor of History at Marquette University.  This interview is based on his new book George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: The Creek Indians, Family & Colonialism in Early America (University of Alabama Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write George Galphin’s Intimate Empire?

BR: The idea for the book started with a one-off conversation I had with my mentor – Joshua Piker – as a second semester doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma. I was toying with all sorts of different ideas for a dissertation project, but none of them really stuck. Then, Josh mentioned “George Galphin” and how curious this one man’s life was, who popped up all over the place in the documentary record related to the Creek (Muscogee) Indians and European empires in the eighteenth-century, but only leaving fragmentary details along the way. Josh said something to the effect of “see what you can find out about him,” and from there I ran headlong down the rabbit hole. My first research seminar paper revolved around Galphin and the Lower Creek towns of Coweta and Cusseta during the American Revolution, and it was at that point I knew I had something. Yet in the course of my research over the next seven years, I discovered that the story was not about Galphin per se, but about the multitude of family members – immediate and extended relatives who were Creek Indian, African American, Irish, and Anglo-French – that he surrounded himself with throughout his life. And in a sense, I’ve been living with the Galphin family ever since.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of George Galphin’s Intimate Empire

BR: Among the several arguments I make in the book, the most important is that empire and colonization were far from impersonal processes, but intensely intimate and revolved around the families who made the empire possible or real on the ground, and these families were oftentimes intercultural. I also demonstrate how Creek peoples, and Native Americans writ large for that matter, are not only essential parts of the early American story, but critical partners – at times even purveyors of empire – as much as they were opponents of empire in the eighteenth century, because of the family/kinship ties they fostered with imperial subjects like Galphin.

JF: Why do we need to read George Galphin’s Intimate Empire?

BR: While I’d love to say that everyone needs to read my book, that’s a pipe dream. First of all, it’s a first book and – of course – there are stories left out, ideas unrealized, and other things that I am sure book reviewers will point out soon enough (half-joking). And while I hope my arguments speak to the broader field of early American history, I’m also engaging with a particular niche in early American and Native American history: the American and Native Souths. However, the book grapples with a number of themes and events that are relevant to many audiences, be it family and kinship, immigration, empire and colonization, intercultural relationships and violence, slavery, the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, among others.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

BR: I only gravitated toward history as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire because I learned the hard way that I didn’t want to be an elementary school teacher! I believed I was “good” at history in high school – yes, the memorization of events and dates – and like many of our undergraduate students, I was obsessed with World War II and other global conflicts, therefore I decided to major in history. It was only when I took Native American History with Richard St. Germaine (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe) that I realized how flawed my understanding of history was, as he literally threw my world upside down. Because of St. Germaine, I double-majored in American Indian Studies and history, and knew that I wanted to educate others in the same way that he had re-educated me.

JF: What is your next project?

BR: I’m currently working on two book projects. The first revolves around the intra-Indigenous connections – kinship, cultural, ceremonial, political, economic, linguistic, etc. – between the Creek and Cherokee peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I’m hoping for this project to be an intervention of sorts in Native American and early American history, by reorienting scholars’ attention to the intra-Indigenous world that existed side-by-side, and at times proved more important than, the Indigenous-European world.

The second project is a microhistory focusing on a particular Creek family over the course of the eighteenth-century, to illustrate the various themes and events that defined the Indigenous/Creek and early American worlds. This book is an outgrowth of my frustrations as a teacher, in which undergraduate students often have a hard time investing themselves in a distant past (early America) or unfamiliar histories (Native America). Over the past couple of years, though, I realized that the particular stories I tell about Native America and early America matter a great deal (duh!), as students more readily embrace stories and the individuals within those stories to understand such histories. This project is my attempt to do the same in my writing/research, by following two Creek brothers – Escotchaby and Sempoyaffee of Coweta – and their family and clan relatives to illustrate the many themes and events that defined the Native American and early American worlds, as well as the profound transformations ushered in by the Seven Years’ War and American Revolution to both Indigenous and early American worlds.

JF: Thanks, Bryan!

Flannery O’Connor on the Lost Cause

Flannery

Check out Peter Candler‘s piece at The Christian Century on a little-known Flannery O’Connor short story in which she wrestles with memory and history in the South.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Flannery O’Connor’s challenge to the Lost Cause myths of the Confederacy.”

Propping up an illusory history has a price, and not just on balance sheets. The human cost of such self-deception is the subject of an early and little-known story by Flannery O’Connor, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy.” Originally published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953 and included in A Good Man Is Hard to Find two years later, the story is about the ways in which the burdens of history, when honestly confronted, can bring not enlightenment but devastation.

“Late Encounter” is barely ten pages in the Library of America edition. It is hardly one of her major works (O’Connor described it as “not so bad”), and it rarely figures in critical studies of her work. But it is notable for being the only piece of her fiction that directly treats the Civil War and its legacy. The story is only superficially about the war, though; it is really about the way in which the war is—or is not—remembered. It is a story about memory and the deep conflict between public commemoration, sectarian mythology, and historical reality.

“Late Encounter” is structurally simple: there is a single main scene framing one flashback. Sally Poker Sash is about to attend her college graduation, the joyful fruit of a protracted education spread out over 20 summers while she was teaching school. It’s such a big deal that she has invited her 104-year-old grandfather, a Confederate veteran, to attend in full military dress. Sally arranges for him to sit up on stage—not so that he will have a good view of the proceedings but because she wants him to be seen: “she wanted to show what she stood for, or, as she said, ‘what all was behind her,’ and was not behind them. This them was not anybody in particular. It was just all the upstarts who had turned the world on its head and unsettled the ways of decent living.” She wants the crowd to see him, and herself through him—“Glorious upright old man stand-in for the old traditions! Dignity! Honor! Courage!”—as a rebuke to their wanton ways.

And here is Candler’s conclusion:

What if history is not at all the way we prefer to remember it? Could it be that monuments—not just public ones but also those our own personal histories are made of—are tokens of a tacit agreement to forget certain difficult truths? Directed both generally at an inveterate human skill for self-deception and specifically at the mythology of the Lost Cause, the question that O’Connor’s “Late Encounter” puts to the reader is both blunt and surgical: What if you are wrong about what it is you think you were fighting for?

Read the entire piece here.