In the summer of 1964, the turmoil of the civil rights movement reached its peak in Mississippi, with activists across the political spectrum claiming that God was on their side in the struggle over racial justice. This was the summer when violence against blacks increased at an alarming rate and when the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi resulted in national media attention. Charles Marsh takes us back to this place and time, when the lives of activists on all sides of the civil rights issue converged and their images of God clashed. He weaves their voices into a gripping narrative: a Ku Klux Klansman, for example, borrows fiery language from the Bible to link attacks on blacks to his "priestly calling"; a middle-aged woman describes how the Gospel inspired her to rally other African Americans to fight peacefully for their dignity; a SNCC worker tells of harrowing encounters with angry white mobs and his pilgrimage toward a new racial spirituality called Black Power. Through these emotionally charged stories, Marsh invites us to consider the civil rights movement anew, in terms of religion as a powerful yet protean force driving social action.
The book's central figures are Fannie Lou Hamer, who "worked for Jesus" in civil rights activism; Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi; William Douglas Hudgins, an influential white Baptist pastor and unofficial theologian of the "closed society"; Ed King, a white Methodist minister and Mississippi native who campaigned to integrate Protestant congregations; and Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC staff member turned black militant.
Marsh focuses on the events and religious convictions that led each person into the political upheaval of 1964. He presents an unforgettable American social landscape, one that is by turns shameful and inspiring. In conclusion, Marsh suggests that it may be possible to sift among these narratives and lay the groundwork for a new thinking about racial reconciliation and the beloved community. He maintains that the person who embraces faith's life-affirming energies will leave behind a most powerful legacy of social activism and compassion.
"Original and uncommonly thoughtful. . . . This is a comprehensive, imaginative, fair-minded and perceptive book, a significant contribution to our understanding of those men and women who fought those terrible wars in what seems so long ago but was, in fact, only yesterday."--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World
"With vivid description and chilling analysis, Marsh evokes the violence and oppression in the South of the civil-rights era.... Many will find the results haunting.... Marsh's work speaks directly to the development of our own moral lives."--Randy Frame, Christianity Today
"Marsh's slice of history is imperative reading for understanding the religious foundations of social movements."--Publishers Weekly
"Through Marsh's heartfelt and incisive chronicle, the turmoil and acrimony that were abundant in the U.S. more than three decades ago lend a revealing perspective to numerous current situations of racial and ethnic discord."--Nachman Spiegel, Jerusalem Post
"A work of humane engagement and dispassionate scholarship."--John White, The Times Higher Education Supplement
"The history and internal politics of the Civil Rights Movement and of the groups defending white-controlled segregation come alive in these detail-filled narratives."--Choice
"Marsh describes the faulty logic and errant principles of most of the actors . . . with compassion and remarkable restraint. . . . He presents a fresh and inspiring story of faith in action and, perhaps, a view of God's hand in human history."--Gary Dorsey, Christian Century
"Marsh celebrates the importance of Christian faith in founding the civil rights movement, [exploring] as well the devastating dichotomy of hate and prejudice."--Andrew Young
Table of Contents:
Introduction: With God on Our Side: Faiths in Conflict 3
Ch. 1 "I'm on My Way, Praise God": Mrs. Hamer's Fight for Freedom 10
Ch. 2 High Priest of the Anti-Civil Rights Movement: The Calling of Sam Bowers 49
Ch. 3 Douglas Hudgins: Theologian of the Closed Society 82
Ch. 4 Inside Agitator: Ed King's Church Visits 116
Ch. 5 Cleveland Sellers and the River of No Return 152
Conclusion: Clearburning: Fragments of a Reconciling Faith 192
Selected Bibliography 259