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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

People

About the Series
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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW
1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER
Next Journey
Creating A Multiracial Christian Coalition 1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANING



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Timeline: 1946-1966 View Detailed Timeline
1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER
Creating A Multiracial Christian Coalition



"The broad universalism standing at the center of the Gospel makes brotherhood morally inescapable. Racial segregration is a blatant denial of the unity we have in Christ. Segregration is a tragic evil which is utterly un-Christian." --Martin Luther King



The Civil Rights Movement became a powerful Christian-led movement during the mid-twentieth century. It united black and white, north and south, and disparate elements of churches that had been sundered since before the Civil War. It brought together Jews and gentiles, as the descendents of the people that Moses led joined the struggle of those who had adopted the Biblical Book of Exodus as a metaphor for their long sojourn in America.

But this coalition did not spring up over night.

Mainstream black churches, afraid of disrupting longstanding relationships with whites in their communities, were slow to get involved. Martin Luther King himself was ejected from his position as vice president of the black National Baptist Convention for his "radical" views. He soon found himself lobbying on two racial fronts.


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


He reminded black ministers that they could not preach the glories of heaven while ignoring conditions that cause men an earthly hell. Few congregations could hear him speak without being swayed to his cause.

His task with white ministers, however, proved more difficult.

During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King expected support from white churches and their ministers. These ministers were largely seminary graduates, seemingly "exposed" to the New Testament gospel - or so King thought.

But only Robert Graetz, the minister of a black Lutheran congregation in Montgomery, publicly supported the boycott. The others accused King of mixing religion and politics. He responded with a strategy of education and persuasion. If racism was caused by ignorance, education would prove crucial in removing it. He cited three arguments for broad Christian embrace of desegregation. First, it was inherently unequal. Secondly, it "scars the soul" of both the segregator and the segregated. And third, "it ends up depersonalizing the segregated." He used Biblical explication and social science research to back up each argument.

He lobbied, uselessly, for five years in the South. Meanwhile, northern congregations responded to his call. During the Albany Movement, northern ministers and congregations flooded south. Several theologians and church leaders participated in the freedom rides. Still, southern clergymen opposed the movement and called for the restoration of law and order. In 1961, in Birmingham, a council of white ministers, including bishops in the Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist churches, a Jewish rabbi, and a Baptist pastor, labeled King "an outsider and an extremist."




King speaking at Montgomery Improvement Association, Holt Street Baptist Church, Dec. 5, 1955.


His response was "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," a letter which evoked the memory of the Apostle Paul. [You can read the letter at http://www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/ peace/MLK-jail.html] The letter was published and distributed nationally. Soon after, the National Council of Churches urged the 31 denominations that were its members to support nationwide demonstrations against discrimination.

By the time of the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, the civil rights movement had become a true Christian coalition - but by then the seeds of righteous anger, impatience, and the pointed critique of the black Muslim leader Malcolm X had begun to have their effect.




People of Faith


 Howard Thurman
Howard Thurman


Did You Know?



Rosa Parks launched the civil rights movement in the South.
more


White ministers attended the March on Washington.
more


The SCLC was formed to "redeem the soul of America."
more

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