Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview
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§10 Sarah Patton Boyle

Sarah Patton Boyle’s biography appears in the introduction to her February 13, 1955 speech to Calvary Christian Church. Boyle begins the speech below to the Covington Ministerial Association with the radical premise that courage might not be a Christian virtue. Recounting her only violent encounter with a racist, Boyle learned, “I knew that one could face an angry mob without even the beginning of fear if one loved them like this. Courage is not needed in the house of love, for fear is not there.” Boyle likens the transformative act of loving an enemy to alchemy, though a decidedly Christ-centered concoction. In so doing, we become “not the doers but only the means by which it [loving enemies] is done.”

For a relatively short speech, Boyle packs it with personal stories of the church and race relations. Several contain a similar theme: the image we have of the white southerner often does not square with reality. Even in “the bosom of Mississippi” one can find a white Methodist minister willing to open his church to an integrated women’s group. But even the most virulent racist must be loved—in the same way and to the same extent as “those whom they oppress.” And by showing “Christian leadership” and love to all peoples, we can remedy a “situation which the conscience of no just person can condone.” Just as love glows in us, so too will “it glow in the living soul of every man.”

Covington Ministerial Association, Covington, Virginia
February 13, 1955

“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this moun-
tain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing
shall be impossible unto you.”

˜Matthew 17:20

People often tell me, “I know that segregation is un-Christian, but I simply haven’t the courage to make a stand against it in the South.”

I doubt if any of us has the courage—if we allow ourselves to think in terms of courage. For when we consider how much we personally might lose, and what a trivial gain for the cause could be achieved by our puny voices, the sacrifice appears foolhardy.

But did it ever occur to you that perhaps courage is a pagan virtue?


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