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

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

§72 James McBride Dabbs

James McBride Dabbs’s biography appears in the introduction to his November 9, 1961 sermon in Atlanta, Georgia. In this complex, theo-philosophico-historical exploration into the mind and heart of the South, James McBride Dabbs seeks to answer the question,” What defines the South’s love?” One key flaw is emotion. The South has always been too emotional. The “reins” have been “too slack.” Accompanying that attitude has been an easy acceptance for the way things are— not the way they ought to be. Perhaps it was the climate. Perhaps it was the soil. But the South became an accepting people, all too willing to accept the American institution of slavery, only to be remade by it. Similarly, the “individual white of good will” sees his relationship with the individual black “as a personal relationship; seeing it thus, he sees himself as expressing the great Judaic-Christian tradition of the ultimate value of the person.” The problem is that the relationship does not extend “to the public arena, where the Negro like any human being has to live, [therefore] he does not really value the Negro personally as he proudly feels he does.” But what does the South love? It is easy to see the hatred, but if who we are is a function of what we love, the task of definition remains. Until the South cultivates a good mind in a good heart, its easy acceptance and emotionalism will lead to more hatred and death.


To Define Our Love

Presidential Address, annual meeting of the Southern Regional Council,
Atlanta, Georgia
November 20, 1962

Years ago, our oldest daughter, then a child of four, growing up in New York City, out of some deep well of wisdom made a little prayer: “O Lord, give us a good mind in our hearts.” Though she was a long way from home, she voiced a peculiarly southern need: the need to know what we want. “What will you have?” quoth God. “Take it and pay for it.” Mississippi is now paying for it. Does it really want it? Hasn’t it paid too much for its whistle? Hasn’t it really bought a tin horn? I’m not referring to the Governor.

Especially do we of the South need to define our love. To define it and to affirm it. We have stressed emotion; we are people of feeling, of sentiment; we are proud—and with some reason—of our ability to commit ourselves to a cause regardless of the cost, some times apparently unaware of the cost. During the terrible battle of Shiloh, in the spring of 1862, along one section of the line the Confederates advanced doggedly through a peach orchard where the bullet-clipt petals were floating down. “They went forward,” says one commentator, “with their heads bowed as against a snow-storm.” Outside of Homer, there’s nothing better than this.

But what were they fighting for? Even a hundred years later we don’t

-502-

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