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

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview
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§87 Reverend George H. Woodard

George H. “Jack” Woodard graduated from the University of Texas and was an engineer for 12 years before entering the ministry. After graduating from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Woodard became rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Galena Park, Texas. He later served as rector at Meade Memorial Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

In this sermon delivered the week after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Woodard attempts to delineate the difference between the murder of four black girls and the murder of two white Houston women. He notes “vast differences” between the crimes. First, racial hatred is the “reason” for the crime rather than race being incidental to the commission of the crime. Woodard confesses his guilt in the Birmingham deaths because he refused to speak out when he might have. As a white minister, he is complicit of a corporate, rather than an individual, crime. Second, the effects of the crimes contrast starkly. America and the south would receive negative publicity for the Birmingham murders. Not so with the Houston murders. Third, the Birmingham murders compel Woodard to see the problems of race in his own community. Finally, the effect of the crimes for whites and blacks might actually improve the situation: blacks might reevaluate some of their strategies, while whites might realize the “extreme danger” of defying court orders and forcing blacks to wait to receive their just due.

After the speech Woodard takes the unusual step of soliciting immediate reaction from his parishioners. Ninety-five percent of his listeners agreed with the substance of the sermon; 74 percent said the church was not doing enough work for racial justice and understanding; and, only 11 percent were against the public accommodations section of the civil rights bill.

Some Important Differences
All Saints Episcopal Church, Galena Park, Texas
September 22, 1963

This past week’s issue of our church bulletin, the Outpost, carried the following memorial box on its last page:

In Memoriam
Killed while worshipping God in Birmingham,
Sunday, September 15, 1963

Carol Robertson      Cynthia Wesley

Addie Mae Collins      Denise McNair


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