Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970

Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970

Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970

Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970

Synopsis

This comprehensive study represents the first effort by an historian to examine the relationship of the mainstream Protestant Churches to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The focus is on the National Council of Churches, the principal ecumenical organization of the national Protestant religious establishment. Drawing on hitherto little-used and unknown archival resources and extensive interviews with participants, Findlay reveals the widespread participation of the predominantly white churches in the efforts moving toward black freedom that continued throughout the sixties. He documents the churches' active involvement in the March on Washington in 1963 and the massive lobbying effort to secure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, their powerful support of the struggle to end legal segregation in Mississippi, and their efforts to respond to the Black Manifesto and the rise of black militancy before and during 1969. Findlay chronicles initial successes, then growing frustration as the national liberal coalition, of which the churches were a part, disintegrated as the events of the 1960s unfolded. For the first time, Findlay's study makes clear the highly significant role played by liberal religious groups in the turbulent, exciting, moving, and historic events of the 1960s.

Excerpt

On June 7, 1963, the General Board of the National Council of Churches voted to establish immediately a Commission on Religion and Race to help initiate a new role for mainstream Protestant churches in the racial conflicts that increasingly engulfed the nation. "Up to now," asserted a council spokesperson, "there has always seemed to be time for gradual change, and modest tokens of progress in racial justice were accepted as the best we could do." But now, "the issue is being sharply focused in every corner of the nation," especially by the African American community "moving quickly and with great commitment to action that often means suffering, harrassment and sometimes death." the writer went on: "There is a growing consensus that this summer may be a decisive period in American history for beginning to deal with this haunting sin. the world watches to see how we will act—whether with courage or with fumbling expediency." Therefore, "in such a time the Church of Jesus Christ is called upon to put aside every lesser engagement, to confess her sins of omission and delay, and to move forward to witness to her essential belief that every child of God is a brother [sister?] to every other. "1

Thus nationwide for the first time the Protestant churches became supporters of "direct action" and of direct involvement with the national black community in the struggle for racial justice.The sentiments and plans were not limited to people in the National Council of Churches.In May 1963 the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and in July 1963 the United Church of Christ, two of the most influential Protestant denominations under the council's ecumenical umbrella, also established special commissions on race and voted to fund these new ventures with budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As in the National Council of Churches, a deep sense of urgency suffused denominational discussions concerning the creation of the new social action agencies.An observer at the Presbyterian national meeting . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.