Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Richmond's Priests and Prophets: Race, Religion, and Social Change in the Civil Rights Era

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Richmond's Priests and Prophets: Race, Religion, and Social Change in the Civil Rights Era

Article excerpt

Richmond's Priests and Prophets: Race, Religion, and Social Change in the Civil Rights Era. By Douglas E. Thompson. Religion and American Culture. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017. Pp. [x], 189. $49.95, ISBN 978-0-8173-1917-5.)

In Richmond's Priests and Prophets: Race, Religion, and Social Change in the Civil Rights Era, Douglas E. Thompson examines how white Christian leaders in Richmond, Virginia, addressed segregation in the late 1940s and 1950s. Using a frame of their "prophetic and priestly" roles, Thompson argues that white Christianity offered these religious leaders a way both to preserve the status quo as priests and to agitate for reform as prophets (p. 2). Ultimately, despite slow change in the city, these white ministers helped Richmonders accept desegregation as the righteous path. Thompson shows how white lay Christians struggled with shifting understandings of segregation as a moral imperative under leadership that was often pushing for desegregation. He finds that ministers were laying the groundwork between the 1930s and 1960s that allowed for this changed theological framework for thinking about race. Thompson's focus on white Christians in a city where desegregation occurred less dramatically and with less national attention than in its counterparts like Little Rock, Arkansas, adds nuance to our understanding of religion's role in the civil rights movement.

In five chapters Thompson provides an overview of the efforts of the Richmond Ministers' Association (RMA) to shame segregationists after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the array of responses to the Brown decision that appeared in the editorial pages of Richmond's white Christian newspapers, the rift that divided white southern Christians as Virginia's political leaders attempted to resist desegregation after Brown, how the RMA argued that their engagement with secular affairs was a legitimate ministerial role as its members directly challenged elected officials, and how public calls for change often failed to achieve practical consequences. …

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