Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Black Bishop: Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Black Bishop: Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

Black Bishop: Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church. By Michael J. Beary. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001. Pp. xvi, 305. Preface, introduction, conclusion, bibliography, index. $34.95.)

With its Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, the United States Supreme Court upheld a state's right to segregate the races, and throughout most of the South racial segregation in public places became the law of the land. While Plessy allowed states to regulate race relations in the public realm, private and/or voluntary institutions were left alone to struggle with the issue. The Episcopal Church was one such voluntary institution.

White southern Episcopalians were no more open to integration within the confines of their church than in public life. One white churchman of the time responded to a call for improved race relations within the church by declaring, "What you say may be the ideal, but you should remember that we were white people before we were Christians" (pp. 4-5). After Plessy, discussion within the church moved from justifying separation to the means by which segregation would be accomplished.

Michael J. Beary's fine study, Black Bishop, is the story of attempts by the Episcopal Church to establish and maintain racial separation while reaching out to and ministering to African Americans. Beary contends that Edward T. Demby's ministry in the Southwest Province of the Episcopal Church, most notably in Arkansas, provides a microcosm of race relations in general and the church's struggle with the issue of race during the heyday of Jim Crow.

Although it contains many of the elements of a standard biography, Black Bishop is more reminiscent of a pseudo-biography in the style of Gary Wills', John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity (1997). …

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