Vale of Tears. New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction

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Vale of Tears. New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction. Edited by Edward J. Blum and W. Scott Poole. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. 2005. Pp. ix, 265. $49.95 clothbound; $25.00 paperback.)

In a series of twelve essays, Edward Blum and Scott Poole have presented various aspects of social religion and belief in the American Southland following the dismantling of Reconstruction in 1877.The focus is on religion as institution, culture, and religious thought. The major themes are (1) the religious basis of violence and race, sexuality, and segregation; (2) the religious thought and racism in the oppression of American blacks both North and South; (3) religious rhetoric and moral reform in the political arena; (4) Post-reconstruction thought in the Catholic South; and (5) religion and religious cultures during Reconstruction and beyond.

The articles present the framework of violence like the mythological framework of the Ku Klux Klan. The religious sentiment is Protestant. Politics and political power are dominated by religion and religious rhetoric. The authors present many of the well-known and lesser-known demagogues who were clerical leaders in the late nineteenth century.

On the other hand, David Gleeson in his article on the Catholic Church, both South and North, looks at the emancipation of the slaves. Prior to the CivilWar, the Catholic Church was in many cases Southern in sentiment. After the war, the Church was paternalistic and inept toward the freed slaves. Augustin Verot, bishop of Savannah and Vicar Apostolic of Florida and a passionate supporter of the South, had called for a new and sanitized slave system. With a complete reversal after the war, he called for the bishops to follow the lead of the Roman Curia and create a nationwide bishop or vicar to care for the spiritual needs and evangelization of four million freed slaves. In a handwritten document in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, never published or made public, the bishops in the second Plenary Council of Baltimore laid aside the Roman proposal after an angry discussion in an extraordinary session in 1866.Verot, almost alone, called for its adoption and related his plans for education for the former slaves in his diocese.

Kent McConnell in his article "Betwixt and Between" uses the cemetery at Mount Saint Mary's College near Emmitsburg, Maryland, as a geographical marker of Catholic sentiment by the Union and Confederate troops buried there some thirty miles from Gettysburg. The cemetery can be seen as a text revealing the feelings and sentiments of the priests, seminarians, students, and sisters in this small enclave in Maryland. …


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