Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America

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Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America. By Sharon Davies. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 327. $27.95. ISBN 978-0-195-37979-2).

The establishment of the English-speaking colonies in North America was an anti-Catholic experiment. Except for Maryland, the Christian colonies were antipapist. The prejudice against Roman Catholics and Roman Catholicism continued throughout the course of the history of the United States until recent times; one may argue that expressing anti-Catholic prejudice is still publicly acceptable. Sharon Davies, professor of law at Ohio State University, vividly recounts one violent and fatal act of anti-Catholic prejudice in Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America. This thoroughly researched and well-written narrative recounts the murder of James Coyle, a Roman Catholic priest, on August 11, 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama, by Edwin Stevenson, a Methodist minister. Stevenson' s daughter, Ruth, had converted to Catholicism and had married a Hispanic Catholic, Pedro Gussman, in a service officiated by Coyle.

What is fascinating and significant about Davies' s work is her judicious handling of the sources at her disposal. Using court transcripts, newspaper accounts, and church documents, Davies chronicles the anti-Catholic mood of the region, the state of race matters in the South, and the understanding of legal and extralegal justice in the early decades of the twentieth century. Davies demonstrates that Stevenson was not on trial when his case was finally brought before Judge William Fort' s court; rather, this was a trial that would uphold family values, Protestant hegemony, and racial purity in the South.

A good portion of this work centers on the efforts of the county solicitor, Joseph R. …