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American Religion

Reactions to Racism: Listening to Voices from Churches of Christ

When: June 9, 2021, 2:45 pm - Wednesday

Where: Ezell 232

Session 2

This session is under both the American Religion and the Civil Rights sections.

Session Abstract

Historians of Churches of Christ, in telling the story of race and racism within the movement, have focused almost exclusively on Marshall Keeble, George Philip Bowser, and Foy Esco Wallace, Jr., leaving an inadequate view of reactions to racism by 20th century leaders. This session promises a more accurate picture of the ways in which Church of Christ leaders responded to white racism in the 20th century by reexamining the legacies of new voices in the conversation: Franklin Florence, James Fowler, and Carl Spain. These leaders spanned the continuum between accommodation and protest and included champions for equality as well as overt racists.

 

Paper Abstracts

Raymond Carr, Independent Scholar, “The Powers that Be: Franklin Florence and the Political Dimensions of Biblical Faith”

It may come as a surprise to learn that Franklin Florence, minister of Central Church of Christ in Rochester (NY), created and served as the first president of the black activist organization called F.I.G.H.T. (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today), leading the charge against what he identified as “a culmination of abuse inflicted on black people over a long period.” Black Rochesterians experienced the scourge of dilapidated housing, police intimidation, and corporate exploitation, a toxic mix of brutality that resulted in riots and the political organization of the black community in Rochester. This presentation explores the distinction between partisan politics and the political dimensions of biblical faith.

 

Wes Crawford, Abilene Christian University, “James Fowler’s Silent Voice in the Civil Rights Movement”

James Fowler served as Preaching Minister for the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama during the pivotal years of the American Civil Rights Movement. Described as a champion of equality by some and as a white racist by others, Fowler’s legacy remains ambiguous and complex. This study, which arises from a deep perusal of new evidence contained in Fowler’s personal papers located in ACU’s Center for Restoration Studies, offers a fresh look at one of the quintessential silent white leaders of mid-twentieth century Churches of Christ.

 

Dyron Daughrity, Pepperdine University, “Carl Spain’s Waves: How a Sermon Ended Segregation in Churches of Christ Colleges”

In 2018, the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action was founded by Jerry Taylor of Abilene Christian University in honor of a man ahead of his time. In 1960, Carl Spain delivered a scorching lecture at Abilene’s Bible Lectureship entitled: “Modern Challenges to Christian Morals.” The lecture publicly excoriated the college for rejecting African American students from attending. This presentation investigates the man and the sermon that tipped the scales towards integration in Church of Christ colleges.

 

Loretta Hunnicutt, Pepperdine University, “‘The Task of Women’: Race and Gender in the Churches of Christ through the eyes of Thelma M. Holt”

Thelma M. Holt did not embrace activist civil rights organizations or campaign openly for women’s rights, but encouraged black and white audiences to hear cries for racial justice and raise their children to be bridges between the races. Her contributions included writing for Christian Echo, teaching at schools among black Churches of Christ, and spearheading interracial dialogue on race. While her views on race and gender tended to downplay political and social issues, which she believed could undermine the spreading of the gospel, her life left a legacy of interracial dialogue and encouraged women’s spiritual and personal development.

Speakers

Wes Crawford, Abilene Christian University, Convener

  • Raymond C. Carr, Independent Scholar, “The Powers that Be: Franklin Florence and the Political Dimensions of Biblical Faith”
  • Wes Crawford, Abilene Christian University, “James Fowler’s Silent Voice in the Civil Rights Movement”
  • Dyron Daughrity, Pepperdine University, “Carl Spain’s Waves: How a Sermon Ended Segregation in Churches of Christ Colleges”
  • Loretta Hunnicutt, Pepperdine University, “‘The Task of Women’: Race and Gender in the Churches of Christ through the eyes of Thelma M. Holt”

2022 CSC Info Coming Soon

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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