Thursday, March 23, 2006

Read it and Weep

Christianity Todya's short review of Religion and Reconstruction: How Christians failed following the Civil War.
This book supplies fresh research on one of the saddest chapters in American history. It shows how American churches contributed to the subjugation of freed slaves after the Civil War, how Christian leaders helped the Southern Democratic Party violently deprive black citizens of the vote, and how a number of thoroughly evangelical spokesmen (and spokeswomen) justified lynching as a legitimate means for putting black folk "in their place." Several chapters also explain why most Northern reformers quit the struggle against racism after the constitutional victory over slavery.

Points of light include accounts of freed slaves who persevered in the face of great opposition to build strong churches and accounts of a few whites (some from the South) who resisted the regime of racial terror. All the essays are well researched, but Gaines Foster on how the South became the "Bible Belt" and Daniel Stowell on how the word redemption came to be used for Jim Crow laws are especially effective.

Thoughtful Americans who wonder why the country has a continuing race problem should read this book; thoughtful Christians should read it and weep.
Weep. And maybe learn something?


assiniboine said...

Still, by the same token, the relatively recent Robert Dallek biography of JFK makes an extremely good case -- one I hadn't heard before (and Dallek's book contains very little else that is new) -- that for all the notoriety of the de-segregation period in the US South -- confrontations with the National Guard over James Meredith's enrollment at university; the freedom buses; the murder of Northern students; Martin Luther King's non-violent protests; the grandstanding of George Wallace and Orville Faubus -- an overwhelming majority of white southerners were by then heartily sick of the whole thing; and JFK actually had little reason to fear adverse political fallout from enforcing the US Supreme Court's desegregation rulings. (Faubus's own sister contacted RFK to advise that the bluster be discounted.) Doubtless a little Pollyanna-ish, particularly from the point of view of whose who were suffering and even dying, but the elapse of a half-century does lend perspective.

Gashwin said...

Quite possibly true. Segregation would not have really changed without this: a change of heart, or just a whole "dagnabit, I'm fed up of this" attitude among white Southerners. I think the book reviewed is talking about the period of Reconstruction, in the direct aftermath of the Civil War. [Whoops, I believe in South Carolina, the correct term is "The War of Northern Aggression :-)].

assiniboine said...

Well yes, I'm aware of the difference between the Reconstruction period and the Civil Rights era! Fascinating that segregation had legal fiat from the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1897 and Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 whereas apartheid in South Africa was from 1948 till 1992: it was always a good arguing point to mention this when apologists for apartheid-era South Africa would say, in the 60s through the 80s, that they were making progress and give them time.