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The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of Race in the Jim Crow Era

Morris L. Davis
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 197
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    The Methodist Unification
    Book Description:

    In the early part of the twentieth century, Methodists were seen by many Americans as the most powerful Christian group in the country. Ulysses S. Grant is rumored to have said that during his presidency there were three major political parties in the U.S., if you counted the Methodists.The Methodist Unification focuses on the efforts among the Southern and Northern Methodist churches to create a unified national Methodist church, and how their plan for unification came to institutionalize racism and segregation in unprecedented ways. How did these Methodists conceive of what they had just formed as "united" when members in the church body were racially divided?Moving the history of racial segregation among Christians beyond a simplistic narrative of racism, Morris L. Davis shows that Methodists in the early twentieth century - including high-profile African American clergy - were very much against racial equality, believing that mixing the races would lead to interracial marriages and threaten the social order of American society.The Methodist Unification illuminates the religious culture of Methodism, Methodists' self-identification as the primary carriers of 'American Christian Civilization,' and their influence on the crystallization of whiteness during the Jim Crow Era as a legal category and cultural symbol.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8517-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1939 in Kansas City, Missouri, at a location intentionally selected for being only a few miles from the geographic center of the United States, nine hundred delegates representing three Methodist churches—the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church—met at what they called “the Uniting Conference.” At that conference they formed what was at the time, the largest, and arguably the most powerful, Protestant church in the United States. But the new Methodist Church—the name of the merged denomination—was racially segregated to its core. Black and white congregations had been...

  5. 1 Birth of a Nation, Birth of a Church
    (pp. 23-44)

    In 1915, D. W. Griffith’s monumental filmBirth of a Nation“wrote history with lightning,” as President Woodrow Wilson supposedly said. The film cast the civil war in the United States as a horrible but eventually purifying event in the life of the nation. The America that was born of the conflict was stronger and wiser. It was a natural reunion. It repaired an unnatural cleavage in the family of the white race in America, a mongrel race melded from the best genetic stock of Europe—though primarily by the greatest strain, the Anglo-Saxon.

    The film begins with a few...

  6. 2 The Baltimore Meeting: Saints, Cemeteries, and Savages
    (pp. 45-62)

    At the official archives of the United Methodist Church, a visitor can find far more than dusty books, crumbling diaries, and stacks of bureaucratic records. There is a substantial array of other kinds of Methodist records on display and in the vaults. In particular, the collections contain many personal items that were used, owned, touched, in the close vicinity of, or even sat upon by important Methodist figures. In these collections, items connected to John Wesley figure most prominently: his eyeglasses, one of his clerical cuffs, his cashbox, his grandfather’s Bible, the key to his prayer room, a piece of...

  7. 3 Race Consciousness
    (pp. 63-80)

    With the release and widespread viewing of the racially charged and virulentBirth of a Nationin 1916 , the ensuing revival of the KKK to which it gave energy, and the publication of Madison Grant’sThe Passing of the Great Race, public and scholarly debates over theories of race were gaining momentum. Madison’s book, in particular, captured much of the American public’s attention and imagination, as he mapped out an accessible description of the races of the world and argued that the “Great White Race” was in danger of disappearing due to increased global migrations and new levels of...

  8. 4 The Savannah Meeting: “The Bogey of Social Equality”
    (pp. 81-102)

    Lynching—the word used to describe the public murder of black men and women by civilian white mobs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and the large-scale violence of race riots hovered like a ghost over the Joint Commission deliberations, infused their discussions, and occasionally even broke through the surface of their conversations, especially after a particularly horrific episode had made its way into the news. Despite years of activism and struggle against it by people like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, there seemed no end to the scourge of lynching in American life. While many elite whites often condemned...

  9. 5 The Final Three Meetings: The Problem of Missions and the Urgency of Patriots
    (pp. 103-126)

    Before we consider in depth the final meetings of the Joint Commission, it will be helpful to step back briefly to 1917, to a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedman’s Aid Society, that arm of the MEC that reached out to help provide education for former slaves after the Civil War. It had been, by most accounts, a successful venture, founding vocational schools, colleges, and medical schools throughout the southern states. In April 1917, the MEC sponsored a gala, featuring Bishop Quayle, a white senior bishop, as the plenary speaker. His speech marked a generational shift, in that...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 127-132)

    The General Conferences in both churches received the proposal to create the new church just as unenthusiastically as it was presented. Rather than act directly on it, the MEC General Conference of 1920 suggested that the two churches hold a special “Joint General Convention” to discuss it. This was widely interpreted in the MECS as opposition to the proposal. The 1922 General Conference of the MECS approved it in principle, and then rejected the idea of a joint session, instead approving a new commission authorized to continue negotiations with the MEC. The MEC also put together a new commission. In...

  11. Appendix: List of Delegates to the Joint Commission with Biographical Notes
    (pp. 133-148)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 149-174)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 175-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-196)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 197-197)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-198)