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Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South

Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South
    Book Description:

    In 1946, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) undertook Operation Dixie, an initiative to recruit industrial workers in the American South. Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf plumb rarely used archival sources and rich oral histories to explore the CIO's fraught encounter with the evangelical Protestantism and religious culture of southern whites. The authors' nuanced look at working class religion reveals how laborers across the surprisingly wide evangelical spectrum interpreted their lives through their faith. Factors like conscience, community need, and lived experience led individual preachers to become union activists and mill villagers to defy the foreman and minister alike to listen to organizers. As the authors show, however, all sides enlisted belief in the battle. In the end, the inability of northern organizers to overcome the suspicion with which many evangelicals viewed modernity played a key role in Operation Dixie's failure, with repercussions for labor and liberalism that are still being felt today. Identifying the role of the sacred in the struggle for southern economic justice, and placing class as a central aspect in southern religion, Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South provides new understandings of how whites in the region wrestled with the options available to them during a crucial period of change and possibility.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09700-3
    Subjects: History, Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-10)

    On a September day in the early 1950s, third grader Joe Bageant got off the school bus and trudged up the lane to his parents’ home in Winchester, Virginia. Although the door was open, Joe found nobody home. He raced through each room in the house and then around the yard calling for family members and sobbing, a terrible dread building inside the young boy. Within about fifteen minutes his family returned home from visiting a neighbor’s, not a quarter mile up the road, but young Joe did not calm down for hours. He dreamed about the incident off and...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Wages of the “Problem South”
    (pp. 11-32)

    Alice Grogan spent her early years on a farm in the South Carolina upcountry, the eldest girl in a family of five boys and three girls. She began helping her mother with household chores at age five, and as soon as she was old enough, she began helping pick her father’s cash crops, cotton and corn. Among Alice’s other chores were picking blackberries, minding her younger siblings, carrying water from the spring, helping fix dinner for the young men who helped thresh her father’s wheat, and helping can fruit and vegetables and prepare virtually everything the growing family ate. When...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Unrest in Zion: Southern Churches in Depression and War
    (pp. 33-54)

    The Depression shaped forever Anne Queen’s outlook on life. After losing her father when she was nine, Anne, her mother, and two sisters moved in with her grandfather in the hills of western North Carolina, where they managed to make ends meet through the 1920s. Although neither her grandfather nor her mother had much formal education, they were both avid readers, and they insisted that the girls finish high school even though they could not afford to send them to college. In 1930, Anne Queen graduated and began work as a paper cutter at Champion Paper and Fibre Company. The...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “If You Read Your Bible”: The Faith of Southern White Workers
    (pp. 55-86)

    Ralph Simmons grew up on a farm in Catawba County, North Carolina, an area that was soon to become a regional center for furniture making. His grandfather had emigrated from Holland and married into the German farming community that surrounded Concordia College in Conover. Ralph was one of seven children in the struggling family, so after sixth grade he left school and began working, first on the farm, but soon in public work. He graded roads and hauled lumber before catching on at a furniture company in his early twenties. When that company went bankrupt during the Depression, Simmons had...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Constructing a Region of Christian Free Enterprise
    (pp. 87-112)

    In March 1942, Roger Norman Conger left his successful sales career to work with his father-in-law, William S. Hammond, to expand the market for the Hammond Laundry-Cleaning Machinery Company, headquartered in Waco, Texas. Waco was a small city in central Texas, famous only for a horrific lynching in 1921 until World War II transformed it, first by reviving the demand for cotton products and later by making it a center for military establishments and defense industries. Almost overnight, the previously stagnating city sprang to life; Waco became the armed forces’ leading manufacturer of cots, tents, mattresses, and barracks bags. The...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Bible Speaks to Labor
    (pp. 113-146)

    In 1945, a young Congregationalist minister, David S. Burgess, took over as head of the labor commission of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. The son of missionaries to China, Burgess had already completed a number of home missionary assignments by the time he went to work for the fellowship. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1939, served as an assistant to California’s U.S. Congressman H. Jerry Voorhis for a year, and then alternated time at the Union Theological Seminary with service as a minister to migrant farm workers. After being ordained into the Congregational Church in 1944, the denomination’s Home...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Ministering in Communities of Struggle
    (pp. 147-178)

    Having grown up as the child of “lintheads” in Easley, South Carolina, Wilt Browning recalled the tense months in the late 1940s when his father and mother, a loom fixer and a spinner at the Easley Mill, talked quietly over meals about the arrival of union organizers and “the pressure they felt to resist” their enticements. It was still a time when the majority of local disputes, even ones as minor as young men hitting a baseball onto another man’s porch, might be settled by the superintendent of the cotton mill. The arrival of the union was thus a considerable...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Red Scares and Black Scares
    (pp. 179-206)

    On the evening of May 18, 1946, a crowd of more than 250 people gathered at the Bible Baptist Tabernacle in Knoxville, Tennessee. Most were past middle age, “bald and grey,” and, to one observer, distinctly rural in origin. At 8:15, the Fundamentalist minister Rev. A.A. Haggard of nearby Maryville opened the meeting by thanking his host, Rev. T. Wesley Hill, a man always willing to “help a worthy cause.” After singing evangelical hymns and saluting the “Christian Flag,” Haggard launched into a tirade against Communism, which he said had made “definite plans to take over America this year, using...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-212)

    In early February 1953, during the last gasp of Operation Dixie, the Textile Workers Union believed that it had a good chance of winning an NLRB election at the Rhyne-Houser Mills in Cherryville, North Carolina. Three days before the scheduled election, seven Cherryville ministers—two Baptists, two Methodists, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, and a Church of God—addressed a letter to the workers at Rhyne-Houser. The ministers asserted that the arrival of the union “threatens to disturb the good spirit and fellowship of our Community.” While professing deep concern over the welfare of the workers, they said, “[We are] thoroughly...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 213-242)
    (pp. 243-258)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 259-264)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-272)