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And One Was a Priest

And One Was a Priest: The Life and Times of Duncan M. Gray Jr.

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    And One Was a Priest
    Book Description:

    The story of the civil rights movement is not simply the history of its major players but is also the stories of a host of lesser-known individuals whose actions were essential to the movement's successes. Duncan M. Gray Jr., an Episcopal priest who served various Mississippi parishes between 1953 and 1974, when he was elected bishop of Mississippi, is one of these individuals.And One Was a Priestis his remarkable story.

    From one perspective, Gray (b. 1926) would seem an unlikely spokesman for racial equality and reconciliation. He could have been content simply to become a member of the white, male Missisippi "club." Gray could have embraced a comfortable life and ignored the burning realities around him. But he chose instead to use his priesthood to speak in unpopular but prophetic support of justice and equality for African Americans. From his student days at the seminary at the University of the South, to his first church in Cleveland, Mississippi, and most famously to St. Peter's Parish in Oxford, where he confronted rioters in 1962, Gray steadfastly and fearlessly fought the status quo. He continued to work for racial reconciliation, inside and outside of the church, throughout his life.

    This biography tells not only Gray's story, but also reveals the times and people that helped make him. The author's question is "What makes a good person?"And One Was a Priestsuggests there is much to learn from Gray's choices and his struggle.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-829-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xv)
    (pp. xvi-2)
  5. Chapter 1 “STOP THIS VIOLENCE!” University of Mississippi, September 1962
    (pp. 3-21)

    Late in the evening of September 30, 1962, the Rev. Duncan M. Gray Jr. mounted the base of the Confederate monument on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

    A slight, balding man in glasses, he shouted to be heard above the din. “General! General! Speak to these students!Youcan persuade them! Tell them to stop this violence and rioting! Tell them to go back to their dormitories!”

    The “General” whom Gray addressed was the same Major General Edwin Walker who, at President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s orders, had led U.S. Army troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to ensure the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT” Oxford, Mississippi, 1962
    (pp. 22-41)

    Indeed, during those early September weeks, Mississippi officials, both elected and appointed, as well as anonymous troublemakers, continued to ratchet up the level of hysteria in the state and increase the potential for violence.

    Other Mississippians agreed with Gray’s assessment of the situation. Barrett comments, “The absence of seriouspublicdiscussion of the problem inMississippiclearly indicated how far Ross Barnett and his supporters had led the state toward public insanity.”¹ Ira Harkey, editor of the newspaper in the small Gulf Coast city of Pascagoula, predicted that Barnett would resort to violence to keep Meredith out of Ole Miss....

    (pp. 42-60)

    “Mississippi’s not a state; it’s a club.” This saying, once common among white Mississippians of an older generation, aptly describes, for better and for worse, the most “Southern” of states; and, to a remarkable degree, these words remain true even today. Mississippians, when they meet, especially outside the state, tend to greet each other with a certainbon homiethat seems to signify an immediate sense of rapport seldom matched by natives or residents of most other states in the Union.

    The bond that these expressions represent would seem to be rooted in the experience of growing up in a...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “THEY SAID I SHOULD BE AN ENGINEER” Tulane and Westinghouse, 1944–50
    (pp. 61-80)

    On july 1, 1943, seventy thousand young men reported to 131 different colleges and universities throughout the United States to begin both their college careers and their training to become naval officers.¹ Eight hundred and fifty of those young men reported to the Tulane University campus in New Orleans, Louisiana, where a year later, Duncan and approximately seventy-five others would join them. When the 1943 group arrived on the Tulane campus, one observer said that the scene reminded him of an “‘outdoor Union Station’ with hundreds of men standing in lines, some sitting on suitcases and others hurrying from one...

  9. CHAPTER 5 “HE IS A NATURAL” University of the South, 1950–52
    (pp. 81-96)

    Sewanee, tennessee, is a tiny town located on what is known locally as “the Mountain,” a rise of about fifteen hundred feet above sea level on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Today, Sewanee is about an hour’s drive northwest by interstate from Chattanooga, the closest small city. A little more than an hour by interstate further west is Nashville, referred to more frequently in the past than the present as “the Athens of the South,” in large part because of its plethora of colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt, Fisk, and Meharry Medical College. Today Nashville, the state capital,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS” University of the South, 1953
    (pp. 97-118)

    The summer of 1952 had indeed been eventful at Sewanee, and, as Gray indicated, the “events” continued throughout Gray’s senior year at the seminary. He was one of those deeply involved in them, and the experience did shape him for the rest of his life, especially during his more than twenty years of parish ministry. Of those events at Sewanee during 1952–53, church historian Donald S. Armentrout writes, “In the history of The School of Theology of The University of the South, no period was more tumultuous or far reaching in its effects than the ‘integration crisis’ of the...

    (pp. 119-135)

    After his graduation from seminary, Gray was given his first parish assignment: Calvary Church in Cleveland and the smaller but older Grace Church in Rosedale, both in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Bolivar County borders the Mississippi River on its western edge; it is there that Rosedale is located. Cleveland is about twenty miles east, near the county’s opposite edge.

    The Grays settled in the larger town of Cleveland, the same town in which Gray’s grandfather, W. F. Gray, had owned and edited theBolivar Commercialfor seven years between 1919 and 1926, and where his father had served as managing editor...

    (pp. 136-155)

    Gray’s views were diametrically opposed to these private and public racists who supported closing public schools, and he could not sit idly by while leaders throughout the South, but especially in Mississippi, espoused such sentiments. The Department of Christian Social Relations for the Fourth Province of the Episcopal Church (which includes all southeastern states from North Carolina to Louisiana) had declared the court’s decision “just and right” the day after theBrownopinion was issued. Gray was a member of the diocese’s Department of Christian Social Relations, which Duncan Hobart chaired, so he soon contacted Hobart and suggested the committee...

  13. CHAPTER 9 “WE ARE RESPONSIBLE” Oxford, 1957–62
    (pp. 156-174)

    When moving to oxford had first come up as a possibility, Ruthie was less than enthusiastic. “It wasn’t Oxford. Oxford was fine. I’d been in college there. It was leaving Cleveland. We were so settled in there. I was born in the same house that my mother was born in, and I just hadn’t been raised with this moving around. Since we’d gotten married, we’d lived in New Orleans, Shreveport, Pittsburgh, and Sewanee. I’d rather not have moved again. Once we got there, it was fine, of course.”¹

    In 1957, the Gray children—Duncan, eight; Anne, five; and Lloyd, three—...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 175-194)

    Before long the letters began arriving too. Ruthie, determined to keep some lightness in a difficult time, filed them in folders labeled “in-state goodies” and “in-state baddies” as well as “out-of-state goodies” and “out-of-state baddies.” Three of the four files remain. As Will Campbell has observed, it is almost emblematic of Gray and his loving, forgiving attitude toward his fellow Mississippians that it is the “in-state baddies” file that has mysteriously disappeared. “I lent it to somebody, I can’t remember who, and I just never got it back,” Gray said. Both the Grays remembered, however, that the “in-state baddies” file...

    (pp. 195-206)

    Julian Bond, who served as communications director for the 1964 Freedom Summer effort, writes, “My job for Freedom Summer would be to spread the word that the Civil Rights Movement was staging a confrontation with the nation’s most recalcitrant state. The summer’s events provided more than enough opportunity to contrast democracy’s dream with its reality in Mississippi.”¹

    Democracy’s reality for African Americans in Mississippi was certainly grim enough. When the 1960s began, only 7 percent of black Mississippians who were eligible had managed to register to vote. Five majority-black counties had no registered black voters. Intimidation by whites had made...

  17. CHAPTER 12 “WE MUST RETURN TO THE DREAM” Meridian, 1965–68
    (pp. 207-224)

    In the memories of many outside of Mississippi, the 1964 murders of Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman near Meridian marked the peak of white Mississippians’ resistance to the integration of their society and gave the state a well-deserved reputation as the most racist part of America in the mid-twentieth century. But while those murders received the greatest amount of attention then, as well as today, they represent neither the beginning, nor the end, nor even the peak of Klan violence in the state.

    It is also the case that the violence in no way represented the majority of...

  18. CHAPTER 13 “WE ARE INEVITABLY INVOLVED” Meridian, 1968–74
    (pp. 225-237)

    Once again, Gray did not content himself with sermons on the local situation. Later in April, he joined with his friend Bill Johnson, director of economic development at the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, and other clergy and business leaders to form an interracial group called the Committee of Conscience, which took as its mission the rebuilding of black churches that had been torched. Johnson placed the group’s origins in a speech he made to the Lauderdale County Baptist Pastors Association.

    “I finally got completely outdone with the burning of black churches around here. I was scheduled to make a talk...

  19. CHAPTER 14 “THE BISHOP’S ROLE IS TO BE A PASTOR” Jackson, 1974–93
    (pp. 238-259)

    In the Episcopal Church, a bishop coadjutor is elected by a combination of clerical and lay delegates in a specially called convention. The coadjutor’s role is to assist the diocesan bishop, and the assumption is that when the diocesan bishop leaves his post, the coadjutor will succeed him.

    In Mississippi in 1974, it was clear that the bishop coadjutor whom the convention elected would succeed the diocesan bishop almost immediately. The previous October, the national House of Bishops had selected Mississippi’s diocesan, John Maury Allin, to become the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.¹ Allin...

    (pp. 260-261)

    “I’m not a crusader,” Gray said often, by which he meant that he never saw himself as someone whose primary vocation is to call God’s people to account for their failure to live up to God’s demands for justice and righteousness.

    The vocation of a Christian minister is sometimes spoken of as combining three biblical roles: priest, prophet, and pastor.

    The priest is the one who serves God and God’s people by administering God’s rites and rituals, and in the Episcopal Church it is those ordained as priests who officiate at the sacraments.

    The prophetissomething of the “crusader,”...

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 262-279)
    (pp. 280-282)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 283-287)