Go and Be Reconciled

Alabama Methodists Confront Racial Injustice, 1954-1974

William Nicholas

Foreword by G. Ward Hubbs

Title Details

Pages: 152

Illustrations: 11 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 08/01/2018

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8325-9

List Price: $21.95

Go and Be Reconciled

Alabama Methodists Confront Racial Injustice, 1954-1974

William Nicholas

Foreword by G. Ward Hubbs

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During the climactic years of the civil rights movement in the Deep South, a closely related struggle was going on within the United Methodist Church. That denomination, second only in membership in the region to the Southern Baptists, was slowly moving toward integration under mandate from its national governing body, the Methodist General conference. But in Alabama, external institutional pressures and even internal constituencies were not strong enough to break down the segregated church structure: doing that would require a significant shift in the leadership of the church.

The story is one in which an institution based on the moral teachings of Christianity confronted the immorality of racism and legal segregation within its own ranks while it continued to operate within a racially divided larger society. Against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of the civil rights struggle (the 1954 Supreme Court school desegregation decision, the Freedom Rides in 1961, the King demonstration in Birmingham in 1963, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist church bombing), the North Alabama Conference and its counterpart in South Alabama carried on a spirited and often bitter debate over the existence of a completely separate conference for their black membership.

This book tells the inside story of the struggle within the North Alabama Conference for the first time by utilizing the publications and official archives of the church. But its most important sources are interviews with a wide spectrum of Methodists, including those who served in roles of leadership and those who were simply faithful members of their respective churches. Their accounts are compelling and go far beyond the sometimes vague and uninformative official conference documents. Many of the persons interviewed are no longer living, but in transferring their spoken words onto the printed page, there is a sense that their long-suppressed stories are being told for the first time. They described in detail how a hierarchical institution moved from a position of absolute commitment to segregation to one in which the uniting of the races under one organizational structure was achieved. In the end, the integration of the church was finally realized as a result of the daring leadership of a single bishop who challenged the prevailing white segregationist laity, Kenneth Goodson. But along the way there were many other persons who risked their careers and even their personal safety on behalf of racial justice. This is their story as well.

Historian William E. Nicholas masterfully tells a sad, inspiring, triumphant, tragic story all at once Here's an engaging drama of how Alabama Methodism eventually came to terms with it it's racist sin in the creation of the Central Conferences of the Methodist Church and how Alabama Methodists repented, reorganized, and moved forward into unity, sort of. Not content to merely rummage in the archives, Nicholas has talked to surviving eye-witnesses who testify to church at its worst, church at its best. Here's history with contemporary relevance as Nicholas recounts the bravery of ordinary saints, of bishops behaving well and badly, and of how a church being pushed by God toward dealing with the 'color line' still cuts through the Body of Christ.

—Will Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference, United Methodist Church (2004-2012), professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry, Duke Divinity School, author of Who Lynched Willie Earle? Confronting Racism Through Preaching

William E. Nicholas has written a book for our times: Amid deepest racial, political, and religious divisions, how did Alabama black and white Methodists reconcile Biblical justice with a culture inimical to the teachings of Christ?

—Wayne Flynt, distinguished university professor emeritus, Auburn University, Baptist minister, author of Alabama in the Twentieth Century

Utilizing interviews, church records, and newspaper accounts, among other sources, this well written and analyzed book chronicles the struggles over desegregation within the northern Alabama Methodist structure. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the intersection of race and religion viewed from the bottom up during the tumultuous civil rights era.

—Mark K. Bauman, author of Warren Akin Candler: Conservative Amidst Change, co-author of Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Civil Rights

In his Illuminating narrative, Bill Nicholas gives readers an insightful look at the segregated world of the Methodist Church in Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s. Vividly conceived and highly revealing, Go and Be Reconciled, demonstrates Nicholas's superb ability to trace the complex realities that Methodist leaders faced during a period of chaos and upheaval. This small, but powerful book will long endure as an essential study of Alabama Methodists and the race question.

—S. Jonathan Bass, author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers

The product of a lifetime of scholarship and years of careful research, Go and Be Reconciled is Prof. William Nicholas's account of the integration of the white and black Methodist conferences in Alabama. The hero of the story is Bishop Kenneth Goodson, the sometimes reluctant progressive who led, cajoled, and wheedled Alabama's Methodists toward integration. The conclusion, however, reminds us that victory is rarely final, and shows us not only how far Christians have walked down the path of racial reconciliation but how much further we have to go.

—Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, PhD, author of Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules: A History of the Episcopal Church in Alabama

Go and Be Reconciled is an insightful and informative book that enriches our understanding of the civil rights era in Alabama in all its complexity. Not only is this work a valuable addition to the growing body of literature concerning organized religion during the civil rights movement, it demonstrates the value of ecclesiastical history and how this oft neglected field of inquiry can broaden our understanding of the past.

—Alabama Review

About the Author/Editor

WILLIAM NICHOLAS is Professor Emeritus at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was James R. Wood Professor and taught recent American history and Latin American history for forty years. In 2005-2006, the College presented him with the outstanding Educator of the Year Award and he received the ODK Distinguished Professor Teaching Award in 2006-2007. His research interests have centered on twentieth century civil liberties and he has published articles on Southern academic freedom in during World War I and student participation in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s in Birmingham. His research in recent years has employed extensive oral history interviews to amplify the archival records of the United Methodist Church in North Alabama during the Civil Rights era. He is currently retired in his native state of Texas and participates in local civic activities and arts organizations in Georgetown, Texas. He also pursues his lifelong study of the Spanish language and his devotion to the piano and opera performance.