In a fascinating memoir, retired Episcopal priest Francis X. Walter shares his journey from the days of the Great Depression in Mobile, Alabama, across decades of Deep South segregation, and into the interracial struggles for racial justice in Alabama. The founder of the Selma Inter-religious Project, Walter grew up in multiethnic, segregated Mobile and learned life lessons at theology schools in Sewanee and New York. Those disparate educations were a prelude to his years as an Episcopal priest navigating how to serve white parishes in Alabama while challenging systemic racism.
His gentle, intimate style encourages readers to believe that Francis has written these recollections only for us and Memoria, his semi-reliable muse. In fact, they comprise the many dimensions of a white boy growing up and coming of age in the heat of Alabama racism amid a confluence of interracial and inter-ethnic diversity. It was not for him a question of what to believe. It was a lifetime of questions about how to live out what he believed. You will find few who tell this story so honestly, so well, never overstating his role and his place. No, he seems truly unaware in his telling of how significant his example was, then and later, for young white Alabamians who wanted to deconstruct racism and make the South better for all people. This memoir is one of the best, enduring examples of a Southerner whose conscience and actions remain a meaningful guide to anyone of any race or ethnicity wishing to combine soul-honest reflection and intentional action for change today. This book is both an understanding of and undertaking in the collective journey toward realizing a South and nation that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis always envisioned as “the beloved community.” It is a journey worth your joining.
—Steve Suitts, author of Hugo Black of Alabama and Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement
Francis Walter is one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. He does not see himself that way. He was simply a white Christian Southerner, an Episcopal priest, doing what he could, what his faith required, in the cause of simple justice. But here’s what you need to know about Francis: he worked against Jim Crow knowing exactly what could happen to a person bold enough, committed enough — some might say foolish enough — to take such a stand. But Francis believed what he said he believed and lived it, and now at long last he has told us his story. In these pages, Walter is candid, self-critical, sometimes funny, and always vivid in his account of Alabama in the civil rights years. It is a dramatic tale of a dangerous time, equal parts heroism and tragedy. For some of us who have written about him through the years, the author evokes a flaws-and-all admiration somewhere close to John Lewis territory.
—Frye Gaillard, author of A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s and Cradle of Freedom
A rambling memoir filled with lively anecdotes. Unvarnished testimony of decades-long activism.
Providing valuable eyewitness testimony to the struggle for civil rights in Alabama, From Preaching to Meddling
is an important historical document by a humble man of faith who tried to live what he believed during a dangerously polarizing time.
Francis Walter is unflinching when chronicling the sordid racial history of the United States. Anyone struggling to understand the ramifications of white privilege might benefit from Walter's clear-eyed view. As passionate as he is, however, he is rarely didactic and leavens his insights with candor, wit, and self-reflection.
—Alabama Writers' Forum