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date: 18 May 2021

Civil Rights Movements and Religion in Americafree

  • Paul HarveyPaul HarveyUniversity of Colorado, Colorado Springs


In the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, black Christian thought helped to undermine the white supremacist racial system that had governed America for centuries. The civil rights revolution in American history was, to a considerable degree, a religious revolution, one whose social and spiritual impact inspired numerous other movements around the world. Key to the work was a transformation of American religious thought and practice in ways that deftly combined the social gospel and black church traditions, infused with Gandhian notions of active resistance and “soul force,” as well as secular ideas of hardheaded political organizing and the kinds of legal maneuverings that led to the seminal court case of Brown v. Board of Education.

The civil rights movement had legislative aims; it was, to that extent, a political movement. But it was also a religious movement, sustained by the religious power unlocked within southern black churches. The historically racist grounding of whiteness as dominant and blackness as inferior was radically overturned in part through a reimagination of the same Christian thought that was part of creating it in the first place. In similar ways, the Mexican-American farmworkers’ movement drew on the mystic Catholic spirituality of Cesar Chavez and brought to national consciousness the lives and aspirations of an oppressed agricultural proletariat that lacked the most elementary rights of American citizens.

American civil rights movements drew from, and were in part inspired by, the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement. Gandhi’s movement deeply influenced black Americans who visited India from the 1930s to the 1950s and who brought home with them a mixture of ideas and practices deriving from sources as diverse as Gandhi and the 19th-century American progenitor of nonviolent civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau. American civil rights movements subsequently became a model for any number of freedom movements internationally, notably including the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. There, religious figures such as Desmond Tutu became international symbols. Also, the black American freedom struggle based in the American South moved protestors in places as diverse as Czechoslovakia under Soviet domination and Chinese students staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

In the post–civil rights era, some suggested that America had moved into a “post-racial” era, despite the overwhelming statistics documenting racial inequality in American society. Thus, activists who have mined the connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice will have plenty of work to do in the future. The struggle continues through such contemporary venues as the #blacklivesmatter movement.

The term “civil rights movement” can have many meanings. This article will focus primarily on the relationship of religion and the black American civil rights movement of the mid-20th century. Some attention will be given as well to the international implications of that movement, namely its roots in the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and the practices of nonviolent civil disobedience in the Indian independence movement and its successor in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa in the 1980s. As well, the article describes the organizing of farmworkers led by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s and 1970s, a movement primarily of a Mexican-American and Filipino-American agricultural proletariat which borrowed from the example of the southern black American freedom struggle. Finally, while primarily focused on the black American freedom struggle in the American South, the article also addresses the civil rights movements in the North. The southern freedom movement arose from decades of preparation but has a defined historical trajectory in the dramatic events of the 1950s and 1960s. The freedom movement in the North, meanwhile, almost perfectly exemplifies the thesis of those who emphasize the “long history of the civil rights movement,” stretching over decades and taking place in quotidian struggles in local communities that largely escaped media attention.

The civil rights movement sought to achieve specific legal and legislative aims, many of which were achieved with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To that degree, it can be seen as a successful movement for political reform of the working of basic institutions of American public life. But the movement itself could not have been successful without the spiritual empowerment that arose from the culture developed over two centuries of black American Christianity. In other words, religious impulses derived from black religious traditions made the movement move. Much the same can be said for the ideas behind the Mexican-American farmworkers’ crusade. Empowered by a mystic Catholic vision with its roots in the American Catholic Worker Movement, Cesar Chavez inspired a generation who had been denied almost completely the most basic rights of Americans. In both cases, religious belief, culture, and practice gave ordinary people ground down by racism and exploitation the spiritual sustenance to stand up and, in some cases, to lay their lives on the line. The inspiration provided by the back American freedom struggle made it a model for others engaged in protest against oppressive regimes, including the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the uprisings against oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe and in China during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and most recently the renewed civil rights struggles expressed in the #blacklivesmatter movement.

At the same time, the limitations of religiously based social movements have to be acknowledged as well. In particular, both the black American civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid crusade in South Africa helped establish a black middle class. Structural inequalities of opportunity, income, education, and life prospects remained relatively immune to the morally impassioned calls of the civil rights crusades. As a result, the movements transformed attitudes and opened up some opportunities, but religiously based crusades would have marginal impact on structural inequalities and institutionally racist patterns of the distribution of wealth and power that were deeply embedded in the United States and South Africa. Contemporary versions of civil rights movements, including the #blacklivesmatter uprising, have begun to address those issues. It remains to be seen whether, or how much, religion will play a role in these more recent bursts of organizing or whether the future of civil rights movements lies in secular and humanist thought and political organizing.

Religion, Rights, and Resistance

For much of American history, theology generally sanctified southern hierarchies. Evangelical belief and practice also at times subtly undermined the dominant order. Churches as institutions were conservative, but progressive Christians drew different lessons from the Bible than religious leaders often understood. During the civil rights era, in particular, the actions of individual churchmen and women outstripped the cautious defensiveness that often marked the public stance of the religious institutions. While religious institutions were resistant to change, many religious persons devoted themselves to social change precisely because they perceived God as the author of it.

At no time was this more apparent than during the greatest social revolution of 20th-century American history: the civil rights movement. Although drawing in multiple influences both secular and religious, the freedom struggle was sustained through the religious vision of the ordinary black (and a few white) southerners who made up its rank and file, braved harassment and intimidation, and transformed the consciousness and conscience of the country. The civil rights movement was a political effort aimed at achieving particular legislative and legal changes. But in terms of its functioning as a movement, it was sustained by the religious imagery and fervor of southern black churches. As one female sharecropper and civil rights activist in Mississippi explained in regard to her conversion to the movement, “Something hit me like a new religion.”1

The civil rights movement drew from sacred and secular sources. None were more significant than the diverse strands of African American Christianity. The black Christian tradition was not sufficient by itself, but it was necessary. Civil rights leaders employed multiple arguments, many of them involving constitutional protections. But beneath that ran the powerful stream of black Protestant ideas (translated sometimes through Gandhian and Catholic Worker notions of civil disobedience and active resistance) that moved southern folk and pushed forward a leadership that otherwise remained cautious and circumspect. For many ordinary southerners, nothing else besides a religious vision of redeeming the South sufficed for the sacrifices required by the struggle. Nothing else could have kept the mass movement going through years of state-sponsored terrorism directed against it.

It is sometimes said that the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, from World War II through the 1960s, emerged from “the black church,” a falsely singular term for what was in fact a multifarious set of beliefs and institutions. Historians cite evidence such as the number of ministers in the struggle and churches that served as gathering points for mass meetings. At the same time, movement leaders constantly contended with the fact that “the black church” actually was not, by and large, behind the movement. Whether because of indifference, fear, theological conservatism, or coercion and terrorism, many congregations simply avoided involvement. Still, a movement based on secular ends—the extension of citizenship rights in the American nation-state—drew its sustenance from spiritual understandings, language, and motivations. And it was ministers and church activists who lent their moral passion and steely commitment to the quest for freedom. Key to their work was a transformation of Protestant thought in ways that deftly combined the social gospel and black church traditions, infused with Gandhian notions of active resistance and “soul force.”

Gandhi and the Southern Civil Rights Movement

One of the predominant 20th-century influences on racism and the church came from Mohandas K. Gandhi, generally referred to with the honorific Mahatma Gandhi (“Mahatma” means “great-souled” or “venerable”). Gandhi trained as a lawyer in India before traveling to South Africa, where he experienced firsthand the effects of colonial racism (once getting thrown off a train, for example). He served as an advocate for Indians and those of mixed race in South Africa and began to develop his ideas of nonviolent resistance and satyagraha that would define the Indian independence movement. Much debate surrounds his views on Africans, as a portion of his writings suggest an attachment to the ideas that Indians are actually “Aryans” and therefore in the same category as Europeans. But many of these kinds of writings come from earlier in his career. Later in his life, he envisioned an independent India as religiously pluralist, insisting that Muslims, Hindus, and Christians could live together in harmony if the principles of nonviolence and soul force were practiced. His death at the hands of a Hindu nationalist assassin in 1947, and the subsequent bloodily tragic portioning of India and Pakistan, crushed those hopes.

Gandhi’s influence, however, was felt worldwide, and nowhere more so than among blacks in the American South. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that while Christ gave the civil rights movement its goals, Gandhi taught it what tactics to use to achieve those goals. More than just tactics, though, Gandhi and the Indian independence movement supplied a stirring example of the power of mass nonviolent resistance to oppression, one that provided a model for any number of movements worldwide. Gandhi drew from many sources for those ideas, including everything from Tolstoy to theosophy to vegetarianism to Indian philosophy. His ideas, though, easily traveled abroad and adapted themselves to new situations and conflicts, including in the land where Gandhi practiced his barrister trade as a young man (South Africa) and in the American South. It was in those two places where civil rights struggles carried on by people of color historically oppressed and legally ostracized would be felt at their most dramatic. Religious ideas and institutions were key in making both happen.

Beginning in the 1930s, young American idealists who were to become central to the American civil rights movement visited India. They began to learn of Gandhi’s ideas and realized how much they could be applied to the situation of black Americans, who were also a colonized and oppressed class. Key in taking ideas from the radical and pacifist left and translating them into wisdom directly applicable to the freedom struggle were the Unitarian and humanist theologian Howard Thurman, the Methodist divine and activist James Lawson, and a white Texas veteran of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality, Glenn Smiley. All emerged from southern Protestant backgrounds and developed ideas of pacifism and nonviolent civil disobedience through the 1940s and 1950s. They drew heavily from the philosophy of Richard Gregg, a former Quaker and pacifist. Gregg’s 1934 work, The Power of Nonviolence, taught a generation about the “moral ju-jitsu” of nonviolence. It was, he said, a force powerful enough to defeat the oppressor without needing to land a physical blow. Lawson and Thurman learned those lessons during their sojourns in India. Thurman met Gandhi in 1935–1936, while Lawson spent three years teaching in India following his release from prison for refusing to be drafted into the Army for the Korean War. He subsequently formed a chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Tennessee. Thurman and Lawson introduced the message of Gandhian nonviolence as the key to an American social revolution to nascent civil rights groups in the years after World War II, including the Congress of Racial Equality. Lawson led an interracial group of idealists (including Smiley) who persuaded Martin Luther King Jr. to adopt the philosophy.2

Initially, Martin Luther King Jr. was reluctant to do so. Every man in town owned a gun, he reasoned, so how could he leave his own family unprotected? Gradually, and through the tutelage of a generation of pacifists, labor organizers, and religious idealists, the ideas that would form the southern freedom movement found their way to southern communities. Martin Luther King Jr. then articulated them to a national audience.

Religion and the Rank and File of the Movement

In the mid-20th century, visionary social activists set out to instill in a mass movement a faith in nonviolence as the most powerful form of active resistance to injustice.3 The ideas of nonviolent civil disobedience first had to make their way from the confines of radical and pacifist thought into African American religious culture. This was the work of the generation before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. A legacy of radical ideas stirred women and men from Pauli Murray and Ella Baker to Walter White, Charles Johnson, and Bayard Rustin. Black humanists, atheists, freethinkers, and skeptics transmitted ideas of nonviolent civil disobedience to a skeptical audience of gun-toting churchgoers and blasted the ways in which conventional southern Protestantism stultified social movements for change.4

Because of the prominence of Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers, many have interpreted the freedom struggle as a religious movement at its core. More recently, scholars have highlighted the politically radical and secular roots of the struggle in the political black left (especially the Communist Party) of the Depression. Moreover, the argument goes, the movement’s Christian morality and dependence on dramatizing the immorality of segregation through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience fell short when forced to confront deeper and more structurally built-in inequalities in American society. To those stuck in poverty, the right to eat a hamburger at a lunch counter was not particularly meaningful. Further, as the 1960s progressed more rhetorically radical leaders emerged. Often, they distrusted black Christian institutions, seeing them as too complicit with larger power structures.

Nonetheless, it remains impossible to conceive of the civil rights movement without placing black Christianity at its center, for that is what empowered the rank and file who made the movement move. And when it moved, major legal and legislative changes occurred. King’s deep vision of justice, moreover, increasingly moved toward addressing issues of structural racial inequality. As the 1960s progressed, his moral critique of economic stratification, white colonialism, and the Vietnam War drew harsh criticism from many whites. It also made him the target of a relentless surveillance apparatus at federal, state, and local levels.

Activists in the 1960s held a more chastened view about religion’s role. For example, the institutional conservatism of Martin Luther King Jr.’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, forced King and a splinter group of followers to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a denomination more avowedly tied to civil rights. At local levels, indifference, theological conservatism, economic coercion, and sometimes threats of violence repressed the majority of black churches. Student volunteers from across the country, often coming with their own forms of religious skepticism, witnessed how often churches hindered rather than motivated a southern revolution. Further, activists often encountered the view that humans could do little to move the forces of history.

There was nothing inherent in “religion” in the South that either justified or blocked social justice struggles. The southern freedom struggle redefined how the central images and metaphors of black southern religious history could be deployed most effectively to mobilize a mass democratic movement. It also vividly illustrated the emotionally compelling power latent in the oral and musical artistry developed over centuries of religious expression, from spirituals and the gospel to sermonic and communal storytelling traditions.

To transform the region so dramatically, southern activists wove a version of their own history of social justice struggles out of a complicated tangle of threads. To do so, they engaged in narrative acts that allowed people to see themselves as part of a long-running tradition of protest. They revivified part of the history of black southern Christianity. They did not have to invent a tradition, but they needed to make it a coherent narrative.

Nothing else could have kept the mass movement going through years of state-sponsored coercion, constant harassment, and acts of terrorism. The historically racist grounding of whiteness as dominant and blackness as inferior was radically overturned in part through a reimagination of the same Christian thought that was part of creating it in the first place. Many perceived it as a miraculous moment in time and sanctified its heroes. But that moment arose slowly and only after decades of preparation and struggle.

Religion and the Movement in Key Locales

The connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice in everyday life found an especially powerful connection in the “local people” who did much of the actual work of the civil rights movement. In some ways, the southern-based freedom struggle in the 1960s began not with Montgomery but with an earlier boycott led by black Baptist pastor T. D. Jemison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1953, an action that set the stage for mass mobilizations to come. In lesser-known locales such as Baton Rouge, Tallahassee, and a variety of other small cities, black ministers organized protests and began to experiment with the methods of nonviolent civil disobedience. Those lessons would be imparted to Martin Luther King Jr., who put them to skillful use in Montgomery during a boycott of buses in Alabama’s capitol city that stretched for more than a year and resulted in a complete victory for the movement. In Montgomery, the churches played a central role, and the success there led to the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King’s organization for the remainder of his life.

In the 1960s, following an unsuccessful campaign in Albany, Georgia, where organizing efforts were stalemated by a clever local sheriff, a longtime Baptist pastor in Birmingham, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, persuaded King to stage a major campaign in that brutally racist working-class town. Electrified by the Brown decision and his sense of God’s hand moving in history, Shuttlesworth’s civil rights career blossomed in the 1950s. He felt divinely inspired to defy a response to the banning of the NAACP in Alabama imposed by the state authorities. Resisting more senior ministers who urged moderation, Shuttlesworth and his followers organized the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), effectively carrying on the work of the NAACP under a different name. Repeated attempts on his life only enhanced his personal authority and charisma.

Civil rights activists such as Shuttlesworth mixed the language of evangelicalism with the tenets of American civil religion. As he saw it, the Bible and American history were full of freedom struggles. They were also inseparable in the mind of Fannie Lou Hamer, who personified the fortitude and vibrant religious imagery of the movement. Daughter of a sharecropper in Ruleville, Mississippi, she experienced sexual abuse and later sadistic torture at the hands of local policemen. Hamer rose to prominence in the 1960s as a liaison between “local people” and national civil rights leaders. With her wicked sense of humor, spirited singing voice, and uncompromising stance on justice, Hamer articulated a liberation theology that sustained her through years of struggle and turmoil. As a girl, Hamer had joined the Strangers Home Baptist Church in her hometown. She quoted the Bible expertly and led congregational song, qualities that served her admirably in the 1960s. In 1962, at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting in a rural church, Hamer and a few others volunteered to register for voting. This serious act of political defiance against the state regime earned them a beating in the county jail. After their release, they experienced economic and verbal harassment. Hamer eventually won a seat in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s delegation—originally sent as a protest against the all-white official state delegation—to the Democratic national convention of 1964. Hamer incited Lyndon Baines Johnson’s special ire as she delivered an impromptu national address explaining why the Freedom Democratic Party would not settle for the compromise of taking two seats on the official state delegation. Hamer’s political stance required spiritual sustenance. She used her knowledge of the Bible in public rebukes of the timid who were too afraid to risk registering to vote. Christ would side with the sharecroppers in Mississippi during their struggle. Answering the inevitable charges that civil rights workers were agitators and communists, she retorted that Christ in America would have been labeled a militant radical. Women such as Fannie Lou Hamer personified the connection between black southern spirituality and black civil rights.

Freedom Songs and the Rise of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The civil rights struggle was a religious crusade sustained by deeply Christian imagery, revivalist fervor, and a vision of interracialism encapsulated in the idea of the beloved community. It arose out of a religious culture steeped in the rituals of mass meetings, revivalistic preaching, and sacred singing. That was the religious culture of the movement which struck people like a new religion. As was true throughout the history of black Christianity, music inspired new visions of freedom.

The voices of Fannie Lou Hamer, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and congregants massed at organizing meetings for years sustained and energized themselves through singing. They lined out hymns in old-fashioned style that derived from the 19th century; they took up newer gospel songs written during what was still the “golden age” of black gospel from the 1930s through the 1960s; and most importantly for the movement, they reinvented spirituals from the 19th century and sometimes popular tunes from their era into freedom songs.

The sacred music of the movement—the freedom songs—harnessed that spirit and empowered local people. Movement activists converted widely known spirituals, hymns, church anthems, and popular songs into versions of civil rights manifestos. Participants propelled the music forward with enthusiastic singing, bodily movement, and the rhythmic accompaniment of spirited hand clapping and foot stomping, products of two centuries of communal musical rituals in African American religious communities. As protestors filled penitentiaries throughout the South, they sang to each other and to the lawmen arresting them. Dozens of new verses of familiar songs—drawing from black hymnody and gospel music, labor movement songs, and popular ditties—spontaneously arose in jail cells, pickets, and boycott lines.

Freedom songs inspired a level of active and sacrificial resistance that overcame the efforts of the southern white establishment to persuade, coerce, or terrify blacks into continued subordination to the Jim Crow order. Developments in international contexts (namely the Cold War and anti-colonialism), national politics, and southern social and economic life made the movement possible. But democratic struggles are never inevitable and without a cultural base may lack sustenance. During the civil rights era, cultural tools deeply rooted in the community made the mass democratic movement and a revolution in religion and race powerful.

Younger people in the movement brought their own fresh energies into the movement in the 1960s and targeted areas of the South, notably including Mississippi, that looked like impregnable fortresses of segregation. But Christian organizers of the SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality, and other civil rights groups sought to harness the defiant spirit of locals into audacious acts of political activism.

In the spring of 1960, a lifelong activist named Ella Baker convened a group of students at her alma mater, Shaw University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She had begun her career as an agitator at Shaw in the 1920s. For decades afterward, she worked relentlessly to organize NAACP chapters throughout the country. The students in 1960 intended to form a youth wing of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Though personally a skeptic toward conventional religious belief, Baker’s words and example inspired a youth movement for civil rights which drew heavily from spiritual teachings. Students were now impatient to bring about basic human encounters between black and white denied by segregation. SNCC would apply the moral jujitsu of Christian and Gandhian nonviolence into the heart of the white supremacist South. Many in SNCC paid a heavy price in doing so. Their nonviolent resistance produced an often violent counterattack.

In 1960, under the direction of James Lawson, a former black Methodist missionary to India and visionary of nonviolence, SNCC issued its founding statement. Its goal was to seek a “social order of justice permeated by love.” Through disciplined nonviolence, the statement continued, “courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice.” Beyond the achievement of desegregation of public institutions or political power, they saw civil rights as a reclaiming of “personhood,” one that would restore spiritual dignity, and allow the oppressed to show love to their oppressors.5

SNCC projects drew volunteers from across the nation, attracting especially idealistic college students. Coming from Catholic, Jewish, humanist, and atheist backgrounds, they pondered how to operate within the context of the evangelical South. The height of SNCC’s work came in 1964 with Freedom Summer. The massive volunteer effort involved over 800 students from around the country. Three of the volunteers (two white northerners and a native black Mississippian, James Earl Chaney) were murdered right at the beginning of the project. The shocking violence grabbed national attention (as many at the time pointed out) precisely because it took the lives of white northerners; had it been Chaney by himself, it would have been another routine murder of a black southerner, little different than what uncounted thousands had experienced over decades of living under Jim Crow. SNCC sent its volunteers to Mississippi anyway, and over a summer they registered voters, opened “freedom schools,” and lived among and with black southern families. They also grappled with the meaning of black southern religious culture. Many of the students came with considerable skepticism toward organized religion of any form, but in order for the movement to work in Mississippi, as they quickly learned, they had to immerse themselves in a deeply evangelical culture and learn and respect the langue of black southern Christianity.

Meanwhile, at the national level, church people played a sizable role in the epic passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, an act that fundamentally changed American society. At one critical juncture of the Senate debate over H.R. 7152, the Washington representative of the National Council of Churches, James Hamilton, engineered effective grassroots activism nationally and produced an impressive volume of letters to members of Congress (four out of ten letters regarding H.R. 7152, at one point in the process). Denominational leaders pressed particular congressmen known to be fellow worshippers.

The efforts of mainstream church people were necessary, especially in the Senate, whose southern members inveighed against the bill’s giving too much power to government. The reordering of race relations in American law in the 1960s owed much both to the religious impulses that empowered the civil rights movement and to the activism of church people in politics who were instrumental in moving forward the civil rights legislative agenda.

The Civil Rights Movement in the North

Racial segregation in the North was both highly visible and at the same time “invisible.” Today, the fifteen most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the United States are in the Northeast and Midwest, while the five states with the most segregated schools are New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and California. Racial segregation is painfully visible. Yet the North did not have a tradition of deliberate, southern-style Jim Crow segregation. Thus, northern segregation, real as it was, appeared to most whites as “natural,” an inevitable outcome of the aggregate of individual decisions, of “choice.” It was invisible because whites could pretend that it was not constructed.

But northern segregation was anything but an accident of market-based individual choice. It was instead deliberately fostered through discriminatory policies in banking, mortgage, “urban renewal,” and education. And while southern segregation could be dramatically confronted through lunch counter sit-ins and the like, it proved far more difficult to challenge real estate redlining, federal home loan guarantees that virtually mandated a racially segregated suburbia, and neighborhood schools that defended white racial privilege as a democratic right. Before the 1950s, a powerful alliance of religious idealists (including remarkable individuals such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman, James Farmer, and the founders of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other civil rights groups) and secular activists (usually coming from groups considered far left in the American political spectrum) empowered a variety of movements that simultaneously attacked racial and economic inequality. In their journey from “uplift” to “militancy,” they brought struggles for equality to a national audience and provided a model for a future generation of southern civil rights protestors to follow. Religious activists played a far more central part of the struggle in the North than most understand. One of the most important was Anna Arnold Hedgeman, an African American church woman from the Midwest who spent her long career from the 1920s to the 1960s working for racial equality. Another was James Farmer, a Texas-born Methodist who (along with white Methodist radical George Houser) helped to organize one of the early chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality in Chicago in 1942. More than any single group, CORE innovated the tactics of using nonviolent civil disobedience, first in protesting the appalling racial segregation in the so-called “land of hope” (Chicago) and in 1947 when eight members of CORE attempted the first “freedom ride” through the South. Their members (including James Peck, who would also be present at the more famous freedom rides of 1961) were arrested, beaten up, and jailed in North Carolina. Through the mid-20th century, religious activists in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, CORE, and the Federal Council of Churches protested against the patterns of racial inequality that could be found not just in the South but nationally. They worked in local communities, in state legislatures and Congress, and in courts. They also used churches as bases for presenting racial inequality and oppression as a central moral dilemma of American society, a fact that took decades of effort just to get most white Americans to see at all.

The Latino Challenge

Black Americans in the 1960s captured the attention of the nation through the mass protests of the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, Latinos, mostly coming from a Catholic rather than a Protestant base, formed their own movement, concentrated in the Southwest and California rather than the Deep South. Cesar E. Chavez, a devoutly Catholic labor organizer in the fields of California, organized farmworker strikes in the produce fields in the 1960s, where migrant laborers of Mexican descent toiled for low pay in terrible conditions. Mexican migrant laborers historically had been exploited with impunity and had difficulty organizing since farm laborers had been exempted from many of the formative labor laws of the New Deal era.

Cesar Chavez deployed much the same philosophy and techniques of nonviolence that had worked successfully in the black civil rights struggle but added to it religiously based protest rituals such as fasts. Chavez drew on the rich legacy of the church, and of Hispanic spirituality, to empower his cause. Chavez experienced resistance from the Catholic establishment but knew that the church could be a powerful force on behalf of justice for farmworkers. Chavez asked the Church to “sacrifice with the people,” to exert true servanthood. Some of Chavez’s associates took his call further. Figures such as Reyes Lopes Tijerina led groups who squatted on land they believed still rightfully belonged to Hispanic settlers who had been there centuries before the white American arrival in the Southwest. Other local Latino leaders occupied Catholic churches, insisting on Latino representation and the appointment of Latino Catholic priests to oversee ethnic parishes dominated by Latinos.

Other voices from within the Latino community, and from among Hispanic Catholic priests in the church, attacked the historic devaluing of the Latino presence in the Church. Their vision of social justice was built on left Catholic traditions that emphasized community and God’s identification with the poor.

Chavez’s religious philosophy grew out of the Cursillo movement of the 1950s, a kind of lay renewal movement in the Catholic Church that later spawned any number of groups which were deeply influential, especially in the consciousness of ethnic Catholics. Chavez began to marry his political consciousness of the oppression of farmworkers together with his religious faith in the worth of even the lowest toilers. In the early 1960s, seeking to unionize farm workers, Chavez turned his attention to what became the United Farm Workers.

Chavez developed a redemptive faith in nonviolence that was a Chicano Catholic version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s black Baptist faith. He also enlisted student volunteers from the Free Speech Movement and other settings. From Gandhi, for example, Chavez learned “moral jujitsu.” Nonviolence called for organizing mass numbers of small actions, which is how Chavez saw Gandhi’s genius.

Cesar Chavez brought the plight of the migrants to national attention by employing the same philosophy and techniques of nonviolence that had worked successfully in the black civil rights struggle. Chavez experienced resistance from the Catholic establishment (not unlike what King had seen in the Protestant establishment). Steeped in the traditions of Mexican popular religion, Chavez was quick to pick up on a suggestion from a farmworker who asked to bring a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to a march in Oxnard in 1959. Soon, La Morenita, with her deep resonance of what it means to be a Mexican Catholic, appeared at the front of most of the marches of La Causa. In other areas, altarcitos and nightly prayer vigils provided a setting for meetings and union card signings. Often Catholic masses were offered at the end of strike days, followed by union organizing meetings and prayers directed toward seeking the will of God towards the future action of the unions. Chavez put into action religion casera, “homespun religion,” the kind of mixture of official and popular Catholicism which was theorized by the Latino theologians, especially Virgilio Elizondo, in the 1970s. As Chavez himself put it, concerning the idea of holding prayer vigils with makeshift altars near the fields during the course of strikes, the workers themselves originated those ideas: “When you search out these ideas from among the people you can get out of almost any jam. This is the real meaning of nonviolence, as far as I’m concerned.”6

Chavez put his own words into action in 1968. After the Delano grape strike had dragged on for over two years, and some militant strikers were found with guns, he informed his staff the he would take a fast. Chavez’s close associate, Dolores Huerta, noted the extent of opposition to not only the fast but to the Mexican Catholic symbols that pervaded the movement. Some in the union strongly opposed the influence of religion. “I know it’s hard for people who are not Mexican to understand,” Huerta later said, “but this is part of the Mexican culture—the penance, the whole idea of suffering for something, of self–inflicted punishment. It’s a tradition of very long standing. In fact, Cesar has often mentioned in speeches that we will not win through violence, we will win through fasting and prayer.” The fast came to an end in March 1968, as Chavez broke bread with Senator Robert F. Kennedy and others. He then concluded with his famous statement: “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our live that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men!”7

The Indian Challenge

The connection between religion and civil rights movements, so clear and compelling in the case of African Americans and Latinos, proved more ambiguous in the case of Native Americans. Social gospel Protestantism and social justice–oriented Catholicism, which had proven historically so liberatory for black and Latino Americans, held a different historical meaning for Natives who had experienced the historic results of the schemes of well-meaning whites organized groups such as the Friends of the Indian.

Deliberately modeling himself on James Cone’s title “God is Black,” Vine Deloria, a scholar of Native American history and religions, produced his classic work God Is Red in 1973. The work arrived just on the heels of a standoff between Indian activists in AIM (the American Indian movement) and federal authorities at Wounded Knee. At that site in South Dakota in 1890, U.S. army personnel had butchered hundreds of Indian “ghost dancers” in an incident often seen as the “last” of the Indian wars of the 19th century. In God Is Red, Deloria explored what it meant that the civil rights crusades were soon followed with a national search for “authenticity,” including a new fascination with Indian religious and cultural practices. Deloria concluded that the civil rights movement could achieve only so much, and no more, because its goals were idealistic projections, not representative of the real world. Hence, Indians came to represent a kind of tangible connection to the real. Deloria thoughtfully explored what it means for Indian people to search for meaning in their tribal religions, given their (often) Christian educations and the secularization and techno-rationalism of the modern world, just as whites unsettled by the social revolutions of the 1960s were seeking spiritual wholeness themselves outside of a Christianity that could no longer provide a satisfying picture of the world. A key part of the Indian civil rights movement lay in simply recapturing and renewing their own traditions. But the Christianity that was so vital in empowering the black and Latino movements held an entirely different meaning in the context of Native Americans.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

As in the United States, there was a “long history” of the struggle for racial equality in South Africa, as well as a very particular and special period when the movement galvanized international attention. In the 1970s and 1980s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church in South Africa became the public face of the challenge to the system of apartheid in South Africa. Because the leader of the African National Congress, the lawyer and activist Nelson Mandela, was jailed for twenty-seven years, religious spokesmen such as Tutu became particularly important in conveying the message about the meaning of apartheid to an international audience.

As in other countries, while churches and religious institutions justified social policies and practices of racism, ultimately churches and religious leaders provided the key parts of dismantling those systems. As the “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission in South Africa concluded, “Religious communities also suffered under apartheid, their activities were disrupted, their leaders persecuted, their land taken away. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples—often divided amongst themselves—spawned many of apartheid's strongest foes, motivated by values and norms coming from their particular faith traditions.”8

Opposition to apartheid rose slowly, as government repression of anti-apartheid activists was harsh. But glimmerings of what was to come arose in the 1960s, as the Institute for Contextual Theology produced the “Kairos Document,” which condemned the church’s capitulation to apartheid and outlined a South African version of liberation theology. Some years later, Allan Boesak, a minister in the “Coloured” Branch of the Dutch Reformed Church, advocated for a mass democratic movement toward racial change.

In the 1980s, individuals in faith communities increasingly spoke out on behalf of the freedom movement in what was increasingly becoming a pariah state internationally. As General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches from 1978 to 1985, Archbishop Desmond Tutu served as the internationally recognized public face of condemnation of apartheid. In the postapartheid years, Tutu skillfully led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, which brought together those who had suffered and those who had been responsible for that suffering, in a kind of national catharsis that prepared the way for a more democratic regime.

Religion and Civil Rights in a “Post-Racial” America

Studying the history of religion and civil rights in American public life presents a paradox. On the one hand, thinking of the role of black churches during the Civil War and Reconstruction, during the Progressive Era, or during the civil rights movement suggests that the African American church historically has taken an activist and progressive role in the public realm. Yet in all the cases cited above, only a minority of churches and clergymen were ever involved, with the majority of churches remaining relatively quiescent or content to minister to internal spiritual or local communal needs and stay at some remove from the realm of public policy. In the post– civil rights era, some suggested that America had moved into a “post-racial” era, despite the overwhelming statistics documenting racial inequality in American society. Thus, activists who have mined the connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice will have plenty of work to do in the future. The struggle continues, and Frederick Douglass’s words remain true today: “without the struggle, there is no progress.” Religion will remain central to that struggle, even though religious institutions are not always well adapted to carrying on the struggle. Social justice and civil rights today centrally involve issues of economic justice, problems for which the moral declarations in which religions specialize have less pertinence or direct power to effect change.

Review of the Literature

As he took over his Baptist pulpit in Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. had no idea of the history that was about to overtake him, but longtime community activists quickly recognized the usefulness of the young doctoral candidate. David Garrow’s Bearing the Cross provides a landmark scholarly biography placing King firmly in the context of both his southern religious roots as well as his northern theological training and his connections with political organizers outside the church world, such as the pacifist radical Bayard Rustin.9

Much of the most innovative recent scholarship has studied the “long history of the civil rights movement.” This work seeks to break from the “Montgomery to Memphis” paradigm, starting with the bus boycott and ending with the assassination of King. It examines the longer history of movement activism, dating at least back to the New Deal, and some have claimed a “movement” lasting roughly from Emancipation to the present. Looking forward, the “long history” advocates see contemporary issues, such as rates of incarceration, defunded public institutions, attempts to roll back the Voting Rights Act, and disproportionate effects of “The Great Recession” from 2008 forward as evidence that the civil rights movement did not fade away but simply moved on to other issues. The international impact of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, particularly on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, also underscores the long history thesis.

Critics have countered that the period of the 1950s and 1960s should be seen as special for a reason. Moreover, they argue that even “local people” understood the indispensable role of public figures such as Martin Luther King Jr.

Those looking at religion and the civil rights movement find similar debates. Certainly, black churches from Reconstruction to World War II organized NAACP chapters, educated leaders who led the struggle against American apartheid, and supported educational institutions and fraternal clubs and societies that nurtured a small but crucial black middle class. At the same time, figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois blasted the church for doing “less than nothing,” and later scholars analyzed the “de-radicalization of the black church.” Even during the “classic” period of the civil rights movement, a small fraction of “the black church” pursued active involvement in a freedom struggle that required sacrifice and subjected people to violence from white terrorists. At the same time, black Christians formed the rank and file of the movement, put their bodies on the line, filled jail cells and manned picket lines, and demonstrated the dramatic impact of black spirituality on a social movement that transformed American life.

Like many other historical topics, the historiography of the civil rights movement began with “top-down” stories, often biographies of major leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Then, over time, social history (or “bottom-up”) approaches gradually became more prominent. Most recent scholarship has emphasized the latter, in part because participants in the civil rights movement themselves, particularly those in the SNCC, sought to “let the people decide.”

The connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice in everyday life found an especially powerful connection in the “local people” who did much of the actual work of the civil rights movement. Aldon D. Morris’s The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change10 begins not with Montgomery but with an earlier boycott led by black Baptist pastor T. D. Jemison in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1953, an action that set the stage for mass mobilizations to come. Morris refers to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as the “decentralized arm of the black church.” Morris notes that only an indigenous organization such as the church could have served so effectively as an agent of mass mobilization.

The argument advanced by Morris is furthered by Andrew Manis’s memorable biography of Fred Shuttlesworth, A Fire You Can’t Put Out, which shows the longtime Baptist pastor in Birmingham at the forefront of civil rights crusades in this most brutally racist of southern cities long before the more well-known names from SCLC showed up in 1963. 11

Civil rights activists such as Shuttlesworth mixed the language of evangelicalism with the tenets of American civil religion. In their minds, both the Bible and American history were full of freedom struggles. They were also inseparable in the mind of Fannie Lou Hamer, the subject of several biographies and analyses, the best of which is Megan Parker Brooks’s A Voice That Could Stir an Army. Much the same could be said for Ella Baker, the longtime NAACP organizer whose career stretched from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to SCLC and the formation of SNCC in the early 1960s, whose life and principles of community organizing are detailed in Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement.12

Much recent debate has concerned whether, and how much, “religion” influenced and drove the civil rights movement. David Chappell’s work A Stone of Hope presents the most forthright case for the civil rights movement as a religious revival. He argues that it sprang not from Protestant liberalism, but rather from a profound Old Testament sense of evil and justice. It was those religious impulses, he says, that made the movement move.13 A number of recent scholars, particularly those who focus on the student movement, dispute the centrality of religion. Southern white churches, of course, were also unanimously either indifferent or hostile to the movement, a story told for Mississippi in Carolyn Dupont’s Mississippi Praying.14 She shows how much white theology underlay segregationism, as do works on the church “pray-ins” such as Stephen Haynes’s The Last Segregated Hour.15

The story grows richer, as well, when including the Latino civil rights movement, one that drew from a Catholic symbology and leadership as deeply as did the southern black civil rights movement on evangelical Protestantism. For that reason, figures such as Bayard Rustin, a gay man who served King centrally as a political advisor; Howard Thurman, who grew up a black Baptist but became one of the best known Christian humanists of the 20th century; and Ella Baker, born a North Carolina black Baptist but later a religious skeptic who understood that a self-sustaining movement would have to grow its own leaders from local communities rather than rely on messiahs imported from elsewhere, have received much attention in recent historical writing. So has the international impact of the civil rights movement, particularly through figures such as Allen Boesak and Desmond Tutu in South Africa, and even contemporary political heroes such as Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. In effect, the language and movement culture of the black American civil rights movement has become a kind of international script for the working of freedom struggles everywhere.

Primary Sources

There are few subjects in American history with a richer and more easily accessible primary source base for research and further study than the civil rights movement. Recent published documentary history collections are providing easy-to-access and invaluable forays into primary source research. One of the most notable is The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., an ongoing series published by the University of California Press since 1992, overseen by senior editor Clayborne Carson.16 Other highly recommended anthologies include Milton Sernett’s African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, and a volume of essays that nonetheless can be mined extensively for primary source references—Cornel West and Eddie Glaude’s African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. Other indispensable edited collections of primary sources include James Melvin Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1986; Hal Raines, ed., My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered;17 Stewart Burns, ed., Daybreak of Freedom, the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Henry Hampton et al., eds., Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s to the 1980s; Faith Holsaeert, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC; Constance Curry et al., eds., Deep In Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement.18 The indispensable filmed documentary history source is Eyes on the Prize; accompanying it is a documentary history book Clayborne Carson et al., eds., The Eyes on the Prize Documentary History Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle.19 Finally, two recent massive volumes present a giant database of speeches and sermons from the civil rights era, formerly available only on reel-to-reel and cassette tape collections in archives scattered throughout the country: Davis Houck and David Dixon, eds., Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, with Volume 1 from 2007 and Volume 2 from 2014.20 Finally, James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore offer an indispensable compilation of writings on “black theology” that emerged directly out of the civil rights movement in Black Theology: A Documentary History.21 Volume 2 of this compilation, covering 1980–1992, is particularly strong in following primary source writings in womanist and liberation theologies and in tracing the international influence of the civil rights movement and black theology.

Digitized oral history collections are a gold mine for civil rights history research; many have just become available in the last few years and are easily keyword searchable by topic. One of the most valuable is the KZSU Project South Interviews, thousands of pages of interviews collected from student volunteers in 1965, now digitized. These interviews provide the single most valuable compilation of real-time, on-the-ground sources from that era of the thoughts, motivations, and struggles of volunteers in the movement. Another outstanding compilation lies in the oral history projected conducted by Mississippi State University over the last generation, now collected and accessible. The Eyes on the Prize film series has a particularly valuable companion website full of outstanding primary documents from the era. The “Civil Rights Digital Library” is particularly strong in broadcast and other media sources from the time period. Finally, the older classic Southern Oral History Program has a sprawling collection of interviews from people who lived through the civil rights era. To these can be added the website and digital history project “Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement,”; a keyword search of “religion” and related terms will quickly yield a gold mine of accounts, memoirs, reminiscences, and other valuable material for the researcher. An excellent compilation of documents on Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers’ movement may be found at the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project. For a comparative look at religion and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a valuable summary and set of links and digitized primary sources may be found at “Religious Faith and Anti-Apartheid Activism.”

Further Reading

  • Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  • Brooks, Maegan Parker. A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.
  • Burns, Stewart, ed. Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Chappell, David. A Stone of Hope: Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • Cone, James, and Gayraud Wilmore, eds. Black Theology: A Documentary History. 2 vols. Boston: Orbis Books, 1979, 1993.
  • Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
  • Dixie, Quinton. Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of American Nonviolence. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011.
  • Dorrien, Gary. The New Abolition: W. E. B. DuBois and the Black Social Gospel. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.
  • Dudziak, Mary. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Dupont, Carolyn Renee. Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945–1975. New York: New York University Press, 2013.
  • Eskew, Glenn. But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Garrow, David. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Harper Perennial, 1986.
  • Harvey, Paul. Freedom’s Coming: Religious Cultures and the Making of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Haynes, Stephen. The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Houck, Davis, and David Dixon, eds. Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1965, 2 vols. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007 (vol. I) and 2014 (vol. II).
  • Johnson, Sylvester. African American Religions 1500–2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Lewis, John. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
  • Manis, Andrew. A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999.
  • Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.
  • Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: Free Press, 1984.
  • Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Sugrue, Tom. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. New York: Random House, 2008.
  • Tayob, Abdulkader, ed. Religion and Politics in South Africa: From Apartheid to Democracy New York: Münster, 1999.


  • 1. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 231.

  • 2. See Joseph Kip Kosek, Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press), 82. Thurman’s stay in India and introduction to Gandhism is covered in Quinton Dixie and Howard Eistenstadt, Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).

  • 3. Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996 [1949]), 43.

  • 4. On Benjamin Mays, see Randal Jelks, Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); on Baker, see Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); on Hedgeman, see Tom Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2009), 3–32; on Randolph, see Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Leader (New York: New York University Press, 2005); on Rustin, see John D’Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

  • 5. “Statement of Purpose,” The Sixties Project; Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Cultures and the Making of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 192.

  • 6. Frederick John Dalton, The Moral Vision of Cesar Chavez (Boston: Orbis Books, 2003), 43.

  • 7. Speech delivered March 10, 1968.

  • 8. Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, Vol. 4.

  • 9. David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 2004 [1986]).

  • 10. Aldon Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: Free Press, 1984).

  • 11. Andrew Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999).

  • 12. Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

  • 13. David Chapell, A Stone of Hope: Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

  • 14. Carolyn Dupont, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945–1975 (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

  • 15. Stephen Haynes, The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  • 16. Clayborne Carson, Tenisha Armstrong, Susan Carson, Adrienne Clay, Kieran Taylor, and Ralph Luker, et al., eds., The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., currently seven volumes and ongoing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992–).

  • 17. Hal Raines, ed., My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (New York: Penguin Books, 1983);

  • 18. Milton Sernett, ed., African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); Cornel West and Eddie Glaude, eds., African American Religious Thought: An Anthology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press); James Melvin Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper One, 1986); Stewart Burns, ed., Daybreak of Freedom, the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer, eds., Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s Through the 1980s (New York: Bantam, 1991); Faith Holsaert, ed., Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012); Constance Curry, Joan Browning, Dorothy Burlage, Penny Patch, Teresa del Pozzo, Sue Thrasher, Elaine Demott Baker, Emmie Schrader Adams, and Casey Hayden, eds., Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002).

  • 19. Eyes on the Prize (Blackside Productions, 1988).

  • 20. Davis Houck and David Dixon, eds., Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 2 vols. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007, 2014).

  • 21. Gayraud Wilmore and James Cone, eds., Black Theology: A Documentary History, 2 vols. (Boston: Orbis, 1979, 1992).