HIST 2310 04/RELG 2440 02

Religion and the Civil Rights Movement


Steven P. Miller, Ph.D.


Webster University, Fall 2009, TR 1:30-2:50 p.m., Main Campus, WEBH 329


Office Hours: HSPC 103, TR before or after class (or contact me for an appointment)

Email: stevenmiller79@webster.edu (usually the best way to reach me)

Phone: 314-853-5495 (strictly for emergencies only; no calls after 8:30 p.m.!)


Course Goals

1.)    Students will articulate the Civil Rights Movement as a theological conflict, delineating and analyzing the significant actors in this conflict.

2.)   Students will interpret primary and secondary documents, relating them to larger course themes.

3.)   Students will construct and defend arguments concerning critical questions in American history and American religion.


Course Description and Themes

The Civil Rights Movement was, for many of its participants, a deeply religious crusade.  Many opponents of the Civil Rights Movement also made religious claims.  This course explores the civil rights era through the lens of the faith that informed so many of its actors.  Looking at first-hand accounts, documentary footage, sermon texts, and the latest scholarship, we will explore the religious worldviews that inspired sit-ins and marches, but also cross burnings.  Subjects include the black church tradition that influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., the grassroots prophetic faith of Fannie Lou Hamer, and the theology of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.  The course also considers the religious perspectives of segregationists (including Klansmen), as well as white racial moderates, such as the evangelist Billy Graham.


Required Books/Readings (all books paperback)

·         David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (University of North Carolina, 2007 [2005])  ISBN-10: 0807856606  ISBN-13: 978-0807856604 (paperback)

·         Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, The Black Church, and the Transformation of America (University of Illinois Press, 2006)  ISBN-10: 0252073908  ISBN-13: 978-0252073908 (paperback)

·         Readings posted on the WorldClassroom course homepage.

·         Book for presentation/review assignment (available through the Webster library system or Mobius, if you prefer not to purchase)


Class Structure and Expectations

Classes will consist of a blend of discussions and short lectures.  The latter will outline critical themes, provide important factual information, and frame key questions for discussions of the readings.  Fruitful discussion cannot occur without close engagement of the readings, listed just below each class date.


*** Attendance: Excused absences must be approved in advance in order to arrange for alternative assignments.  In the case of emergencies, inform me of your absence in a timely manner. ***


*** If you have a special need that might have some impact on your work in this class or require modest accommodations, please see me so that these can be arranged.  Students with documented physical and learning disabilities must register with the Academic Resources Center (http://www.webster.edu/arc/index.shtml; 314-246-7620) in order to arrange for appropriate academic accommodations. ***



#1 Participation, written summaries, and discussion assignments (20% of final grade)

  • Quality participation reflects engagement with the assigned readings.  The participation component might also include in-class assignments. 
  • When instructed to do so, prepare a short written response (1-2 pp.) for non-textbook readings.  I will supply reading questions.  The main purpose of the response assignment is to serve as a starting point for in-class discussion—that is, a first draft interpretation of readings that we will “unpack” together in class. 


#2 Midterm Exam, 10/15 (20%)


#3 Essays on Stone of Hope, 11/5 (20%), and Singing in a Strange Land, 11/24 (20%)


#4 Presentation and reflection-research essay on memoir, end of semester (20%)


Academic Dishonesty

By enrolling in this course, you agree to the following policy: As part of Webster University’s Statement of Ethics, the University strives to preserve academic honor and integrity by repudiating all forms of academic and intellectual dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism and all other forms of academic dishonesty.  The University reserves the right to utilize electronic databases, such as Turnitin.com, to assist faculty and students with their academic work.  Academic dishonesty is unacceptable and is subject to a disciplinary response, including any or all of the following: failure of paper, failure of course, and reporting of offending parties to department chair.  


Grading Scale 

A 93-100, A- 90-92, B+ 87-89, B 83-86, B- 80-82, C+ 77-79, C 73-76, C- 70-72, D 69-60

Course Schedule


T 8/25                        Introduction: The Civil Rights Movement as a Theological Conflict           


R 8/27                        Black Church Traditions


Frederick Douglass, “Evangelical Flogging” (1847)


T 9/1               The Social Gospel and Prophetic Christianity

Howard Thurman, from Jesus and the Disinherited (1949)

Dennis C. Dickerson, “African American Religious Intellectuals and the Theological

            Foundations of the Civil Rights Movement” (2005)


R 9/3              The Calling of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Taylor Branch, from Parting the Waters (1988)


T 9/8              A King for All Seasons

Clayborne Carson, “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the African-American Social Gospel” (1994)

Cornel West, “Prophetic Christianity as Organic Intellectual: Martin Luther King, Jr.” (1999)

James H. Cone, “The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.” (1986)


R 9/10                        American Gandhism

Richard Gregg, from The Power of Nonviolence (1959)


T 9/15             James Lawson and the Nashville Student Movement

“Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Statement of Purpose” (1960)

Additional Reading, TBA


R 9/17                        Fred Shuttlesworth and Birmingham

Andrew Manis, from A Fire You Can’t Put Out (1999)


T 9/22                        The Civil Religion of the White South

Charles Reagan Wilson, from Judgment & Grace in Dixie (1995)

George D. Armstrong, “The Christian Doctrine of Slavery: God’s Work in God’s Way” (1857)


R 9/24            Segregationist Theology, I (The Spirituality of the Church)

Jerry Falwell, from “Ministers and Marches” (1965)

Curtis W. Freeman, “‘Never Had I Been So Blind’: W. A. Criswell’s ‘Change’ on Race

            Relations” (2007)


T 9/29                        Segregationist Theology, II (Sex and Purity)

Jane Dailey, “Sex, Segregation, and the Sacred after Brown” (2006)

Charles Marsh, from God’s Long Summer (1999)



R 10/1                        White Moderates in the South

Steven P. Miller, from Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009)


T 10/6                        Liberal Protestants

Reinhold Niebuhr on race in America (excerpts TBA)


R 10/8                        Catholics and Civil Rights

John T. McGreevy, from Parish Boundaries (1996)


T 10/13          “Blacks and Jews” Documentary


R 10/15          MIDTERM




T 10/27          American Jeremiad: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“Statement by Alabama Clergymen” (1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)


R 10/29          Faith and Civil Rights Legislation

James Findlay, from Church People and the Struggle (1993)


T 11/3             The Triumph of Prophetic Faith I

David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 1-104


R 11/5             The Triumph of Prophetic Faith II

David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 105-193



T 11/10           The Nation of Islam

Elijah Muhammad, from Message to the Blackman in America (1965)


R 11/12           Black Power and Black Pride

The “Black Manifesto” (1969)

Maulana Karenga on Kwanzaa (2008)

The “Seven Principles” of Kwanzaa (2008) 


T 11/17           Black Theology

James H. Cone, from Black Theology and Black Power (1969)


R 11/19           God and the Great Migration

Be reading Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land


T 11/24           The Life and Meaning of C. L. Franklin

Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land



R 11/26          THANKSGIVING


T 12/1             Changes and Challenges, I: Race and the Christian Right

Paul Harvey, from Freedom’s Coming (2005)

Jerry Falwell, from The Fundamentalist Phenomenon (1981)


R 12/3                        Changes and Challenges, II: Black Civil Religion in the Obama Era

David Remnick, “The Joshua Generation” (2008)


T 12/8                        Presentations


R 12/10          Presentations


R 12/17           Presentations on Final Exam date (10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.)