2016-06-30
Pete Daniel devotes a fair portion of his rich, stylish portrait of the South at mid-century to religion. He is especially interested in the relationship between religion and the defense of segregation. Many Southern preachers, he says, were complicit in segregation--but, noting Jesus' willingness to mingle with poor folks, women, and lepers, a number of progressive ministers challenged Jim Crow. After the 1954 Brown decision, the Southern Baptist Convention urged its flock to accept desegregation. Southern Presbyterians called for the desegregation of all-white churches and colleges.

Daniel realizes that integration wasn't the only thing on Southern Protestants' minds. In the late '50s, evangelical college students openly flaunted their denominations' bans on dancing. ("Some of the women students dressed in black and pinned a red 'D' on their sweaters. 'It's my scarlet letter,' one explained; 'I dance. I'm a sinner.'") Religion even shaped how Southerners thought about atomic weapons and the Cold War-ruminating on possible annihilation, apocalyptically-inclined Christians read up on biblical prophesies that God would destroy the world in flames.

If you're interested in religion and American culture, don't miss "Lost Revolutions."

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