A Stone of Hope

In 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to faith that his people could carve “a stone of hope” from “a mountain of despair” he was not the only person who believed in his own perception of the desegregation cause. Author David L. Chappell explores the “faith” of integrationists and segregationists, as well as liberals, moderates, and conservatives in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. He examines the role of religion in shaping the Civil Rights movement and its surprisingly swift and positive outcome.

In Chappell's reinterpretation of the motivating factors, he concentrates less on the political protest and more on the religious fervor reminiscent of the Hebrew prophets that provided solidarity. He examines the philosophy behind the various stances from segregation to gradual versus immediate integration. While emphasizing the religious nature, messianic expectations, nonviolent protest, and zeal, Chappell's secularization downplays the spiritual implications of the Civil Rights movement's quest to end the “sin of segregation.” His interpretation of religion is surprisingly sterile in light of the power traditional religions ascribe to the Holy Spirit and His impact on the human conscience.

The awkward book structure includes profuse notes for each chapter formatted as approximately 150 pages of back matter requiring the reader to continually flip from the main text to the enlightening clarifications which deserve to be read. Despite the oversimplified take on religion, Chappell's work does investigate the role of the various denominations including the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, and significant church leaders such as King and Billy Graham. He also provides insight into the opponents of the movement that should prompt further scholarly study. Chappell's quest to unearth the role of religious tradition will, hopefully, begin a search for understanding of the influence of faith in righting moral wrong.