God's Long Summer

by Charles Marsh

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661

One of the points of contention among Civil Rights leaders was whether people from out of state or people who weren't black could do effective work in the fight for equal rights. It's one of the questions that led to white volunteers being kicked out of several organizations. One of the people profiled in the book, Fannie Lou Hamer, believed white people could overcome racism and work for equality. Charles Marsh writes:

God was leading black men and women to freedom in Sunflower County, and Mrs. Hamer was determined to gather as many people as she could for the great journey. The black clergy should help lead the way; but if it did not, God would find leaders from other places—as God always had.

She wanted all people who agreed with the cause to be included in the fight; that wasn't always going to be the case, however.

Some people who worked with various groups fighting for voting rights were aware of these two different ideas. People who supported integration had to convince others not to force white people out of the movement—though that didn't last forever for every group. For example,

"Moses reminded his fellow staffers (who included several white women and men) that the one thing SNCC could do for the country that no one else could was "be above the race issue." He said, "I am concerned that we do integrate, because otherwise we'll grow up and have a racist movement. And if the white people don't stand with the Negroes as they go out now, then there will be a danger that after the Negroes get something they'll say, 'Okay, we got this by ourselves.' And the only way you can break that down is to have white people working alongside of you—so then it changes the whole complexion of what you're doing, so it isn't any longer Negro fighting white, it's a question of rational people against irrational people."

They believed that by including everyone, there would ultimately be a more positive outcome.

One issue that divided clergy in the south was the issue of integrated churches. Some religious leaders believed that churches should stay out of the Civil Rights movement. Others believed they shouldn't integrate at all and that black and white people shouldn't attend the same churches. This really frustrated some religious leaders. Marsh writes,

Dr. Selah cut short his sermon and made a brief statement: he loved his parishioners at Galloway but he could not serve in a congregation where any one was turned away on account of the color of their skin.

The issue often separated religious people from each other, including their families and church groups.

Church leaders who refused to take sides were often perceived as unsympathetic. They justified their decisions based on scripture in some cases. Marsh explains that

Unlike Hamer and Bowers, Douglas Hudgins refused to take sides in the struggle for civil rights. A prominent Southern Baptist and pastor of First Baptist Church of Jackson, Hudgins instead preached that the Gospel of Jesus Christ "has nothing to do with social movements or realities beyond the church; it’s a matter of individual salvation."

Of course, that meant that he was ignoring the violence being perpetrated against black people and Civil Rights workers.

The least sympathetic person portrayed in the book is Sam Bowers. He was a Klu Klux Klan leader who orchestrated the killing of various equal rights workers. Marsh says,

As the high priest of the anti-civil rights movement in Mississippi, Bowers called upon all his 'white, Protestant, Christian, Gentile patriots' to take up their cross (and, of course, burn it on occasion), to dedicate themselves to the sober task of protecting the godly heritage of their sovereign state.

He believed that the Civil Rights movement was actually a conspiracy to damage Christianity and the people who followed the religion. That was the reason he gave for his actions in the 1960s.

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