Journal of Southern Religion

Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. Episcopalians & Race: Civil War to Civil Rights. Lexington, University of Kentucky Press. 298+xiii.

Episcopalians and Race clearly adds much new scholarship to discussions of American History, the history of the Episcopal Church in America, and religion in the South. Synthesizing numerous documents, the book is well researched and lucidly written. Shattuck gives the reader insight into the ways various organizations within the Episcopal Church were formed in response to racial struggles as well as the individuals who played key roles in them. Shattuck’s book chronicles Episcopalian beliefs about race relations from the Civil War through the 1980s and traces the activities resulting from these beliefs. More specifically, he focuses upon the interaction of Episcopal Church leaders and Episcopal African Americans. Shattuck clearly demonstrates that their progress towards full participation in the life of the church was to be as difficult as their struggle to obtain suffrage in American society as a whole.

"Prior to the Brown decision, the racism of white Episcopalians took the form of paternalism: their lesser but certainly beloved black members needed the guidance of their white brethren. "  


Shattuck divides his study into three major sections. The first, focusing on segregation, covers the policies and practices of the Episcopal Church from just after the Civil War until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, when the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools. Immediately after the Civil War, many African Americans who had been members of the Episcopal Church left it for newly formed denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Despite the efforts of Alexander Crummell and the establishment of the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People, the leaders in the Episcopal Church were, on the whole, too prejudiced ever to share leadership with blacks. Shattuck demonstrates that racism on the part of white Episcopalians largely caused this exodus of black Americans and that racism was the problem from the Civil War until the 1980s.

Prior to the Brown decision, the racism of white Episcopalians took the form of paternalism: their lesser but certainly beloved black members needed the guidance of their white brethren. Shattuck says Episcopal leaders accepted segregation and did not believe that change would occur soon. Moreover, despite the genuine desire of many African American Episcopalians to remain within the Anglican Tradition, the sometimes more blatant racism of many laypeople, such as Jessie Ball duPont, always relegated blacks to a powerless place in the Church. Thus the Episcopal Church’s rhetoric of unity clearly did not extend to the practice of equality among its black members.

Part II of Shattuck’s narrative surveys the struggle after the Brown decision. In a gesture disapproving of racist practices in Houston, the Church rejected the city as a suitable place for the 1955 General Convention and instead met in Honolulu, where the convention endorsed the Brown decision. This endorsement, Shattuck says, was far from a consensus. Prior to Brown, the policy of the Episcopal Church had been to establish separate institutions to improve the plight of blacks; and although nationally the Church had shifted its policy towards integration, some prestigious southern churches had adopted resolutions endorsing segregation, affirming that segregation contained no intrinsic evil.

When the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools, some southern Episcopalians heroically supported these new federal policies, though they often paid a price for it. Understanding racial justice to be an ethical imperative of their faith, such enlightened southern aristocrats as Sarah Patton Boyle, J. Waties Waring, and Carl and Anne Braden were ostracized and sometimes suffered even physical abuse for their beliefs. Others who supported integration were forced to belittle civil rights activism occurring elsewhere in the United States, calling these “non-southern” views on the subject “extreme” and suggesting a lack of patriotism in some Northern Episcopalians’ views. Those southerners who prominently supported integration often experienced isolation from other church members. For example, when Thomas Thrasher, the rector of a parish in Montgomery, Alabama, openly supported civil rights, he received no support from his Bishop. Furthermore, as Shattuck points out, the national church also did nothing to support Thrasher or others who took similar positions.

By the late 1950s, despite the work of people such well-known Episcopalians as Pauli Murray, Kenneth Clark, and Thurgood Marshall, by and large members of the Episcopal Church remained tepid about the issue of racial desegregation. Beginning in 1957, a number of southern Episcopal Church leaders felt a growing sense of impatience with the typical southern attitude of Episcopalians toward status quo racial practices in the South. Simultaneously, reformist activities were taking place in northern parishes. Drawing on a tradition expressed in the writings of such theologians as F.D. Maurice, Charles Gore, and William Temple, several American Episcopal theologians also stressed the importance of the Church’s engagement with the world. Growing from past establishmentarianism in the English Church, this “social gospel” took shape in various ministries that Shattuck calls “hegemonic,” where upper-middle-class Anglicans became involved in inner-city ministries, such as the legal aid lay ministry of William Stringfellow and the priestly ministries of Paul Moore and Kilmer Myers.

The 1958 General Convention proved disappointing to this spirit of reform. Many came to believe that only an organization faithful to the beliefs of the Episcopal Church but independent of it could further the ideal of a racially united Church suggested by these reformers. Under the leadership of John B. Morris and Cornelius Tarplee, the Episcopal Society of Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU) was established in Raleigh, North Carolina, in December 1959. But this organization alienated many like-minded southerners and drew bitter attacks from conservative southerners. Concurrent with the Freedom rides, ESCRU sponsored its own public condemnation of racism: ESCRU organized a “prayer pilgrimage” to begin in New Orleans and move north. This action received a cool reception from most Ordinaries and clergy in the South. By contrast, northern church leaders actively engaged in this struggle. However, Shattuck observes that these activities had little effect, because what was really needed was for the Episcopal Church’s leadership to “step out of the limelight and aid African Americans in less obtrusive ways.” Subsequently the South witnessed increasing violence against Episcopalians who supported the civil rights struggle. A notable example was the murder of Jonathan Daniels, a black seminarian from New Hampshire, who was murdered in Alabama, August 20, 1965.

Part III of the book, titled “Fragmentation,” covers the Church’s attempts to respond to the Black Power Movement. When integration was not fully achieved and the cruelties of life for blacks in northern urban areas went unrelieved, some African Americans turned to the separatist movement. In response to this crisis, Presiding Bishop John Hines, deeply committed to the cause of racial justice, created the “General Convention Special Programs” with money to help inner-city blacks. Ironically, this attempt at prophetic leadership in the Church only alienated black clergy and various diocesan Bishops. Shattuck also evaluates fairly the tenure of Hines’s successor, John Allin, who was more conservative but who, as a southerner, was realistic about the racial problems in the South and the nation as a whole.

Shattuck’s the narrative concludes with some brief observations about the 1991 General Convention held in Phoenix despite Presiding Bishop Edmund Browing’s insistence on holding the meeting there even though Arizona refused to create a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., whereas a generation earlier the Church had refused to meet in Houston over its perceived racism. Shattuck concludes that while the civil rights movement transformed the Episcopal Church in many ways, the Church was far from realizing the Incarnational ideals that make up much of its theological rhetoric.

Shattuck’s book is impressive in the amount and quality of information he presents in the relatively short 218 pages. One minor criticism is that the book does not fully discuss what changes in theological trends, such as the advent of feminist theology, might account for the Church’s seemingly diminished interest in racial issues during Bishop Edmond Browning’s leadership in the 1990s. And, although the book might have been strengthened by more detailed analysis of theological discussions underpinning the Church’s activism during the twentieth century, it gives the reader--whether generalist, historian, or theologian--a fine overview of the Church’s role in the racial struggles during this period.

Clark M. Brittain, Greenville Technical College 


2001 by The Journal of Southern Religion. All rights reserved. ISSN 1094-5234

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