The Black Church in the Modern Civil Rights Movement

How did the black church respond to the modern Civil Rights Movement?

A key component in the success of the Civil Rights Movement, churches produced leadership and also provided spaces for organizing, strategizing, and training. They also served as places of refuge during various civil rights activities. Most black churches were not participants in the movement; instead, they provided much of the leadership needed, and the church as well as its leaders remained at the forefront of the movement. As well, some church leaders discouraged women from participating in the movement and warned them against receiving the civil rights workers in their homes or serving the movement in any way. The women, however, disregarded such directives. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was organized in 1957, primarily with black Baptists, but ministers from other church affiliations were also members. Founding president Martin Luther King Jr. was joined by Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, C. T. Vivian, James Lawson, Joseph Lowery, Kelly Miller Smith, Jesse Jackson, and others. Will D. Campbell was one of the few white pastors to actively work for civil rights in the South during the early years of the movement. Some pastors and spiritual leaders from other parts of the country became directly or indirectly involved in the movement as it gained momentum, while others did not participate for a variety of reasons, including their own racial prejudices.


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