Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, just out with NYU Press. I had the pleasure of reading this in manuscript form a few years ago, and since then the author has gone through a lot of revisions to make an excellent manuscript even better!
This is, for my money, right at the top of the heap for works dealing with southern white churches and the civil rights movement (another one is Stephen Haynes's new book The Last Segregated Hour, which I have just reviewed at length in the new Reviews in American History and previously blogged about here; it focuses specifically on the story of kneel-ins in Memphis, and their aftermath in one particular Presbyterian Church there).
Here's a bit about the work from the NYU Press website; I'll post about the book more extensively in the near future when I'm not filling out departmental "assessment reports" and performing other critical and vital tasks like that. But suffice to say for here, this is a crisply written, strongly argued book that takes a decided stand on an issue (the degree of support that white southern churches gave to segregationism) that has been the subject of a most interesting and productive recent scholarly dispute.
Mississippi Praying examines the faith communities at ground-zero of the racial revolution that rocked America. This religious history of white Mississippians in the civil rights era shows how Mississippians’ intense religious commitments played critical, rather than incidental, roles in their response to the movement for black equality.
During the civil rights movement and since, it has perplexed many Americans that unabashedly Christian Mississippi could also unapologetically oppress its black population. Yet, as Carolyn Renée Dupont richly details, white southerners’ evangelical religion gave them no conceptual tools for understanding segregation as a moral evil, and many believed that God had ordained the racial hierarchy.
Challenging previous scholarship that depicts southern religious support for segregation as weak, Dupont shows how people of faith in Mississippi rejected the religious argument for black equality and actively supported the effort to thwart the civil rights movement. At the same time, faith motivated a small number of white Mississippians to challenge the methods and tactics of do-or-die segregationists. Racial turmoil profoundly destabilized Mississippi’s religious communities and turned them into battlegrounds over the issue of black equality. Though Mississippi’s evangelicals lost the battle to preserve segregation, they won important struggles to preserve the theology that had sustained the racial hierarchy. Ultimately, this history sheds light on the eventual rise of the religious right by elaborating the connections between the pre- and post-civil rights South.