Vernon Johns Day


On this MLK day, it's high time to high-five Vernon Johns, courtesy of Civil War Memory and Ralph Luker. From Ralph's introductory essay:

There was a time when John the Baptist was better known than the obscure man of Gallilee who came after him and there was a time when Vernon Johns was better known than Martin Luther King, Jr. When King became the pastor of Montgomery, Alabama’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he identified himself as Vernon Johns’ successor. Subsequent events made it inevitable that Johns would ever thereafter be known as Martin Luther King’s predecessor.

Vernon Johns and Martin Luther King differed in remarkable ways. Johns was born in the rural South and found city life distasteful; King was born in the urban South and won his greatest victories in its cities. Johns was of the generation of King’s father and died in the midst of the civil rights crusade; King’s generation gave the movement its leadership in large numbers and some historians date its end at his death. Johns was an enthusiastic spokesman for black capitalism; King was a critic of capitalism’s economic disparities. Johns advocated armed self-defense of communities of color in the South; King hoped the South could become a peaceable kingdom via aggressive nonviolent protest. Vernon Johns’ congregations sometimes drove him from their pulpit, only subsequently to rehire him; either of Martin Luther King’s congregations would happily have made him their pastor into eternity. . . .

Read the rest here.


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