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Daily Demonstrators

The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries

Tobin Miller Shearer

Publication Year: 2010

The Mennonites, with their long tradition of peaceful protest and commitment to equality, were castigated by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. for not showing up on the streets to support the civil rights movement. Daily Demonstrators shows how the civil rights movement played out in Mennonite homes and churches from the 1940s through the 1960s. In the first book to bring together Mennonite religious history and civil rights movement history, Tobin Miller Shearer discusses how the civil rights movement challenged Mennonites to explore whether they, within their own church, were truly as committed to racial tolerance and equality as they might like to believe. Shearer shows the surprising role of children in overcoming the racial stereotypes of white adults. Reflecting the transformation taking place in the nation as a whole, Mennonites had to go through their own civil rights struggle before they came to accept interracial marriages and integrated congregations. Based on oral history interviews, photographs, letters, minutes, diaries, and journals of white and African-American Mennonites, this fascinating book further illuminates the role of race in modern American religion.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-xxi

In a conversation with a white Mennonite leader in 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. asked, “Where have you Mennonites been?”1 King’s theological studies made him aware of Mennonites’ long-term commitment to peacemaking, their racially egalitarian pronouncements, and their sacrificial efforts to bring about justice in the United States and throughout the world. King posed his question because he was looking for resources, both theological and human, to further the work of demonstrating for civil rights. Mennonites seemed like a logical group to join him in protest on the streets and sidewalks...

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CHAPTER 1. A Separated History

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pp. 1-28

The Reverend Rondo Horton understood white Mennonites. Since he began working for a Mennonite Brethren evangelist in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 1917, Horton moved in a religious community he would come to call his own. This ordained African- American minister and moderator of the North Carolina Mennonite Brethren Conference did not limit himself to one group of Mennonites. He thought of himself as “just a Mennonite.”1 Demonstrating his commitment to the broader Anabaptist community, Horton traveled to Chicago in 1959 and Atlanta in 1964 to participate in inter-Mennonite race relations conclaves...

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CHAPTER 2. Prayer-Covered Protest

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pp. 29-61

On a nameless country road in 1939, Rowena Lark and Fannie Swartzentruber stand relaxed and contented in each other’s presence (see figure 2.1). Lark, on the left, and Swartzentruber had been working together for two years at the Gay Street Mennonite Mission in Harrisonburg, Virginia, when a photographer took their picture. Although Lark was nearly two decades older than Swartzentruber, the two women had developed a close and lasting attachment, as suggested by the photo...

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CHAPTER 3. Fresh Air Disruption

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pp. 62-97

Margie Middleton could not contain herself. The unexpected separation from her best friend, Pat, was too fresh. During the weeks leading up to her country vacation from New York City in the early 1950s, no one explained to Middleton why her previous year’s hosts only invited Pat to return...

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CHAPTER 4. Vincent Harding’s Dual Demonstration

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pp. 98-129

On September 14, 1963, at a hastily organized civil rights meeting at Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, four African-American men spoke before Vincent Harding ever said a word. Each of them called for action. Ed Riddick, a member of Woodlawn Mennonite Church in Chicago, cajoled the assembled midwestern Mennonite leaders to “apply the gospel to the whole man . . .

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CHAPTER 5. The Wedding March

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pp. 130-159

Annabelle and Gerald Hughes thought the worst was over. The pastor at Oak Grove Mennonite Church in Smithville, Ohio, had supported their interracial marriage, on November 21, 1954, despite objections from members of the all-white congregation.1 The Hugheses had found a replacement for the men’s quartet member who withdrew because of concerns about their union...

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CHAPTER 6. Congregational Campaign

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pp. 160-189

Community Mennonite convulsed the first time a black preacher stood behind the pulpit. In early 1959 pastor Ron Krehbiel invited Vincent Harding to speak to his congregation in Markham, a suburb just south of Chicago. Soon after the African-American Mennonite pastor and activist finished preaching, members of the small, all-white church inundated Krehbiel with objections...

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CHAPTER 7. The Manifesto Movement

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pp. 190-220

On April 26, 1969, black power activist James Forman presented the “Black Manifesto to the White Christian Church and the Jewish Synagogues in the United States of America and All Other Racist Institutions” at the National Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit. With the backing of the Detroit conference delegates, Forman demanded an initial payment of $500 million for Christian and Jewish participation in slavery and the ongoing oppression of African Americans...

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CHAPTER 8. A New Civil Rights Story

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pp. 221-250

The nonviolent movement is telling us, by its philosophy and ritualistic acts, that change comes not only by a few external acts but by a great many internal acts.they had recently returned from a Fresh Air vacation in the country. The other demonstrators from this St. Louis congregation paid no heed to the photographer as they conversed after worship. At the top of the steps, two ...

Appendix. Interview Subjects

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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-328


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pp. 329-343


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pp. 345-361

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899430
E-ISBN-10: 0801899435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801897009
Print-ISBN-10: 0801897009

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 30 halftones
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700351
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Daily Demonstrators

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Subject Headings

  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • General Conference Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights -- Religious aspects -- General Conference Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • Race relations -- Religious aspects -- General Conference Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights -- Religious aspects -- Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
  • Race relations -- Religious aspects -- Mennonite Church -- History -- 20th century.
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