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And One Was a Priest

The Life and Times of Duncan M. Gray Jr.

Araminta Stone Johnston

Publication Year: 2011

The story of the civil rights movement is not simply the history of its major players but is also the stories of a host of lesser-known individuals whose actions were essential to the movement's successes. Duncan M. Gray Jr., an Episcopal priest who served various Mississippi parishes between 1953 and 1974, when he was elected bishop of Mississippi, is one of these individuals. And One Was a Priest is his remarkable story.From one perspective, Gray (b. 1926) would seem an unlikely spokesman for racial equality and reconciliation. He could have been content simply to become a member of the white, male Missisippi "club." Gray could have embraced a comfortable life and ignored the burning realities around him. But he chose instead to use his priesthood to speak in unpopular but prophetic support of justice and equality for African Americans. From his student days at the seminary at the University of the South, to his first church in Cleveland, Mississippi, and most famously to St. Peter's Parish in Oxford, where he confronted rioters in 1962, Gray steadfastly and fearlessly fought the status quo. He continued to work for racial reconciliation, inside and outside of the church, throughout his life.This biography tells not only Gray's story, but also reveals the times and people that helped make him. The author's question is "What makes a good person?" And One Was a Priest suggests there is much to learn from Gray's choices and his struggle.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xv

In the world of the twenty-first century the words of this children’s hymn tend to strike us as quaintly naïve and perhaps impossibly hopeful, but fifty years ago these were impressive words to me. In the apparently safe, secure world of 1950s Mississippi in which I, a privileged and somewhat overly sensitive white child, grew up, these words from the 1940 ...

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pp. xvi-xviii

A work of many years means many, many people to thank for all their support, physical, emotional, and spiritual. First, thanks to Duncan and Ruthie Gray, who could not have been more wonderful to work with. In addition to offering me the hospitality of their home and table, they were always open to my inquiries. Bishop Gray spent ...

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CHAPTER 1. “Stop This Violence!”: University of Mississippi, September 1962

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pp. 3-21

Late in the evening of September 30, 1962, the Rev. Duncan M. Gray Jr. mounted the base of the Confederate monument on the campus of the University of Mississippi. A slight, balding man in glasses, he shouted to be heard above the din. “General! General! Speak to these students! You can persuade them! Tell them to stop this violence and rioting! Tell them to go back to their ...

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CHAPTER 2. “What Is Just and Right”: Oxford, Mississippi, 1962

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pp. 22-41

Indeed, during those early September weeks, Mississippi officials, both elected and appointed, as well as anonymous troublemakers, continued to ratchet up the level of hysteria in the state and increase the potential for violence. Other Mississippians agreed with Gray’s assessment of the situation. Barrett comments, “The absence of serious public discussion of the problem ...

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CHAPTER 3. “The Family Is a Primary Source of Grace”: Lineage

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pp. 42-60

This saying, once common among white Mississippians of an older generation, aptly describes, for better and for worse, the most “Southern” of states; and, to a remarkable degree, these words remain true even today. Mississippians, when they meet, especially outside the state, tend to greet each other with a certain bon homie that seems to signify an immediate sense of rapport seldom matched ...

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CHAPTER 4. “They Said I Should Be an Engineer”: Tulane and Westinghouse, 1944–50

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pp. 61-80

On July 1, 1943, seventy thousand young men reported to 131 different colleges and universities throughout the United States to begin both their college careers and their training to become naval officers.1 Eight hundred and fifty of those young men reported to the Tulane University campus in New Orleans, Louisiana, where a year later, Duncan and approximately ...

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CHAPTER 5. “He Is a Natural”: University of the South, 1950–52

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pp. 81-96

Sewanee, Tennessee, is a tiny town located on what is known locally as “the Mountain,” a rise of about fifteen hundred feet above sea level on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Today, Sewanee is about an hour’s drive northwest by interstate from Chattanooga, the closest small city. A little more than an hour by interstate further west is Nashville, referred ...

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CHAPTER 6. “Faith Can Move Mountains”: University of the South, 1953

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pp. 97-118

The summer of 1952 had indeed been eventful at Sewanee, and, as Gray indicated, the “events” continued throughout Gray’s senior year at the seminary. He was one of those deeply involved in them, and the experience did shape him for the rest of his life, especially during his more than twenty years of parish ministry. Of those events at Sewanee during ...

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CHAPTER 7. “Little Old Ladies at Three O’clock in the Afternoon”: Mississippi Delta, 1953–54

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pp. 119-135

After his graduation from seminary, Gray was given his first parish assignment: Calvary Church in Cleveland and the smaller but older Grace Church in Rosedale, both in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Bolivar County borders the Mississippi River on its western edge; it is there that Rosedale is located. Cleveland is about twenty miles east, near the county’s ...

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CHAPTER 8. “Segregation Is Incompatible with the Christian Gospel”: Mississippi, 1955–56

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pp. 136-155

Gray’s views were diametrically opposed to these private and public racists who supported closing public schools, and he could not sit idly by while leaders throughout the South, but especially in Mississippi, espoused such sentiments. The Department of Christian Social Relations for the Fourth Province of the Episcopal Church (which includes all southeastern ...

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CHAPTER 9. “We Are Responsible”: Oxford, 1957–62

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pp. 156-174

When moving to oxford had first come up as a possibility, Ruthie was less than enthusiastic. “It wasn’t Oxford. Oxford was fine. I’d been in college there. It was leaving Cleveland. We were so settled in there. I was born in the same house that my mother was born in, and I just hadn’t been raised with this moving around. Since we’d gotten married, we’d lived ...

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CHAPTER 10. “They Wouldn’t Feel Comfortable until I Was Gone”: Oxford, 1963–65

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pp. 175-194

Before long the letters began arriving too. Ruthie, determined to keep some lightness in a difficult time, filed them in folders labeled “in-state goodies” and “in-state baddies” as well as “out-of-state goodies” and “out-of-state baddies.” Three of the four files remain. As Will Campbell has observed, it is almost emblematic of Gray and his loving, forgiving attitude toward his fellow Mississippians that it is the “in-state ...

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CHAPTER 11. The Philadelphia Murders: Mississippi, 1964

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pp. 195-206

Julian Bond, who served as communications director for the 1964 Freedom Summer effort, writes, “My job for Freedom Summer would be to spread the word that the Civil Rights Movement was staging a confrontation with the nation’s most recalcitrant state. The summer’s events provided more than enough opportunity to contrast democracy’s dream ...

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CHAPTER 12. “We Must Return to the Dream”: Meridian, 1965–68

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pp. 207-224

In the memories of many outside of Mississippi, the 1964 murders of Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman near Meridian marked the peak of white Mississippians’ resistance to the integration of their society and gave the state a well-deserved reputation as the most racist part of America in the mid-twentieth century. But while those murders received the greatest amount of attention then, as well as today, they ...

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CHAPTER 13. “We Are Inevitably Involved”: Meridian, 1968–74

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pp. 225-237

Once again, Gray did not content himself with sermons on the local situation. Later in April, he joined with his friend Bill Johnson, director of economic development at the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, and other clergy and business leaders to form an interracial group called the Committee of Conscience, which took as its mission the rebuilding of black churches that had been torched. Johnson placed the group’s origins in a ...

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CHAPTER 14. “The Bishop’s Role Is to Be a Pastor”: Jackson, 1974–93

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pp. 238-259

In the Episcopal Church, a bishop coadjutor is elected by a combination of clerical and lay delegates in a specially called convention. The coadjutor’s role is to assist the diocesan bishop, and the assumption is that when the diocesan bishop leaves his post, the coadjutor will succeed him. In Mississippi in 1974, it was clear that the bishop coadjutor whom the ...

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AFTERWORD. “I’m Not a Crusader”: Retirement

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pp. 260-261

... Gray said often, by which he meant that he never saw himself as someone whose primary vocation is to call God’s people to account for their failure to live up to God’s demands for justice and righteousness. The vocation of a Christian minister is sometimes spoken of as combining three biblical roles: priest, prophet, and pastor. The priest is the one who serves God and God’s people by administering ...


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pp. 262-279


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pp. 280-282


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pp. 283-287

E-ISBN-13: 9781604738292
E-ISBN-10: 1604738294
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604738285
Print-ISBN-10: 1604738286

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011