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Preface and Acknowledgments For more than three decades we have been interested in the religious beliefs that animated a good deal of working-class life in America. As we rummaged through archival collections, newspapers, oral histories, memoirs, and other documents—often in the search for information about some other topic—we have been struck by how often matters of faith surfaced at the most unexpected times. Movements that strove to unite working people around issues of social justice have either had to incorporate the sacred into their programs or run the risk of having their nonbelief exposed, often to the detriment of worthy projects. In coauthored articles and in our separate works, we have written on some of the efforts that the trade-union movement made to attach a religious meaning to their undertakings, ranging from the Gilded Age to the 1950s. Still, we have always wanted to tackle jointly a moment in which faith appeared to be a central element in shaping how working people responded to a major union-organizing campaign. The CIO’s Operation Dixie, which has not been the subject of a booklength study for a quarter century, seemed to us to be that moment. Certainly, we knew of the importance of the sacred in southern society. One of the descriptors typically used for the South has been “Bible Belt.” Historians, from Christine Heyrman in colonial times to Bertram Wyatt Brown in the nineteenth century to Charles Reagan Wilson in more modern times, have written about the southern spirit and identified religion as one of the pillars of southern culture, one that was instrumental in propping up the entire edifice.1 For the vast majority of southerners, that religion was evangelical Protestantism. Ultimately, if the CIO was to be successful in bringing unions to southern working people in 1946, its organizers would have to understand their attraction to evangelicalism. What better place to investigate how religion intersected with the hopes, dreams, inclinations, and fears of working people considering whether or not to throw in their lot with a labor movement that sought to dramatically challenge southern society? Equally important, the CIO’s campaign had great ambitions. By the end of World War II, the CIO had established itself in many of the nation’s core industries , and union density was climbing toward its highest level (about one-third of the workforce), which it would reach in the early 1950s. With greater success, viii Preface and Acknowledgments CIO leaders believed that they could also affect the nation’s political climate, reenergizing New Deal liberalism. The weak link for organized labor was the South. The region continued to resist union-driven collective bargaining and the liberal Democratic politics that were intertwined with union growth. Consequently, not only was the CIO’s Southern Organizing Campaign an ideal laboratory to examine the impact of religion, it was also a social movement that would have a significant impact on the sustainability of the New Deal system of labor relations. If organized labor failed there, the region would become a refuge for corporations that sought to escape the reach of collective bargaining and liberal politics. For us, the question loomed: What difference did evangelical Protestantism make in working people’s feelings about not just union membership but also about the more expansive liberal state that national unions desired? The CIO’s Operation Dixie coincided with an upheaval in race relations and a debilitating “red scare” that complicated its chances for success among the white workers whom the campaign targeted. The choice to make white workers the focus was and continues to be a subject of controversy. Black theology in the main was less subject to fears about the Communist menace, more accepting of collective social action, and obviously more interested in overturning the racial status quo. Would not the CIO have enjoyed more success by playing to that strength? At the very least, would not Operation Dixie have left a more heroic legacy?2 But that was not the way that CIO strategists understood their objectives. They felt that the CIO needed to achieve breakthroughs among the white workers who made up the bulk of the South’s industrial workforce, especially in textiles, the industry that presented the greatest challenge to the spread of unionism in the region. Once achieved, CIO leaders reasoned, the organization of black workers would follow easily, and organized labor would realize its desired density. Given the CIO’s understanding of what constituted success, we decided to focus...


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