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chapter 2 Unrest in Zion Southern Churches in Depression and War The Depression shaped forever Anne Queen’s outlook on life. After losing her father when she was nine, Anne, her mother, and two sisters moved in with her grandfather in the hills of western North Carolina, where they managed to make ends meet through the 1920s. Although neither her grandfather nor her mother had much formal education, they were both avid readers, and they insisted that the girls finish high school even though they could not afford to send them to college. In 1930, Anne Queen graduated and began work as a paper cutter at Champion Paper and Fibre Company. The company was “very much a family institution,” Queen remembered, but that did not mean the working conditions were attractive; Queen worked nine-hour days for fourteen cents an hour. Like many workers, she fondly recalled the day she learned that the National Recovery Act had passed and that she would soon earn forty cents per hour and work a maximum of forty hours per week: “This is why I am a New Deal Democrat and it is why I admired the Roosevelts.” These experiences shaped more than her politics. She grew up in the fist Spring Hill Baptist Church, “baptized in a pond.” In her twenties, however, Queen began to feel that “the church had no social message.” In 1940, she finally got the chance to go to college at Berea in Kentucky. Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and coeducational institution in the South, Berea still pursued its mission to educate underprivileged Appalachians and promote inclusion. While there, Anne Queen’s religious views opened. She read books by the Social Gospel Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch and was introduced to Christian activists like Howard Kester and the prophetic radicals in the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. Her world was never the same.1 MaryThompsonexperiencedadifferentsortofupheavalinherspiritualoutlook. She grew up in a strict, Hardshell Baptist (that is, conservative and Calvinistic) family that forbade dancing, smoking, and drinking, and made the church the center of their social life. She lived a childhood like many other mill children—homemade clothes, tending the garden or milking the family cow before school, and minding her younger siblings. School in the mill villages reinforced the religious culture she 34 chapter 2 learned from her mother; teachers led prayer and devotion before school began and used Bible stories to teach “what’s right and wrong.” At fifteen, Thompson was married, but by eighteen she was divorced with a child. As soon as she weaned her daughter she went to work at the Poe mill in Greenville, hiring an African American woman to watch the child during the day for two dollars a week. Thompson quickly advanced to pattern maker, taking jobs at a variety of mills in the Carolinas and Virginia during the Depression years, often leaving her daughter with her mother and seeing her only on weekends. Like Anne Queen, Mary Thompson had positive memories of Franklin Roosevelt and the changes in working conditions his administration ushered in, even though at the time she thought that working only eight hours for what amounted to ten hours’ pay “was the dumbest thing I ever heard tell of.” Eventually, Mary settled in a mill village near Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1939, where she met her second husband, Carl Thompson, also a child of strict Baptist millworkers.2 Carl and Mary Thompson experienced many of the same things that led Anne Queen to the Social Gospel and a long association with liberal, prophetic, Protestant organizations. But the Thompsons never left the Fundamentalist, Biblebelieving churches of their upbringing. Mary believed that “the Lord is all we are,” and, as she said, “If I do things wrong, I know that I can always come back to Him.” For Carl, his religious conversion experience was etched into his memory. He remembered going to a church revival and for two nights refusing to “give an account of my sins and be saved.” On the third night he heard the calling: “I just went right on up there and fell down on my knees right in front of the church, and I started praying.” He then stood and wiped the tears from his eyes and said: “Thank the Lord. I am saved. All my sins has been forgiven, and I’ve let Christ come into my heart tonight. I’m a different creature than what I was whenever I come in here.” Although they remained...


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