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chapter 3 “If You Read Your Bible” The Faith of Southern White Workers Ralph Simmons grew up on a farm in Catawba County, North Carolina, an area that was soon to become a regional center for furniture making. His grandfather had emigrated from Holland and married into the German farming community that surrounded Concordia College in Conover. Ralph was one of seven children in the struggling family, so after sixth grade he left school and began working, first on the farm, but soon in public work. He graded roads and hauled lumber before catching on at a furniture company in his early twenties. When that company went bankrupt during the Depression, Simmons had already become proficient enough at building lathe heads, sharpening saws, and cutting wood that he caught on at Southern Furniture, a company making the transition from upholstering buggy seats to making upholstered home furnishings. He remained there until he retired with a partial disability in his sixties. Throughout his life, Simmons was a member of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, becoming a member of the Concordia Lutheran Church when he joined Southern Furniture in the 1930s. Although Lutherans were a distinct minority in the South, MissouriSynod Lutherans fit inwellin the evangelical Protestant culture there. Like most southern churches, Concordia Lutheran Church espoused that salvation came by faith alone and only through God’s grace, purchased by Jesus’s suffering on the Cross. Similarly, Concordia asserted that the Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. To those who belonged to the Missouri Synod, it was the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine. For Ralph Simmons, it was a simple and personal faith. His education and his slow speech made him reluctant to be a Sunday school teacher or church leader, but, he said, “I attended church as regular as I handily could,” and he read his Bible every day. Later in life, he tried to interest his grandson in becoming a minister and read the Bible with him every morning, but he regretted this when the boy became a Mormon. Simmons worried that it might have been his fault, but it never shook his faith. He continued to discuss his faith and distribute religious literature to interested coworkers. “We’re supposed to do it, 56 chapter 3 you know, and look forward to it. We were intended to work and proclaim Christ,” he believed. Concordia Lutheran Church and the Bible provided Simmons with a guide for living. Although the local filling station was a popular gathering spot for men, he followed the advice of Concordia’s preacher about not spending time there because they sold beer and used “rough words.” For Simmons, “that’s not the place to be. The Bible says we’re not to ‘set in the seat of the scornful.’ And you take where it’s something done that’s not right, I’d call that scornful.” Those beliefs guided his behavior at work as well: “[I am] supposed to use my time for the best of their [Southern Furniture’s] advantage, regardless of how they treat me or anything, what they pay me, how much or how little.” When his own work was slack, Simmons helped by sweeping the floor or running a lathe for an absent co-worker. This was not a strategy for advancement (he turned down an offer of promotion to foreman) but rather reflected his sense of duty to God and the company “to make an honest day.” In many respects, Simmons believed that this example was also his way of proclaiming his faith. Unions, to Simmons, were not part of God’s plan. “I always tried to be satisfied, and I didn’t pay no attention to what anyone else said,” he explained. This was a part of his upbringing but also a belief that shaped his attitudes about collective action. “If you read your Bible, you’ll see in there that you’re supposed to be satisfied with your wages. It don’t say how much or how little. John the Baptist spoke well of that, and also Christ did. And whenever we go beyond that, we go beyond our Supreme Being.” As someone whose church and whose faith taught that the Bible was “God’s inerrant and infallible Word,” Simmons looked for some sanctifying evidence that unions were part of God’s plan. “I don’t believe that anyone can show...


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