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chapter 7 Red Scares and Black Scares On the evening of May 18, 1946, a crowd of more than 250 people gathered at the Bible Baptist Tabernacle in Knoxville, Tennessee. Most were past middle age, “bald and grey,” and, to one observer, distinctly rural in origin. At 8:15, the Fundamentalist minister Rev. A. A. Haggard of nearby Maryville opened the meeting by thanking his host, Rev. T. Wesley Hill, a man always willing to “help a worthy cause.” After singing evangelical hymns and saluting the “Christian Flag,” Haggard launched into a tirade against Communism, which he said had made “definite plans to take over America this year, using ‘organized labor and the Negroes.’” Haggard claimed that “God had called the meeting together,” concerned that the Southern Baptist Convention had recently passed a resolution denouncing the Ku Klux Klan. He told the audience that he and “all fundamentalist preachers are first on the communist death list.” Haggard spoke for an hour, although his main responsibility was to introduce the main speaker, Rev. Clarence E. Garrett of Harding, Kentucky. Garrett also spoke about fighting Communism and defending white supremacy. The Klan, he explained, “far from provoking race riots, is instrumental in warding them off and putting them down after they are ‘stirred up by communists preaching social equality.’” Garrett claimed that there were one thousand Communists in Knoxville, and they had been responsible for forcing WNOX to cancel the radio preaching of conservative evangelist J. Harold Smith. Like Smith, Garrett asserted that religious freedom was at risk, and that the Klan was one group that could withstand Communism, racial equality, the CIO, and the Federal Council of Churches.1 That Communism, racial advancement, the CIO, and modernist religion could be so easily linked in the minds of many evangelicals was a problem that the Southern Organizing Campaign had to confront. Knoxville rallies could attract ten thousand people and convince hundreds of them to write to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of the radio evangelism of J. Harold Smith.2 The mix of racism, anticommunism, and evangelicalism offers an easy explanation for the failure of the CIO’s Operation Dixie. Historians exploring 180 chapter 7 some of the campaign’s most promising moments have attributed its failures to the CIO’s unwillingness to tackle head on the racism that divided the region’s working class, in large part because of its own internalized anti-Communism. Starting with the brash statement of Van Bittner that the CIO had no desire for help from radicals (arguably some of the best and most successful organizers of black workers) combined with a decision to focus on the predominately white textile industry, through the aversion to Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party campaign in 1948, the CIO’s actions have seemed to historians as anti-red, anti-black, and anti-success. The expulsion of the left-led unions from the house of labor beginning in 1949 only cemented the fate of a deeply flawed CIO strategy that sought to present the southern drive as a respectable, moderate crusade, shorn of its most progressive elements.3 What difference did it make that the CIO launched Operation Dixie in a region so overwhelmingly populated by evangelical Protestants? As the example of the Knoxville meeting shows, there were resonating chords of anticommunism sung by southern evangelicals. In addition, many southern Protestants were reading their Bibles for evidence in support of racial segregation. However, as the biographies of John Isom, Sam Howie, and Cleveland Bradner from the previous chapter make clear, the ministers most likely to risk everything for the CIO were also among the boldest opponents of racial injustice. Would they also have supported the CIO if the Southern Organizing Campaign had cooperated with Communists? That is a more difficult proposition to defend. Even a minister as unconventional as the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Presbyterian Charles M. Jones, president of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen and a man who protected early freedom riders in 1947 from a mob, felt that friends who supported Communism had gone down “the wrong road.” Pentecostal miners in Kentucky and Baptist textile workers in north Georgia similarly abandoned established unions once they discovered the organizations were led by Communists.4 The religious people whom the CIO put in charge of building relationships with southern preachers were even less sympathetic to Communism. Not only had many of them fought against Communists earlier in their career, but also their personal faiths spurned Communist ideology. That does not...


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