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1 “Too Frequently They Are Led Astray” White Fundamentalists and Race “Cuff was a negro slave who lived in the South before the war,” the 1929 article in William Bell Riley’s The Pilot, told readers. “He was a joyful Christian and a faithful servant.” But Cuff’s master, greedy for money, sold him to “an infidel,” who insisted that Cuff not pray. Cuff persisted, despite repeated whippings. The “infidel” master, suddenly taken ill and believing himself to be on his death bed, insisted that his wife not call the doctor but instead bring Cuff in from the fields. Cuff, naturally, came to the man’s bedside and when asked to pray for him, responded, “‘Yes, bress de Lord, Massa, I’se been prayin’ for you all de night,’ and at this he dropped on his knees, and like Jacob of old, wrestled in prayer.” The master and mistress both converted , Cuff “embraced” the master, and “race differences and past cruelty were swept away by the love of God, and tears of joy were mingled.”1 This anecdote illustrates the complicated racial views of many white fundamentalists in the early decades of the twentieth century. Cuff, as a “faithful servant” in more ways than one, embodies for the unnamed author the honorable yet childlike faith of slaves. Slavery and its attendant cruelties are compartmentalized in the past, even as a certain nostalgia pervades the brief piece. Cuff serves as a model slave, and a model evangelist, for the white editor and his readers—a man who rendered unto Caesar his labors and to his heavenly master his witness. Cuff’s appearance in a 1929 fundamentalist paper provides a window into white fundamentalists’ racial views. These leaders created a definition of fundamentalism that was white but relied heavily on African Americans in their storytelling, discussions, and performances to legitimate and underscore the “whiteness” of the fundamentalist movement. The formal movement of fundamentalism was primarily a white phe- 12 Chapter 1 nomenon. Defined and debated by white men, it grew during a time of racial segregation and white hegemony. As such, it should come as no surprise that, in the words of Joel Carpenter, “fundamentalism, like other historical evangelical movements, has tended to attract Anglo-Americans and Northern European immigrants of Protestant background.”2 While Carpenter declined to elaborate on why this attraction was so strong for whites, an investigation into the words and deeds of the early fundamentalists reveals both reasons for the appeal as well as means by which these leaders sought to place themselves firmly in the white Protestant power structure of the early twentieth century. Why these men felt a need to argue their case for a return to the “oldtime religion” has received much attention from scholars. The changing theological climate, brought about by new methods of biblical criticism and a perceived conflict with Darwinian evolution, combined with large internal migrations by both black and white southerners, as well as an influx of millions of foreign immigrants, led many white Protestants to believe that the world they had grown up with was fast fading. America’s entry into World War I and the subsequent riots and labor disputes following the armistice only provided additional proof that their worst fears were coming true.3 Pivotal eras often produce cultural changes. But while both the white men who were to lead the fundamentalist movement and whole families of African Americans moved northward, they did not abandon their notions of race. Nor did the North and its inhabitants embrace a view of race that could be construed as divergent. Instead, the migrants, both white and black, found that racism pervaded all sections of the nation.4 Historian Edward J. Blum has convincingly chronicled the methods by which white northerners and white southerners explicitly embraced themes of white supremacy and marginalized African Americans in the late nineteenth century . Protestant leaders were no exception to this rule, and Dwight L. Moody “accepted race-based segregation at his revivals and thereby offered religious legitimacy to Jim Crow,” to name but one example from Blum’s research.5 For white ministers, including those who would become fundamentalists , the prevailing sentiment was one of segregation and racial differentiation . That prevailing sentiment, however, was by no means a monolithic front. Rather, various fundamentalists embraced similar themes but with different interpretations of the role of African Americans in public life, the religious beliefs of African Americans, and the proper interactions between the races. In general, fundamentalist leaders...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817390723
Related ISBN
9780817319380
MARC Record
OCLC
967739524
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-07
Language
English
Open Access
No
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