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Preface We want you to come and learn to love white people. —Nettie Taylor, African-American head usher, Bethesda Mennonite, St. Louis, 1957, when asked if “colored people” were welcome in a church with a white pastor Shifting from the Streets and Sidewalks I n a conversation with a white Mennonite leader in 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. asked, “Where have you Mennonites been?”1 King’s theological studies made him aware of Mennonites’ long-term commitment to peacemaking, their racially egalitarian pronouncements, and their sacrificial efforts to bring about justice in the United States and throughout the world. King posed his question because he was looking for resources, both theological and human, to further the work of demonstrating for civil rights. Mennonites seemed like a logical group to join him in protest on the streets and sidewalks. Unbeknown to King, a small but identifiable group of Mennonites had been demonstrating for some time. They did so, however, in a manner King did not then recognize. They demonstrated at home and inside the church. The five adults who gathered at Bethesda Mennonite Church in St. Louis on a Sunday morning in November 1957 were taking part in a civil rights demonstration (see figure P.1). Rather than marching with protest signs,thefiveMennonitesheldopenbiblesandSundayschoolquarterlies. They did not need to carry placards to attract public attention: a reporter from the St. Louis Argus, one of the country’s oldest black newspapers, was writing a profile of their interracial fellowship. Like most observers of the civil rights movement, the reporter did not identify these Bethesda members as civil rights demonstrators. Even as he featured their fellowship, he failed to see the meeting as a deliberate action taken to disrupt the status quo. As the focused attention of June Schwartzentruber, Louis Gray, and Rowena Lark made evident, the carefully staged photo sent the message that an African-American woman like Nettie Taylor could command authority in an intimate, interracial gathering. The members of this Sunday school class thus took part in a civil rights demonstration, an organized event meant to disrupt the lives of a wider audience to bring about an integrated society. Their demonstration inside the church confronted those on the outside with an image of integration achieved. The photo of this integrated Sunday school class thus represents Daily Demonstrators’ thesis. Civil rights demonstrations that took place in the streets have received significant attention. In the intimate settings of homes and churches, a different kind of civil rights demonstration took place, one that challenged racial segregation in a less dramatic way. By exviii G preface H Fig. P.1 Nettie Taylor, Susie Smith, June Schwartzentruber, Louis Gray, and Rowena Lark, Bethesda Mennonite Church, St. Louis, November 1957 St. Louis Argus, November 29, 1957, 2C. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Argus, St. Louis, MO aminingtheactions,beliefs,programs,andpronouncementsofMennonite groups like the Bethesda congregation from 1935 through 1971, this book shows how relationships, communal boundaries, cultural practices, and core religious convictions contributed to societal change. It does so by attending to the actions of Mennonites in their living rooms and meetinghouses . In those intimate, sacred locations, the slow, often contradictory process of religiously motivated, interpersonal exchange made possible a historic transition in post–World War II American society. In Daily Demonstrators I explore new sites that expand our understanding of demonstration to include off-street action. By shifting attention to less public but no less significant environs, I show how racial change unfolded as co-believers took communion, sat down to dinner, and discussed marriages. Rather than sites of escape from the civil rights movement, living rooms and sanctuaries become arenas of racial agitation. Those who ventured across racial lines in intimate settings displayed courage equal to that of demonstrators who faced fire hoses and attack dogs. Children who traveled hours to stay in rural homes with strangely dressed white people braved unknown dangers as real to them as southern sheriffs were to voter registration workers in Mississippi. The pastor who faced down livid congregantsafterinvitinganAfrican -Americanpreachertohispulpitshowed as much daring as students who faced down restaurant owners after sitting at a lunch counter. Demonstrators in sanctuaries and on sidewalks thus look surprisingly similar. All took risks, challenged assumptions, and longed for an egalitarian future. This church history of the civil rights era brings together home and congregation to show how religious practice in intimate environments interacted with higher-profile movements. Because demonstrations on the streets and sidewalks attracted so much more attention, this intimate, religious form of...


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