publisher colophon


Congregational Campaign

It has been nearly two years since our church had its first Negro visitors … The persons who made up our congregation at that time had mixed feelings about having Negroes coming to our church—some had moved to Markham from Chicago for the express purpose of getting away from Negroes.
—Larry Voth, pastor of Community Mennonite Church, Markham, Illinois, 1963

Community Mennonite: A Congregational Convulsion

Community Mennonite convulsed the first time a black preacher stood behind the pulpit. In early 1959 pastor Ron Krehbiel invited Vincent Harding to speak to his congregation in Markham, a suburb just south of Chicago. Soon after the African-American Mennonite pastor and activist finished preaching, members of the small, all-white church inundated Krehbiel with objections. They declared, “If you’re going to do this, then we’re going to leave.” At meetings in Kansas City the following day, Krehbiel told colleagues that he “didn’t know how much of a church” would remain upon his return.1

Six years later another Mennonite congregation hosted an African-American pastor and activist. In September of 1965, Pastor Delton Franz welcomed Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues from Operation Breadbasket to a fried-chicken lunch meeting.2 As they ate their meal at Woodlawn Mennonite on the south side of Chicago, a dozen police officers kept crowds of curious onlookers from gaining entrance.3 Unlike their co-believers in Markham, members of the racially integrated congregation in North Kenwood did not raise a ruckus in response to King’s visit. Instead, they opened their building to weekly “civil rights training sessions.”4 With the support of his congregation, Franz called on Mennonites across the country to “thank God for the protest” movement led by King.5

Although these two Mennonite congregations reacted differently toward African Americans in their midst, the pastors who invited Harding and King to visit their congregations shared King’s assumption that integrated churches would support the civil rights movement. A year before Harding preached at Community Mennonite, King observed that Sunday at 11:00 a.m. was the “most segregated hour of Christian America.”6 In his struggle to end Jim Crow segregation, King gave little attention to the implications of his critique. He simply assumed that those involved in integrated churches would be effective in their “attack on outside evils.”7 From King’s perspective, attendance at an integrated congregation led to civil rights activism. Clergy from the liberal, white church community joined King in holding up a vision of congregational integration as the most desirable of the civil rights movement’s various ends.8

This chapter complicates that assumption by examining how two Chicago area congregations integrated their pews and served in their streets. Between 1956 and 1971, the leaders and congregants of Woodlawn and Community Mennonite churches tried to move past discussion of mere integration and live out “total acceptance.”9 The stories of these two rare integration attempts demonstrate the manner in which congregational integration supported and detracted from the goals of the civil rights movement.10 For both congregations, the internal march toward integration encouraged social ministry. At the same time, the external resources and internal commitment necessary to sustain integration discouraged long-term activism. As black nationalists equated integration with oppression, Mennonites at Community and Woodlawn faced new challenges that led to the demise of one congregation and the continuation of the other.11 The following narrative highlights the primary historical factors behind those two outcomes and explains how they challenge King’s assumption about the beloved community.

Historians of the civil rights and black power movements have rarely taken up questions about change and longevity in racially integrated congregations. Most often, they have accepted Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement about the “most segregated hour” and ignored a less well known passage of his 1958 text, in which he conceded that a small number of Protestant congregations were “actually integrating their congregations.”12 Historians have avoided studying such integrated groups and only glanced at the assumption behind King’s critique of segregated churches.13 Although several historical works have interrogated the assumptions behind integrationist ethics in studies of education, housing, government, and the military, they have let stand King’s assumption that integrated churches would lead to integrated society.14 Lacking a thorough understanding of congregations that worshipped across racial lines, they fail to note the fragility of the vision of the “beloved community” and the effect of integrated congregations on the struggle for civil rights and black power.15

Nestled in the narrative of racially integrated churches sit Mennonite stories in need of retelling. Mennonite historians have told the stories of racially integrated congregations in much the same way. Of the two congregations featured here, Woodlawn has received by far the greater historical attention. No less than six different historians refer to portions of Woodlawn’s story.16 All these writers correlate conflict at Woodlawn with the rise of the black power movement. I suggest that a range of religious convictions proved more influential than black power rhetoric in shaping the resolution of that conflict. Advocates of black power at Woodlawn remained in conversation with the larger Mennonite community for far longer and with greater deliberation than previously assumed, but they eventually found their dialogue disrupted by ongoing concerns about Mennonite doctrine. Furthermore, the few historians who have attended to Community Mennonite have told the story as the effort of one man, Larry Voth.17 To be certain, Voth shaped the congregation. Yet the arc of Community Mennonite’s congregational life includes the contributions of African-American and white members who weathered significant controversy. Together, these retold stories challenge the assumption that the failure or success of integrated congregations in this era turned on the influence of black power alone. In the end, they also signify the influence of passionate commitment, poor judgment, and collective perseverance.

Woodlawn: Happening upon Integration

The story of Woodlawn Mennonite’s integration opens on the campus of Mennonite Biblical Seminary in late 1957. Delton Franz, only twenty-five at the time and with fewer than two years of pastoral experience, wrote an impassioned appeal to the General Conference constituency to support the six-year-old Woodlawn Mennonite Church.18 He feared that the impending exodus of the seminary from the Southside Chicago neighborhood of Woodlawn to the city of Elkhart, located in rural north central Indiana, would lead to the demise of his congregation.19 Franz challenged the broader church to support Woodlawn as he and his congregation faced a “decision between life or death.”20

Franz wrote his appeal to a denomination that by the end of the 1950s had become increasingly acculturated. As noted in chapter 1, the polity of the General Conference allowed for greater congregational autonomy that, in turn, mediated against the stricter dress and lifestyle dictates of the (Old) Mennonite community. While (Old) Mennonite leaders fretted over prayer coverings, jewelry, plain coats, and cut hair well into the 1960s, General Conference staff at Camp Landon in Mississippi, for example, stepped out for a night on the town in 1960 bedecked in pearls and bowties, coifed and covering free.21 Along with loosening sartorial guidelines, leaders of the General Conference remained generally more open than their (Old) Mennonite cousins to political entanglements. As we have already seen, however, that relatively more politically engaged stance did not always translate into more racially egalitarian action. Franz wrote with clear knowledge that in the constituency he addressed, stated commitments did not always guide their actions, however acculturated they might have become.

A brief account of the congregation’s relationship to the departing seminary explains Franz’s anxiety. When Woodlawn began, white Mennonite missionaries in Chicago paid little attention to race relations. Of the eleven Chicago mission sites active in 1953, only one—Bethel Mennonite Community Church—served African Americans.22 A second congregation served Mexican migrants, but members there had little contact with other Mennonites in the city.23 The remaining nine mission sites, sponsored by both the General Conference and (Old) Mennonite mission boards, ministered to church members who did not come from traditional Mennonite backgrounds but shared a common white racial profile.24 Although church leaders hinted at demographic changes affecting congregations in Chicago, few yet spoke of those shifts in racial terms.25 Those who did mention race took no clear position on whether churches should leave, stay, or embrace the impending change.26 The national General Conference denomination likewise offered little in the way of incentive to evangelize African Americans. Denomination-sponsored mission efforts focused on service to African Americans rather than evangelism.27 In 1953 most Mennonites in Chicago expressed little interest in racial integration.

The seminary students who ran the Woodlawn congregation in 1953 likewise had few questions about integration. As they studied in a neighborhood that one long-time African-American resident described as “rather rough,” the students responded to the growing needs of the increasingly crowded, poor, and African-American community around them.28 For example, having purchased an entire city block worth of real estate for $200,000 in the wake of white flight, the seminary had plenty of property. Seminary leaders shared that space with neighborhood children through church programs.29 In connection with this programming, adults began to participate as well.30 Woodlawn’s 1954 vacation bible school attracted more than thirteen white and fifty-five African-American children and was led by eight white and two African-American adults.31 Without having set out to do so, the seminary students stumbled unwittingly into racial integration.

In 1957 Delton Franz thus feared losing a practice of racial integration and a cohort of seminary students committed to Woodlawn. A native Kansan and graduate of Bethel College and Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Franz had little experience in urban communities before coming to Woodlawn.32 Yet serving as he did in a neighborhood troubled by crime, overcrowding, and property abandonment, he quickly gained a passion for urban ministry. Franz feared the seminary’s departure because Woodlawn had depended on the institution for both members and facilities. Ministry in a demanding neighborhood like Woodlawn already taxed the congregation. Franz sent a plea to the General Conference constituency because he needed outside help to continue work inside the neighborhood.

Franz felt the crisis keenly because he believed the seminary’s leaders had abandoned their interracial ministry. Already in 1953, rumors spread among church leaders that the African Americans entering the formerly all-white Woodlawn area would “slowly crowd Mennonite Biblical Seminary out of the neighborhood.”33 Seminarians experienced theft and vandalism that, at least in the minds of some, came to be associated with integration.34 Although administrators cited changes in leadership, a developing relationship with Goshen Biblical Seminary, and city officials’ interest in their property as reasons for relocating, those who stayed felt that seminary leaders had fled because of the neighborhood’s racial composition.35 In his 1957 appeal to the broader church, Franz declared that the seminary’s move put the Mennonite church “on trial.”36 From where Franz stood, the future of race relations in the church seemed to ride on Woodlawn’s success or failure.

The broader church met Franz’s challenge with a steady gaze during the following decade. For the three years following Franz’s 1957 appeal, church reporters showered attention on Franz and his co-pastor, Vincent Harding, in more than thirty articles. During the years of their integrated partnership, Franz and Harding toured the South, became ever more involved with the civil rights movement, and hosted a 1959 conference on race relations attended by representatives from the General Conference, (Old) Mennonite, and Mennonite Brethren denominations.37 In addition to contributing to a dozen church press articles as writers or interviewees during their joint tenure, Franz and Harding spoke throughout the church and served on denominational committees. Church leaders highlighted this “congregational Camelot” as proof of their collective racial egalitarianism.38

Attention to Woodlawn Church meant attention to the North Kenwood neighborhood. Under Franz and Harding’s leadership, Woodlawn members and voluntary service workers posted at the congregation wrote articles and spoke about the difficulties of serving an urban environment, using phrases such as “overcrowded jungle,” “dirt and filth,” and “a world of dark strangers.”39 If white Mennonite readers knew anything about North Kenwood, they knew that dangerous African Americans surrounded earnest white workers there.

Heightening the rhetoric of racial contrast, African-American leaders at Woodlawn praised white Mennonite volunteers. Although more than thirty local African-American members served under Harding and Franz’s leadership, white outsiders received disproportionate attention.40 For example, Harding lauded the self-sacrifice of two Mennonites who left jobs in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, to serve the Woodlawn congregation. According to Harding, Arthur and Helen Ross felt they could no longer discuss voluntary service in Sunday school unless they “were willing to offer their own lives.”41 The Rosses expressed that self-sacrificial spirit by moving to Chicago. To be certain, such praiseworthy examples showed Woodlawn’s white members as exemplifying the best of Mennonite self-sacrifice. Yet the equally courageous efforts of African-American Mennonite members received scant attention. With the exception of Harding, Woodlawn’s African-American members took second place behind the white Mennonites who had relocated to North Kenwood.

Community Mennonite: Deliberate Distance

Another congregation marched toward integration from deliberate segregation. In 1956, the same year that Delton Franz began pastoring at Woodlawn, a group of Mennonites purchased property in the white Chicago suburb of Markham. Led by John T. Neufeld, longtime pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Chicago, and supported by local and national mission commissions, the group sought to evangelize new converts and reach Chicago Mennonites who had moved to the suburbs.42 As they purchased property for a new church building, Neufeld and his associates agreed to exclude “any one who is not a Caucasian” from the premises.43 Although unenforceable under United States law following the 1948 Supreme Court ruling Shelley v. Kraemer, the restrictive covenant drew the group’s attention. Neufeld wrote to the sale agent that the clause would “cause no difficulty.”44 Although several months later Neufeld asked whether there was “anything we should or can do about” the clause, the congregation’s leaders signed the contract without addenda.45 Regardless of the legal issues involved, the congregation’s founding members accepted the covenant as necessary.46 From the beginning, the leaders of Community Mennonite intended to serve only white people.

The emerging church at Markham then turned its attention to more pressing issues. Between 1956 and 1960, board members struggled to pay a pastor, build a sanctuary, and administer programs. At the same time, congregants contributed to overseas mission projects in Paraguay and the Belgian Congo but paid less attention to domestic outreach.47 By 1959 the congregation had dedicated a new church building in a public ceremony attended by local Markham officials.48 Members invited newcomers to join their “active and energetic group” (see figure 6.1).49 Charter members recall the early years as a time of warm fellowship, strong family bonds, and great appreciation for children in a church where “we were all close … [We trusted one another so much that] my kids are your kids.”50

That friendly congregation, however, soon gave a chilly reception to an African-American guest. As noted above, shortly after the congregation dedicated their new church building pastor Ron Krehbiel invited Vincent Harding to speak. Krehbiel had met Harding while taking classes at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in the North Kenwood neighborhood. Assuming that his congregants would welcome an African-American speaker as readily as had the white Mennonites at the congregations Krehbiel attended as a child, Krehbiel invited Harding to speak without consulting congregational leaders. Although he did not notice rejection during the service, Krehbiel observed “very disturbed” expressions as he shook people’s hands afterward. Later on that afternoon, Krehbiel’s phone began to ring. Many of the congregants who had been raised in the South called Krehbiel to inform him, “If this ever happens again, we cannot come to your church anymore.”51 Rather than wait for further dissension to build, Krehbiel organized a congregational meeting that evening.

The meeting set a decade-long course. Despite short notice, most of the church’s sixty-five congregants attended. Those who had voiced their objections on the phone again threatened to leave the congregation if African Americans were invited back to the church. Following the gathering, church council members prayed, discussed, and arrived at a decision. In particular, council member Al Levreau lobbied for not placing “restrictions” on visitors or new members. The council concurred and passed an “open door policy” by unanimous vote.52 Krehbiel’s example, denominational teaching, and the council members’ personal experiences trumped the restrictive covenant. In response to the leaders’ decision, nearly a third of the congregation left. Most of those who departed had been raised in the South outside of white Mennonite enclaves and, although active participants, had not officially joined the congregation.53

Community’s open-door policy came to the test a few years later as the neighborhood around the church began to change. Between 1950 and 1960 Markham’s African-American population had grown from 67 to 2,524, accounting for more than 25 percent of the suburb’s census.54 By 1964 the African-American cohort in Markham had expanded to nearly 30 percent of the population and ballooned to 45 percent by 1969.55 At the outset of that burgeoning change, pastor Krehbiel completed his tenure and the church welcomed a new pastor, Larry Voth.

Fig. 6.1 Community Mennonite Church members, Markham, Illinois, circa 1959 Photo by Don Burklow. Photo courtesy of Community Mennonite Church, Markham, IL

Voth invigorated the fledgling group. He came to the congregation in December 1960 while still a student at the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart, formed in 1958 when Mennonite Biblical Seminary left the Woodlawn community.56 Like Franz, Voth hailed from Kansas and had little prior urban pastoral experience.57 Yet he dove into the work. Beginning in January of 1961, Voth commuted between the seminary and the church for the next six months until he, his wife Jane, and daughters Laurie and Leslie moved to Markham in June.58 From the start, Voth brought abundant energy and a vision for new initiatives even as the congregation at times struggled to meet payroll.59 Despite a small building, membership rolls counting no more than thirty-two, and Sunday morning worship census in the forties, Voth aimed to involve lay members in community service.60 Congregants realized they had hired a visionary.

Voth soon faced a significant challenge to his leadership. In response to Voth’s initiative, Markham residents took notice of the small church on Kedzie Avenue. Some who visited were white. Others were members of the growing African-American population. On a Sunday in 1961, only a few months after Voth’s arrival, three African-American women entered the brick-walled sanctuary and sat down in a pew.61 They came because Voth had stopped by their homes and invited them to church. Faye Mitchell, Ola Mae Smith, and Johnetta Wooden, who arrived “well-dressed and well-mannered,” drew the attention of the entire congregation.62 Despite the church’s open-door policy, real African Americans in the sanctuary proved threatening. As a result, Voth soon faced a congregational crisis.

Racial tensions at Community stemmed from Markham’s demographics. Although by 1961 many African Americans had moved to Markham in pursuit of better schools and housing, the neighborhood around Community remained white.63 Several miles away, the Kingston Green subdivision included many African-American homeowners, but Canterbury Gardens, directly across from the church, had none.64 Streets, toll roads, and industrial sites demarcated the two subdivisions.65 Despite such geographical boundaries, dozens of white families had already left Canterbury Gardens. But Canterbury’s local property manager refused to sell the vacant homes to African-American buyers.66 The three women who entered the congregation thus represented the potential for racial change within both the congregation and the surrounding neighborhood.

Voth witnessed his congregation waver in their commitment to welcome all people. In response to the women’s stated intention to return, some members declared that they had moved to Markham because they did not want to live near African Americans.67 Others expressed concerns about interracial marriage.68 Some claimed the congregation would soon become all African American if the three women continued to attend.69 The congregation’s theoretical commitment to inclusion had become real in a way that made many white congregants uneasy. In response to the tumult, Voth visited with members to articulate his belief in the importance of a church open to members of all races. As threats to leave mounted, Voth called a congregational meeting to discuss how church members could help African Americans “feel a part of our fellowship.”70

The subsequent meeting led to new action and unsettled emotion. By all accounts, members made their perspectives known without apology.71 Following an intense round of discussion and scripture study, a majority of the congregation voted to welcome any African American who professed Christian belief and desired to become a part of their fellowship.72 Jerry Mares, a charter member and church leader, summed up his reasons for supporting racial integration with a heavenly reference. He said, “God wasn’t going to create two heavens, one for the blacks and one for the whites, so we better deal with [integration] right now.”73 Yet the congregation had not settled the issue. Many white members remained unconvinced that Community Mennonite had chosen the correct path. Some searched for a new congregation even as African Americans asserted that Community belonged to them.

Tension thus roiled through the church and surrounding neighborhood. Following President John F. Kennedy’s November 1962 Executive Order 11063 outlawing discrimination in the sale of federal property, some African-American families expressed interest in Canterbury Gardens properties, more than thirty of which had been repossessed by the Veterans Administration.74 Less than a year after Kennedy’s intervention an African-American family purchased a home in Canterbury Gardens, but unidentified arsonists set it on fire before the family moved in.75 Other African Americans succeeded in integrating the surrounding neighborhood, however, and at the invitation of pastor Voth they began to attend Community. By the end of 1962, African Americans participated in all aspects of church life. William Smith, husband to one of the first three African-American women to attend the congregation the previous year, was proud to serve on the board.76 Other African Americans participated in the youth group, women’s fellowship, and Sunday school classes.77

Not all Community members welcomed the change, however. Such rapid integration fostered conflict even as it strengthened relationships. Youth group members fought.78 White adults accused an African-American Sunday school instructor of teaching false doctrine.79 During one church board meeting, a white member started the racially offensive rhyme, “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe … ,” only to hear an African-American member reply, “Finish your thought.”80 Although board members laughed about the exchange, tension hummed in the room. Amid such tension, African Americans nonetheless developed strong relationships with the pastor and other white members.81 The relationships made church attendance worthwhile.

Such congregational tension prompted Voth to seek external support. The men who counseled him on September 24, 1963, came from outside Markham. Like Voth, they carried a passion for racial integration. Delton Franz brought seven years’ experience pastoring Woodlawn.82 Peter Ediger came as field secretary for city churches on behalf of the General Conference Home Missions Commission.83 Pastor Harry Spaeth hailed from First Mennonite in the Southside Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, another community facing rapid racial transition. Like Voth, these General Conference leaders reflected their denomination’s politically informed approach as together they laid plans for a “Mennonite strategy for Chicago.”84 These acculturated pastors employed the militarily derived terms of strategy and tactics then popular among civil rights movement leaders.85 Rather than travel alone, Voth sought like-minded partners who would counter congregational and conference leaders’ cautionary appeals. Although he invited William Smith, Community’s sole African-American board member, to report on African-American recruitment, Voth relied on white men to integrate his church.

Crisis finally erupted at Christmas time. In December of 1963, about three months after Ediger, Franz, and Spaeth met with Voth, Community Mennonite staged a Christmas pageant featuring an interracial holy couple.86 Less than a month later, on January 17, 1964, the church board listened as Ediger affirmed their integration efforts. In response to Ediger’s comments and the Christmas pageant, board chair Al Levreau—the same council member who had supported the church’s open-door policy—stated his objection to interracial marriage. As would become increasingly the case from the mid-1960s forward, the gap between Levreau and Ediger reflected the ever-wider disparity between church leadership and grassroots members in both the General Conference and (Old) Mennonite communities on the question of interracial marriage. The ensuing debate ended when Levreau resigned from the council and declared he would no longer attend worship services.87 A few other white congregants followed suit.88 The departures this time, although fewer in number than after Harding’s sermon, stemmed from greater acrimony. One departing member told a fellow congregant who was also his employee that he would “go to hell” for worshipping with African Americans. The employee retorted, “You’re going to go to hell because you left.”89 As such exchanges made evident, feelings remained raw in the aftermath of Levreau’s resignation, and some wondered whether Ediger believed interracial marriage would solve racial strife.

Voth responded by drawing the larger church into Community’s crisis. This time he invited his denomination’s president to meet with him. During that meeting, on February 17, 1964, another member of the congregation, Margaret Carr, threatened to leave because she thought integration would lead “to inter-marriage.” In response, President Walter Gering asked African-American board member Smith to comment. Smith explained that the African-American members of the congregation did not want to marry across racial lines. He and other African-American members found the discussion puzzling. They had joined the church to worship, not to intermarry.90 Apparently intending to deflect criticism of national staff, Gering stressed that the General Conference’s personnel had never encouraged “intermarriage.”91 When apprised of Gering’s statements, former chair Levreau refused to rejoin the congregation owing to continued fears about “who and what kind of people” might come to Community as a result of integration.92 By March the board accepted Levreau’s resignation and declared, “The church body welcomes continued growth on a racially integrated basis.”93 Voth then asked every pastor in the Central District Conference to pray for the white members of his congregation who found it “hard to accept people of a different color.”94 Like the voter registration drives and school integration efforts then captivating the nation, the integration process at Community captivated a denomination.

Congregational Comparison: Two Paths Emergent

Through articles and personal contact, members from both congregations challenged the church to support integration. By 1963 Franz and his congregants had written about racial integration and their ministry at Woodlawn a dozen times.95 At national church meetings that year, Voth asked denominational leaders what “total acceptance” would entail.96 In the same way, Franz prodded church leaders to “become true peacemakers in this revolution against the evil of segregation.”97 Franz believed that integration could not be sustained without civil rights activism. Unlike activists who questioned the viability of racial integration in 1963, Voth and Franz promoted the ideal even as they tested its limits.98 Given that most white Mennonites found discussions of integration at best foreign and at worst threatening, the two men and the congregations they represented walked a lonely path. Yet both Voth and Franz tirelessly invited members of their denomination to join them.

For the following three years, these two white Mennonite pastors balanced denominational contact with congregational outreach. From 1963 through 1965, Franz and Voth developed interracial service opportunities. Although the two congregations had only sporadic contact with each other through their pastors, both groups poured their energies into voluntary service, youth programming, and various neighborhood services. Woodlawn and Community supported the civil rights movement during this era, but efforts to develop local ministry gained the most attention. As in the early years of both communities, mission and service came first.

Community Mennonite served the surrounding neighborhood through a children’s day-care center. To build this program, Voth turned again to the broader Mennonite church. Rather than draw on local resources, Voth invited Mennonite education students to move to Markham, find local teaching jobs, and develop the center in their spare time. Nearly a dozen teachers responded to this charismatic and demanding vision.99 The congregation founded the center in 1964 with the teachers’ help, the assistance of Mennonite Voluntary Service workers, and the leadership of the center’s first director, Carol Selman, a local church member.100 Although the ministry introduced new frustrations as congregants shared the building with day-care staff, it also encouraged church growth.101 African-American members such as Ivorie Lowe and Mary Ann Woods, who would later emerge as pivotal leaders, joined after having made use of the day-care facilities. White congregants like R. A. and Florence Ekstrom did the same.102 Service raised the congregation’s profile.

In the same way, Woodlawn built relationships in their neighborhood through creative service. In 1963 Franz initiated a new ministry that captured the imaginations of workers and community members alike.103 Replicating a model developed by the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., the congregation opened a coffeehouse in a former family-owned laundry.104 Known as the “Quiet Place,” the combination coffeehouse and bookstore offered coffee, donuts, and reading material to all who entered.105 Franz described it as an effort to share “faith in a way that is not repugnant” to the “man on the street.”106 Like Community Mennonite’s day-care center, Woodlawn’s coffeehouse increased the congregation’s neighborhood profile. Relationships built over coffee and donuts fostered bible study and small support groups.107 Likewise, the Quiet Place and other Woodlawn ministries relied on voluntary service workers from across the country.108

Volunteers from afar also staffed youth programs at both congregations. From its start, Woodlawn sponsored Sunday school and vacation bible school programs attended by local African-American youth.109 The congregation’s Fresh Air program sent hundreds of children from Woodlawn, Markham, and other Chicago neighborhoods for short stays in Mennonite country homes.110 As of 1964, Mennonite voluntary service workers continued to staff summer youth programs at Woodlawn.111 In addition to running Sunday schools and participating in Woodlawn’s Fresh Air venture, Community Mennonite initiated new youth ministries. In October of 1965, Voth helped found Markham’s Youth Services Council, in concert with local African-American churches, to reduce youth violence and gang activity.112 Community Mennonite then obtained a grant of $2,500 from the regional Mennonite conference to staff the council with a volunteer.113 Throughout the period of this study, outside resources fueled integration efforts at Community and Woodlawn.

From late 1965 forward, Community and Woodlawn took different paths as Martin Luther King Jr. focused on Chicago. At Community, civil rights activism drew less attention than neighborhood service.114 Voth participated in the occasional demonstration but spent more time inviting African-American residents from nearby Canterbury Gardens and other parts of Markham to join the congregation.115 During a time of racial unrest, members of Community thus practiced integration without agitating for it.116 At Community, both white and African-American members kept integration and civil rights activism separate.

Woodlawn members, however, linked integration and civil rights. As noted above, in September of 1965 Franz hosted Martin Luther King Jr. at the Woodlawn Mennonite Church (see figure 6.2). In addition to writing about Mennonites’ racial prejudices, dozens of church members participated in protests.117 At one point the Woodlawn congregation, along with Voth and a few members from Community Mennonite, took part in a nonviolence workshop led by Jesse Jackson.118 Later they marched with King into a white, segregated neighborhood.119 Such high-profile activism attracted press attention. Reporters covering Woodlawn’s involvement in civil rights activities quoted both white and African-American leaders and mentioned local church members and external volunteers.120 Woodlawn members promoted the nonviolent tactics that other Mennonites found problematic.

The reports that highlighted Woodlawn’s integrated activism also introduced Woodlawn’s summer pastor, Curtis Burrell. Although as a younger man Burrell had assured Mennonites that salvation took priority over integration, by 1965 Burrell advocated for racial justice.121 Like many of the white church leaders around him, Burrell had been radicalized by the street activism of the 1960s. He defended his arrest during an early summer demonstration in Chicago in forthright biblical terms. Casting himself and his codefendants in the role of Old Testament prophets, Burrell stated, “Like Jeremiah who had a burning message in his heart and could not help but shout, we too have to shout our message.”122 The cautious integrationist had become a passionate activist. Burrell’s high-profile activism signaled a change that would soon transform Woodlawn.

That change had not yet come about as fall turned into the winter of 1965. The three years from 1963 through 1965 had been good ones for both congregations. New programs turned local neighbors into committed members. Strong leaders emphasized traditional Mennonite service, publicized their ministries, and gathered human and financial resources for their neighborhoods. The two churches demonstrated to Mennonites throughout the United States that racial integration could be achieved. After long absence, the presence of African Americans at the two churches assured members of the General Conference church that they might indeed be able to keep pace with their (Old) Mennonite cousins in the racial arena. As Burrell prepared to minister at Woodlawn and new African-American members joined Community, the future looked bright for both groups.

Fig. 6.2 Martin Luther King Jr., center, and Delton Franz, standing, Woodlawn Mennonite Church, Chicago, 1965 D. Franz, “King Comes to Woodlawn,” The Mennonite 80, no. 35 (September 28, 1965): 607. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Publishing Network, Scottdale, PA

Woodlawn: Departures

In particular, Curtis Burrell made that future shine. He came to Woodlawn in the summer of 1966 with widely respected Mennonite credentials.123 He earned those credentials after having contacted respected Mennonite pastor Hubert Schwartzentruber in early 1958 while yet incarcerated in the Missouri state penitentiary.124 Upon his release, Burrell plunged into the life of the Mennonite community. He attended the Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute in 1959 and continued his Mennonite school education at Hesston College (Kansas), Goshen College, and Goshen Seminary.125 In addition to contributing articles to various Mennonite church publications, he spoke at numerous church events and served for a short while with the Hardings in Atlanta.126 By 1963 church officials ranked him alongside the Hardings and longtime African-American church leaders James and Rowena Lark as exemplars of the church’s race relations ministry.127 With Burrell’s arrival, some hoped that a second era of interracial leadership had come to Woodlawn.

The integrated leadership that had worked so well in 1959 could not, however, be transplanted to 1966. In inner-city Chicago, as throughout much of the nation, black power had arrived. In the summer of 1966, Burrell and other African-American church leaders listened closely as Stokely Carmichael urged African Americans to seize power. Soon Burrell was promoting black self-determination. Like his predecessor Vincent Harding, Burrell confronted Mennonite racism. Unlike Harding, however, Burrell questioned the value of integration. As he embraced black nationalism, Burrell challenged the precept that racial integration supported racial justice.

Although his partnership with Franz did not usher in another era of robust integrated leadership, Burrell nonetheless remained in conversation with white Mennonites throughout his tenure at Woodlawn. In the fall of 1966 he declared freedom from white norms but proclaimed that all believers, white and African-American alike, could be transformed in Christ.128 One month later he emphasized both “black political representation” and traditional Mennonite values of “love, courage, peace, tolerance, faith, spiritual … good deeds, redemptive suffering.”129 By the middle of the following year, Burrell lauded Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to war.130 White Mennonite readers did not appreciate Burrell’s perspective on Ali, an outspoken prizefighter who explained his refusal to bear arms in a manner antithetical to Mennonite humility.131 When faced with Burrell’s wholehearted embrace of Ali, one white Mennonite responded, “I am disgusted.”132 She could not countenance how any Mennonite could support such a controversial figure. Despite such reaction, Burrell continued to engage white Mennonite audiences.

In his critique and conversation, Burrell followed Franz’s example. Burrell’s co-pastor had long advocated for more active involvement in the civil rights movement. Franz called on Anabaptist values, quoted Karl Marx, and urged Mennonites to offer their bodies as a “living sacrifice” to the cause of justice.133 In 1959 Franz prodded the church to fulfill its “duty to work against social injustice.”134 His message had sharpened by 1966. He accused the church of stalling in order “to think out pious religious answers to ugly and practical problems.”135 Franz had criticized Mennonites for their inaction and acquiescence to the status quo far earlier than Burrell.

Despite his radical rhetoric, Franz nonetheless anchored Woodlawn to the broader church. He first drew on a racially homogeneous network of family and friends to support the North Kenwood ministry. Likewise, as the examples above suggest, Franz used Mennonite theological terms with ease. He drew on traditional values of nonconformity and separation from the world to urge sacrificial action. He also demonstrated integrity, another value important to Mennonites, by living in a racially oppressed community. These social, theological, and personal values connected Franz and his congregation to the national denomination even as he criticized and cajoled church leaders.

The same church officials who tolerated Franz ostracized Burrell. In December 1967 the congregation decided to remain integrated and support black power, an approach rare among integrated congregations at the time and suggestive of the Anabaptist value of reconciliation.136 Although they expressed scant awareness of the unique path they blazed, Woodlawn members committed themselves to an integrated ministry while professing black nationalist values, a tack that even as experienced a group as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee could not sustain. Six months later, Franz resigned to accept a position with the Mennonite Central Committee in Washington, D.C.137 After Franz departed, national white church leaders scrutinized Woodlawn, and white congregational members reconsidered their participation. Questions were raised about Burrell’s viability as a pastor of an integrated congregation. The same leaders who rewarded Franz’s critique with a national leadership post rejected Burrell’s prophetic words. Denominational leaders grew uncomfortable with Burrell’s black power rhetoric and apparent disavowal of nonviolence.138 Soon after Franz’s departure, a regional Mennonite reporter described Burrell as an ineffective leader of a “puzzled, uneasy congregation.” By contrast, despite his theologically suspect alliances with local political officials in Markham, Voth received accolades from the same writer.139 In her review of four Chicago congregations and their pastors, the reporter criticized Burrell alone. Burrell found himself on the church’s margins.

Burrell nonetheless continued to be a voice in the Mennonite church. Concurrent with Franz’s summer 1968 departure, Burrell called white Christians to “repent of their racism” and declared that “America” needed to follow “bold black leadership.”140 At the national General Conference assembly that same year, he challenged white Mennonites to convert to “blackness” and pronounced, “The black man is better equipped [than white people] to lead mankind morally.”141 Although he no longer appealed to Christian unity, Burrell persisted in his correspondence with white co-believers.

Burrell’s hesitancy to promote racial unity stemmed from his growing commitment to the North Kenwood community. Although the Mennonite press described Woodlawn’s neighborhood as a mission site, Burrell eschewed a traditional service model.142 To begin, Burrell transformed the Quiet Place coffeehouse into a restaurant training program for African-American young adults known as the Palace Restaurant. Rather than relying on white voluntary service workers for staff needs, Burrell brought in local neighborhood members so that they could gain skills in restaurant management, cooking, bookkeeping, and hosting.143 Building on the success of local initiatives, Burrell moved in circles outside the confines of Woodlawn Mennonite. Through his elected position as president of a powerful neighborhood association, the Kenwood Oaklawn Community Organization, Burrell laid plans in 1969 to improve housing, schools, and medical facilities through African-American leadership.144 He also confronted leaders of the Blackstone Rangers, a youth gang that had intimidated the neighborhood through violence, petty theft, and burglary.145 Burrell poured his energy into meeting the needs of the African-American community where he lived (see figure 6.3). Union with white Christians continued to be important but only insofar as those relationships helped support his Woodlawn-based ministry.

Of all the problems he addressed, gang violence presented Burrell with his most daunting and irresistible challenge. From their start in 1966, the Blackstone Rangers had galvanized the attention of police, church, and community organizations.146 After white officials removed African-American police officers from the North Kenwood community, gang-related crime increased.147 In the absence of black police officers, the Rangers recruited new members until they counted more than two thousand youth in their “super gang.”148 In response, community-based groups like the Woodlawn Organization offered job-training programs, and Woodlawn’s First Presbyterian Church opened up their building to Rangers parties and meetings.149 These positive efforts notwithstanding, numbers of both African-American and white congregants from Woodlawn Mennonite left the area because of the gang-related violence.150 Burrell, however, felt called to work directly with “the hard core” youth like the Rangers.151

Fig. 6.3 Curtis Burrell, Chicago, 1971 J. Fairfield, “Curtis Burrell: A Bullet Hole in the Window,” Christian Living 18, no. 5 (May 1971): 21. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Publishing Network, Scottdale, PA

Burrell’s vision, passion, and ability to articulate the need for African-American self-determination lifted him to citywide leadership. In 1969 Burrell hired several Blackstone Rangers, by that point known as the Black P Stone Nation, to work for the Kenwood Oaklawn Community Organization.152 That same year Burrell resigned his position as cochair of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Model Area Planning Council because he claimed it was “stacked against the interests of the people.”153 With this bold action Burrell attracted the attention of Jesse Jackson and other political leaders.154 At the same time, Burrell’s political work further estranged him from most white Mennonites.

Yet Burrell sought Mennonite support in the midst of tensions in his congregation. Even as he entered ever more dangerous and controversial territory, Burrell kept Mennonites abreast of his activity. In early 1969 Burrell spoke with a reporter from the Central District Conference, Woodlawn’s conference body, about his vision for a black-led ministry. Four months later, a second account described his congregants’ concern and unease.155 Although Burrell gained citywide attention as he hired gang leaders to staff his community organization, members of his congregation expressed discomfort with his organizing efforts. They disapproved of his scheduling meetings at the church with men who did not have “the best reputations.”156 Though he based his activism on the Mennonite theology espoused by Franz, Schwartzentruber, and seminary professor John Howard Yoder, Burrell’s relationship with his own congregation showed signs of stress. The merger of integrationist and black power perspectives had begun to come apart.

Eventually his connections with the Mennonite world would attenuate and snap. His final demise came through his work with gangs. Unlike Franz or Voth, Burrell related to the most dangerous members of his church’s neighborhood. Such gang ministry proved volatile when he held the young men accountable for their work assignments. He subsequently fired three gang members, and the Rangers responded with violence. On June 10, 1970, Burrell put his family in hiding. Shortly thereafter unknown assailants bombed his offices, and on June 22 gang members shot nine times into his home.157 As Burrell rallied community support through neighborhood marches, the harassment increased. Following gunfire exchange at Woodlawn Church between the Rangers and Burrell’s bodyguard, on July 30, 1970, an arsonist set fire to the church.158

The Rangers chose a target that should have unified Burrell and his Mennonite sponsors.159 At first both the Mennonite community and the local Woodlawn neighborhood rallied around Burrell and his congregation. Four days after the fire, Burrell organized an outdoor worship service before an audience of five hundred that included an address by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.160 Delton Franz returned from Washington, D.C., and sat on the outdoor platform along with Burrell and other community leaders.161 Franz’s inclusion on the makeshift dais symbolized Mennonite support, as did the presence of white Mennonite church leaders, including future Bluffton College president Elmer Neufeld, incoming Central District Conference minister Jacob T. Friesen, General Conference Commission on Home Ministries chair David Habegger, community activist and academic Don Schierling, and Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section executive secretary John Lapp.162 The entire Mennonite community appeared to support Burrell’s efforts to rebuild his church.

Burrell remained in the public eye during the next two years. Mennonite reporters covered Burrell’s appearance before the Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations on August 4, 1970, where he testified about confronting the Black P Stone Nation.163 Another writer highlighted Burrell’s efforts to “apply the historic Mennonite faith” to a “poor black community” and noted that Burrell and his wife Lois often hosted white Mennonites.164 In May of the following year, a reporter referred to Burrell’s interracial marriage, a point made salient by the Mennonite church’s turn toward embracing marriage between African-American men and white women.165 The article also mentioned Burrell’s ongoing appreciation of white Mennonites like Franz, Yoder, and Schwartzentruber. More so than Mennonite connections, however, the reporter focused on Burrell’s black power rhetoric and his willingness to use violence in self-defense.166 According to this reporter, Burrell carried a handgun in his briefcase.

These denominational reporters underplayed Burrell’s political and ecclesiastical struggles. One writer claimed that in Chicago’s African-American community, only Jesse Jackson held more power than Burrell.167 The assertion, however, rang hollow. By the end of 1971, the board of the Kenwood Oaklawn Community Organization dismissed Burrell from his position as executive secretary, the remaining members of the Woodlawn church—both African-American and white—raised questions about his leadership, and Central District mission board members fretted about his theology.168 In particular, reports about Burrell’s possession of a handgun alarmed mission board members. Despite Burrell’s protests that the General Conference denomination made no effort to “understand the theology we express,” the Central District mission board cut off his salary in August of 1971.169 Lacking support from the conference and without a director’s income, Burrell could not keep the church open. Woodlawn Mennonite closed its doors.

Community Mennonite: Introductions

Community Mennonite took a different path. Free of the scrutiny focused on Woodlawn, Community’s members promoted racial integration rather than black self-determination through the 1960s. By 1965 Markham had become 30 percent African-American, and community leaders, including pastor Larry Voth, expressed concern that Canterbury Gardens across the street from Community would become a “Negro ghetto.”170 Leaders feared that such a concentration would lead “to political and economic exploitation.”171 Voth served on the town’s Human Relations Commission and joined in efforts to pursue a “dream of integration” through education, personal contact, and response to acts of violence and intimidation toward African-American families.172 Community Mennonite lived that same dream on a weekly basis as the congregation’s African-American membership rose from five in May of 1964 to thirty-three of seventy-nine members by 1969.173 Sunday mornings found both white members and African Americans scattered through the pews (see figure 6.4).

African-American members came to the church on Kedzie Avenue despite its white majority and white pastor. Mary Ann Woods joined because members welcomed her and offered their support during a financial crisis. Mertis Odom appreciated receiving meal invitations from white congregants like Dave and Marlene Suter.174 Such individual experiences reflected a congregation-wide commitment to interracial ministry. Having weathered significant controversy, the congregation claimed its integrated status.175 African-American members continued to join the congregation through 1971.176 Other African-American residents of Markham, such as Lee King, attended church services but never became members.177 In a community known for its racial balance and relative lack of public unrest, no singular African-American voice rose from within the congregation calling for black self-determination. The African-American members in attendance focused instead on making the church their own.

The congregation worshipped across racial lines even while supporting ministries dominated by white volunteers. White church members Jerry and Dolores Mares attested to a communal spirit evident in the congregation’s worship and outreach ministry.178 That communal spirit did not, however, translate into fully integrated programs. A white pastor led the integrated congregation; white volunteers carried out much of the congregation’s day-care programming; and a white Mennonite volunteer staffed the Markham Youth Committee, an employment program for troubled youth.179 Yet the congregation did develop some local leadership. In 1970 the church hired African American Phyllis McKemey, a local resident, as the day-care center’s first paid staff person. She went on to become the facility’s director.180

Fig. 6.4 Larry Voth, standing, and Community Mennonite Church members, Markham, Illinois, circa late 1960s CMC pastor’s office, large black binder with eight-by-ten-inch black-and-white photos. Photo courtesy of Community Mennonite Church, Markham, IL

In both service and worship Community Mennonite thus navigated racial tensions in the community and the congregation. By 1970 the nearby Canterbury elementary school had become 60 percent African-American, an indication of demographic changes throughout Markham.181 Although public reports touted successful integration in the police force, schools, and Community Mennonite itself, a different story emerged in daily interactions.182 For example, a Markham housing activist accused the city council of disbanding the Human Relations Commission on which Voth served because the commission confronted racial inequity. The activist also noted a “militant trend” among students and teachers that foreshadowed future difficulties.183 Such citywide tensions surfaced in the congregation. Some white congregants objected to African Americans’ serving in leadership roles. A few more white members left the congregation because of the recurring controversy.184 African-American members like Odom and Woods nevertheless made the congregation their home, and Voth and other white members like Grace and Don Burklow and Jerry and Dolores Mares joined them. By the early 1970s, Sunday mornings at Community Mennonite countered King’s claim of ecclesiastical segregation.

As 1971 closed, the legacies of integration at Community and Woodlawn contrasted sharply. The congregation at Woodlawn Mennonite no longer met. Burrell’s efforts to begin a new congregation known as the First Church of MAN (Making a Nation) bore little fruit.185 Conference officials sold the Woodlawn church building to a Baptist group the following year.186 Although no longer in Chicago, Franz brought his Woodlawn experience into the federal arena as he represented Mennonites in Washington, D. C.187 Other white church members who had passed through Woodlawn also held influential positions in the denomination.188 By contrast, African-American members from Woodlawn departed the church. As already noted, by 1971 Vincent and Rosemarie Harding no longer claimed Mennonite membership. Curtis Burrell likewise ended his affiliation. Although former Woodlawn member Ed Riddick spoke at a cross-cultural consultation sponsored by the Minority Ministries Council of the (Old) Mennonite Church in 1973, few other African-American members from Woodlawn moved in church leadership circles.189

By contrast, Community Mennonite sponsored vibrant ministries and launched members to national church positions. Under Voth’s leadership, the congregation founded a sheltered care workshop for mentally challenged adults in addition to their ongoing day-care and youth ministries.190 Neighborhood residents joined the church in such numbers that within four years the church swelled to a ninety-member congregation equally divided between African-American and white Mennonites.191 Voth’s influence grew as well. In addition to earning the respect of the local Markham community for his record of community outreach, Voth served on the church’s national race relations committee and went on to direct development at Bethel College in Newton, Kansas.192 African-American members from Community attracted churchwide attention at a later date. For example, in 1977 the congregation supported Ivorie Lowe’s candidacy on a national church committee. Her election opened the way for others, such as Mertis Odom, to follow.193

Beloved Communities: Confirmation and Challenge

These narratives of Burrell, Franz, Voth, and their congregations confirm and challenge the assumption behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1958 critique of segregated churches. King suggested that integrated worship would confront social segregation by motivating the “beloved community” to enter the streets.194 For a period, Woodlawn embodied that assumption. As a result of worshipping across racial lines, Woodlawn members joined marches, participated in demonstrations, and supported the civil rights movement. Members of Community Mennonite also marched on occasion. Nevertheless, activism at both churches did not endure. Over time, the process of maintaining an interracial congregation could as easily work against street activism as support it. The practice of integration proved more complex, contradictory, and messy than King’s rhetoric suggested.

King promoted integrated churches for good reason. Relationships, service, and doctrine prompted members from both congregations to support the movement. From an existential perspective, white and African-American members found meaning at integrated churches. That purpose, often renewed in interracial worship, motivated some to seek an integrated society through street action. For example, relationships nurtured on Sunday mornings led an integrated group from Community, including Larry and Jane Voth, to march with King in Chicago.195 Service activity radicalized others. Delton Franz supported the civil rights movement because he witnessed the effects of poverty and racism while ministering to the North Kenwood neighborhood.196 Scripture urged yet others into the streets. A white member from Woodlawn defended her participation in marches by noting that “Jesus provoke[d] … Jewish leaders.”197 These examples confirm King’s assumption. As African-American and white believers worshipped and worked together, they found reason to protest. In this, King was correct.

Other influences, however, mediated against civil rights activism. An activist path put Woodlawn members at odds with their sponsoring denomination. As long as a trusted white pastor led the church, denominational tensions did not block financial and human resources. When a black pastor exercised sole leadership, tensions over activism increased, and external resources dried up. Activism and the church itself then met their demise. At Community, Markham’s relatively slower demographic shift led to a more stable integration process that, in turn, reduced the urgency to join marches. At both churches, African-American and white styles often clashed. As a result, the tasks of choosing worship songs, teaching Sunday school classes, and holding meetings required careful attention. Sometimes little energy remained for marching in the streets because demonstrating in the sanctuary took so much time.

More than any other factor, service stymied external activism. Admittedly, African-American members joined after visiting Woodlawn’s coffeehouse or enrolling their children in Community’s day-care center. In this regard, service fueled integration that, in turn, prompted activism. Yet that same service ethic created problems. When Burrell requested financial resources after the Woodlawn fire, white Mennonites did not know how to respond. Rather than money, they offered Mennonite Disaster Service.198 White Mennonites knew how to serve and volunteer in poor and African-American communities. They knew less well how to respond to political and social changes that drew white-led service into question. Marching was even more foreign. Because both congregations relied on denominational support, they needed service more than activism. Woodlawn never regrouped after white voluntary service workers left. Community survived because fewer members challenged white-led service. Ironically, the same service that made integration possible made activism difficult to sustain.

The growing presence of the black power movement also hovers over the two stories. After the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., black power advocates denounced integration. Where black and white integrationists saw the promise of vibrant community and engaging fellowship, black power activists saw stifling control and oppressive racism. Most fundamental, Stokely Carmichael, Willie Ricks, and other black power promoters sought space to “think without constant reference to what pleased whites.”199 Such intellectual freedom required distance from white people. Historic black congregations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church had long provided social and cognitive escape to its members. Integrated congregations offered no such freedom.

Yet historians too often assume that black power advocates stopped communicating with white people.200 Burrell’s example suggests otherwise. As this study shows, Burrell found great legitimacy in the movement for black self-determination. His writings and speeches from 1966 forward bristle with references to black power. Throughout the period of his ministry at Woodlawn, precisely when black power rhetoric peppered his speeches, Burrell nonetheless remained in regular contact with Mennonite leaders. He kept in touch with Voth, for example, at least through March of 1972.201 In all these interactions, Burrell engaged black power from a Mennonite frame. Even when he appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations, Burrell claimed his Mennonite identity: “As a minister, and as a Mennonite minister especially, we don’t usually turn our backs on anyone needing help.”202 Those who promoted black power did not always eschew white contact.

All these factors—pastoral identities, denominational tensions, demographic shifts, worship styles, service programs, and black power ideologies—complicated the ideal outcomes sought by King. To clarify one of those dynamics, not every congregation dissolved when pastored by an African American. As of 1970, African Americans successfully led five racially integrated congregations and twelve predominantly African-American congregations in the Mennonite church.203 Local politics and personal misjudgment widened the disjuncture between Burrell’s world and the world of his conference sponsors. By comparison, leaders from the Central District Conference connected to Voth’s service ethic, familiar last name, and white identity. Although both pastors made misjudgments and pushed their denomination past quietism into the streets, Voth encountered less backlash in response to his errors and criticism.204 When promoting integrated congregations like Community and Woodlawn, King failed to consider practical issues such as the racial identity of church pastors.

The stories of Community and Woodlawn suggest that, in the end, King was more right than wrong. As noted above, a less well known passage follows King’s 1958 statement that Sunday at 11:00 a.m. was the “most segregated hour of Christian America.” King also asserted that a small number of Protestant congregations were “actually integrating their congregations.”205 Although he did not emphasize it in this latter statement, King left open the possibility that integrating a congregation intrinsically attacked segregation. Burrell, Franz, Krehbiel, Voth, and their congregants proved that the movement to end segregation inside the church demanded as much courage, energy, strategy, and support as any street march.

Those who integrated Community and Woodlawn prepared the way for new efforts to address segregation and prejudice throughout the denomination. John Powell and the Minority Ministries Council, the subjects of the next chapter, intensified the inside movement begun in these and other integrated Mennonite churches. Most of the leaders of the Minority Ministries Council came from congregations that welcomed African-American and white worshippers. They knew firsthand how much energy integration required. The chapter that follows traces the broadening of the inside movement from the sanctuary to the church at large.

Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Creative Commons
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.