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G chapter 6 H 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 C ommunity 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 Mennonitepastorandactivistfinishedpreaching ,membersofthesmall,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 AfricanAmerican 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 G congregational campaign H 161 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 longterm 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 162 G daily demonstrators H 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 Historianshaveavoidedstudyingsuchintegratedgroupsandonlyglanced 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...


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