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G chapter 8 H A New Civil Rights Story The nonviolent movement is telling us, by its philosophy and ritualistic acts, that change comes not only by a few external acts but by a great many internal acts. —Lillian Smith, white southern writer and social critic, 1963 A Sunday Morning Demonstration M embers of Bethesda Mennonite gathered for a Sunday morning demonstration in 1961. Two children offered impish grins to an unnamed photographer (see figure 8.1). Perhaps they had recently returned from a Fresh Air vacation in the country. The other demonstrators from this St. Louis congregation paid no heed to the photographer as they conversed after worship. At the top of the steps, two women—one white, one black—wore prayer coverings at a church where evangelist Rowena Lark once wore hers. Like Lark, they demonstrated their claim to church membership through sacred dress. Farther to the left, pastor Hubert Schwartzentruber held one of his children while he spoke with his wife, June, and another churchgoer. Perhaps they discussed Curtis Burrell, an African-American member of their congregation away at seminary. They may have commented on Burrell’s marriage to Lois Headings , a white Mennonite from Hutchinson, Kansas, whom he met through church connections. The two men standing below them might have been discussing the sermon, local politics, or street marches through the PruittIgoe Housing development. On this Sunday morning in St. Louis, these dozen Mennonites demonstrated while talking after church. 222 G daily demonstrators H The Bethesda members transformed their informal gathering into a demonstration by holding interracial conversations. Within a housing project segregated from white St. Louis, Bethesda members sent a message . They evinced—as had Louis Gray, Rowena Lark, Nettie Taylor, June Schwartzentruber, and Susie Smith when they first posed for an integrated Sunday school photo in 1957—the possibility of integrated worship. They stood on the steps of their church having worshipped together , now visiting together, and in so doing, they challenged segregation . At this intersection between home and sanctuary, Bethesda members organized yet another daily demonstration of segregation’s demise. Some members joined street marches to further challenge the color line. Many chose to demonstrate in their living rooms. All took considerable social risks to support the goals of the civil rights movement. Bethesda’s history speaks of a congregation well prepared to demonFig . 8.1 Bethesda Mennonite Church members, St. Louis, 1961 N. E. Kauffman, “Light Shines Out from the Inner City,” Gospel Herald 54, no. 23 (June 6, 1961): 517. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Publishing Network, Scottdale, PA G a new civil rights story H 223 strate across racial lines. Church planters Rowena and James Lark came to the city in 1956 at the invitation of local church federation leaders interested in encouraging “wholesome evangelism” in urban St. Louis.1 The Larks chose to locate their ministry efforts in the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, a federally funded development built to stem the spread of substandard housing and so protect downtown property values. The massive facility covered more than fifty acres and offered 2,870 apartments for up to fifteen thousand inhabitants, a higher density than that in the residences it replaced. Although originally conceived as a segregated housing site—planners had designated Pruitt project for African Americans, Igoe for whites—the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision forced city supervisors to declare the project integrated when it opened in 1954. By the time the Larks arrived, however, demand for urban housing had begun to decline, and de facto segregation followed.2 Only African Americans lived at Pruitt-Igoe. By 1957 a young couple from southern Ontario, Hubert and June Schwartzentruber,arrivedinSt.Louistotakeover leadership at Bethesda. The couple had been wed only six weeks before their arrival at Bethesda, and they brought with them even less ministerial than marital experience. By the time they set foot in Pruitt-Igoe, the development already showed signs of deterioration from poor construction, inadequate maintenance, and bureaucratic neglect. The Schwartzentrubers nonetheless moved into a project apartment and, according to a mocking letter sent to them by a white resident of the city, became “the first-and-only white tenants” of the housing project.3 During their fifteen-year tenure at Bethesda, the Schwartzentrubers helped build a congregation known for its interracial ministry. Although the congregation comprised mostly Pruitt-Igoe residents like Louis Gray, Susie Smith, and Nettie Taylor, who appeared in the St. Louis Argus photo that opens this volume (figure P.1...


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