- Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy, 1910–1960 by Kenneth C. Barnes
In the past sixty years, scholars have written a number of good books on Catholic-Protestant relations in the United States, but until recently, cursory attention has been given to anti-Catholicism in the South. In his 1938 biography [End Page 200] of agrarian rebel turned anti-Catholic bigot Tom Watson, C. Vann Woodward created a seminal interpretation. Woodward concludes that while white southerners like Watson fostered religious bigotry, their actions revealed curious but extraneous truths about the South's history. Kenneth C. Barnes's book on anti-Catholicism in Arkansas has attempted to reframe this narrative, shifting the lens to the people and institutions that made religious bigotry their prime concern.
The lion's share of Anti-Catholicism in Arkansas: How Politicians, the Press, the Klan, and Religious Leaders Imagined an Enemy, 1910–1960 is devoted to an eighteen-year period, beginning in 1910 with the publication of Tom Watson's Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine (an anti-Catholic tour de force) and ending with the anti-Catholic campaign against 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith. The focus is noteworthy. In Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1955), an important study of America's nativist past, John Higham contends that the South's fixation with Catholicism began in 1910, with Watson contributing to paranoia. Barnes credits Strangers in the Land for providing a foundational framework for understanding anti-Catholicism in Arkansas, but he aligns with more recent scholars of anti-Catholicism who argue that anti-Catholicism was not primarily about ethnic identity but rather "essentially about a religion" (p. 4). One glaring omission is Andrew S. Moore's recent work on Catholic-Protestant relations in Georgia and Alabama.
Seven chapters are organized chronologically. Chapter 1 provides a brief introduction to America's and Arkansas's anti-Catholic past, detailing how the anti-Catholic fringe element connected with a rural, religious, and conservative base. Chapter 2, perhaps the best chapter, uncovers the connection between anti-Catholicism and sexualized gender. For a brief time, anti-Catholic leaders created a paranoid, sex-obsessed frenzy, fueled by fictional accounts of convent abuses. Robert Randolph Posey, a notable zealot and Arkansas state representative, sponsored convent inspection bills twice. After it was passed, the Convent Inspection Act of 1915 required "religious institutions such as convents, monasteries, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, seminaries, or schools to submit to an inspection by the county sheriff or a grand jury upon the request of a judge or a petition of twenty citizens" (p. 25).
Chapter 3 addresses how liquor issues and World War I influenced religious antipathy. In highlighting the work of Arkansas Baptists, Barnes convincingly links religiously motivated prohibition with anti-Catholic sentiments. The second part of the chapter examines how wartime anti-German sentiments fueled hatred against Catholics as another point when nationalism and ethnic identity trumped religious conviction.
Chapter 4, "Catholics and the Ku Klux Klan, 1921–1925," emphasizes how the state's Klan leadership fueled jingoistic fears about immigration, public school control, and political conspiracy. Echoing other recent Klan histories, Barnes finds that these organizations attracted middle-class, urban, and educated leaders who wielded enormous political influence.
Chapters 5 and 6 cover how the citizens of Arkansas debated the possibility of a Catholic president of the United States. In 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith picked Arkansas senator Joseph T. Robinson as his running [End Page 201] mate, creating a fissure between culture warriors who were fighting against a pro-alcohol, pro-evolution, and Catholic presidential candidate and those who supported a ticket that included Arkansas's "favorite son" (p. 164). Although anti-Catholicism did not disappear, Barnes sees 1928 as the pivotal year when it began a steady decline. John F. Kennedy's 1960 election marked the end of politically organized anti...