Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
This story is part history and part memoir. It concerns my father, a Presbyterian minister, and what he went through during the period 1957 to 1970, when he gave himself wholeheartedly to move his middle-class, Midwestern congregations into action on behalf of the oppressed. In the course of events, my father was arrested, with twelve other white ministers from the North, in 1964, in Pike County, Mississippi, while protesting the county's refusal to register black voters. He spent one night in jail. The protest was in and out of the national news quickly, but it had a large impact on the town to which he returned, Athens, Ohio. He became the locus of controversy, a stand-in for the civil rights movement, and his church became the stage on which the struggle was played out in Athens. The story begins in Westerville, Ohio, in November 1957, with the performance of a minstrel show. It was a fundraiser performed by local citizens to benefit the varsity sports teams of the local college, Otterbein, and it was performed in Otterbein's auditorium, just down the street from First Presbyterian Church, of which my father was pastor. He thought minstrel shows were self-evidently bad and that it was his duty to say so. He wrote a column in the local newspaper upbraiding the citizenry for supporting the minstrel show. He was not naive. And yet he was surprised by the reaction. Public opinion strongly favored it. Members of his church were scandalized not by the minstrel show but by his speaking against it. With the brouhaha that followed publication of his newspaper column, my father gained three things: a reputation as an advocate for civil rights, the understanding that his ministry would provoke conflict, and his own commitment to go ahead with his eyes open. He was eventually forced to leave the Westerville church. His next pastorate was at First Presbyterian Church of Athens, a small city with a large university some eighty miles southeast of Columbus. He arrived in January 1963 resolved to engage the congregation and himself in the civil rights movement as deeply as possible. This story tells the story of my father's attempt to do this, and its consequences. I've been telling this story all my adult life-every month or two for the last forty-five years, I'd guess, usually a three-minute version. Besides being a kind of personal cornerstone story for me, I've always thought it had merit on its own as an exemplary story of the 1960s, the decade in which I passed my adolescence. Ever since then I've been promising myself that I would some day take the full measure of this story. This is it.