WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown versus Board of Education that racial segregation
in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment
to the Constitution
, which prohibits the states from denying equal protection
of the laws to any person within their jurisdictions. The decision declared that separate educational facilities for white and African American
students were inherently unequal. This ruling overturned the Supreme Court’s decision of 1896 in Plessy versus Ferguson mandating separate public facilities and ended countless years of segregation and inequality.
The Brown versus Board of Education ruling put the Methodist Church into turmoil because the denomination in southern states was also segregated with all African American churches organized in to the Central Jurisdiction. If the government could end segregation in public schools, could it also end segregation in Christian denominations?
The General Conference meeting of 1954 did not alleviate the concerns of the south regarding integration. This meeting, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota adopted a resolution urging the abolition of racial discrimination. It was noted that this resolution was not mandatory and could not be enforced and the delegates also passed an amendment that annual conferences could be transferred to other jurisdictions if the annual conference did not agree with the jurisdiction’s decision to end segregation.
Bishop Arthur J. Moore, being born and raised in south Georgia, had been bishop of the Atlanta Episcopal area, North and South Georgia Conferences, for fifteen years. He would continue as bishop of this area for another five years, retiring in 1960. As 1954 drew to a close and 1955 was just beginning, thousands of people wrote to Bishop Moore regarding their disgust at the rest of the country for misunderstanding the southern states and the importance of racial segregation. He responded with this address.
“We are met as a group of Christian men and women to pool our resources of faith and good will, hoping to find a working solution for what we all recognize as a stubborn problem. The practical thing for a traveler who wants to make sure that he is on the right road is not to proceed with speed, but to stop long enough to make sure that he is on the right road and is moving in the right directions. That is what we seek to do today…”
“We are not here in any official capacity. We have come together in an atmosphere of Christian understanding to speak frankly and constructively to each other. We are seeking to bring the spirit of brotherhood into our dealings with each other, so that if tensions increase, we will not be out of touch with each other. Some of us are convinced that the Christian gospel could draw off from our nation the poison which has been produced by some of the measures which are being employed to solve this problem. In the confusion we are all tempted to insist upon our rights and to forget our duties. The purpose of this meeting is to approach the problem in an atmosphere of cooperation and good will… Distrust and rivalry will disrupt, while respect and cooperation will heal. Therefore because we have confidence in the healing forces of friendship, we have come to sit down and talk together.”
“In the confusion of this present situation men are lashing out blindly at each other. That there are abuses to be corrected, injustices to be abolished and wrongs to be righted no Christian would deny. The church must always provide a voice for those who have no speech and lend its strength to every movement which seeks the betterment of the human family… The thoughtful Christian readily perceives that the redemption of the individual member of society, or of the entire social order, will not be achieved by the readjustment of institutions alone, but by the regeneration of the human heart. When the Christian gospel is received, it changes man’s thought concerning all fundamental matters of life…”
“The injustices of the American social order may not be dismissed with a general statement. There are acute and intricate problems associated with them, which, if approached in an atmosphere poisoned on the one hand by contempt and on the other by resentment, may easily become dangerous and explosive. If, however, these problems are approached in an atmosphere of determined good will and patience, they can be solved… The whole question can be resolved when, in the spirit of Jesus, our groups approach each other motivated by respect, trust and service.”
“…As Christianity spreads, the inequalities of man grow less, and as the light of Christ rises over the earth, more of freedom, brotherhood and equality come to His children. The final establishment of the Kingdom of God will not come in some sudden and dramatic fashion because it is built upon the indestructible foundation of brotherly good will. While waiting and working for that better day, we must not make an armistice with injustices and oppression. Christ wills the spirit of unity between all peoples and calls upon His followers to live as members of a redeemed family which enfolds all mankind.”
“In the name and spirit of science and education we will seek to find and to tell the truth. In the name and spirit of democracy we will seek the way of equal opportunity. In the name of patriotism we will strive for loyalty to the democratic ideal, for leadership to guide, and for statesmanship adequate to carry the burden of the new day. In the name and spirit of Christianity, we will search for the new faith of fellowship. In the name and spirit of Him who carries all men in his eternal purpose we dedicate ourselves to the task of doing the most and the best that can done here and now."
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at email@example.com.