Faith in Community: Interracial Discussions and Ecumenical Protestantism, 1945-1960

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Kenaston, Connor, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, Department of History, University of Virginia

Historians have described the postwar racial justice activism of predominantly white ecumenical organizations like the Young Women’s Christian Association, Federal Council of Churches, and the Young Men’s Christian Association as “tepid” and “conciliatory.” Drawing on discussion guides, periodicals, and archival materials, this paper shifts the analysis from the organizations themselves to their black staff members. Pairing new social science research with Christian and democratic principles, women and men like Dorothy Height, George Haynes, and Maynard Catchings extended and subverted the traditional white Protestant approach to race relations. Black leaders structured their discussion-based seminars and workshops so that participants knew that while interracial discussion was one step in the “struggle for community and freedom,” it certainly was not the last. Despite its flaws, black ecumenical leaders’ activism provided important historical precedent for their organizations’ more forthright anti-racist work in the 1960s and suggests a new framework for understanding the civil rights movement as religious history.

MA (Master of Arts)
Civil Rights, Religion

I would like to thank the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Andersen Research Scholars program which helped fund much of my research for this essay.

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