Racism in Churches of Christ Pt. 1

By: Garrett Best

For this post, I intend to reproduce in full an article written by Foy E. Wallace Jr. in the Bible Banner in 1941. I am doing this because Foy E. Wallace Jr. made a significant impact on Churches of Christ in the 20th century. On page seven of the March issue, you will find his article “Negro Meetings for White People”. Remember, this was written only 73 years ago.

“The manner in which the brethren in some quarters are going in for the negro meetings leads one to wonder whether they are trying to make white folks out of the negroes or negroes out of the white folks. The trend of the general mix-up seems to be toward the latter. Reliable reports have come to me of white women, members of the church, becoming so animated over a certain colored preacher as to go up to him after a sermon and shake hands with him holding his hand in both of theirs. That kind of thing will turn the head of most white preachers, and sometimes affect their conduct, and anybody ought to know that it will make fools out of the negroes. For any woman in the church to so far forget her dignity, and lower herself so, just because a negro has learned enough about the gospel to preach it to his race, is pitiable indeed. Her husband should take her in charge unless he has gone crazy, too. In that case somebody ought to take both of them in charge.

Reliable brethren in the Valley have reported the definite inclinations of the negro man and his wife in charge of the orphan home for colored children at Combes toward social equality. They are supposed to be members of the church, and some of the white brethren are apparently encouraging them. It is said that these two negroes have privately stated that they favor social equality and are working for it. The young editor of “Christian Soldier,” in the valley, admits that he roomed with the negro preacher, R. N. Hogan, and slept in the same bed with him two nights! And he seemed to be proud of it! Aside from being an infringement on the Jim Crow law, it is a violation of Christianity itself, and of all common decency. Such conduct forfeits the respect of right-thinking people, and would be calculated to stir up demonstrations in most any community if it should become generally known.

It has gained considerable currency that the colored preacher Hogan has been too much inclined to mix with the white people and to favor, in attitude, a social equality. Hogan should have had too much sense, if not self-respect, to have permitted the young white preacher to sleep with him, if the young preacher did not have that much sense or self-respect. But Hogan has been under the sponsorship of Jimmie Lovell and cannot be expected to have any too much sense about anything. I have always said that Marshall Keeble and Luke Miller could not be spoiled, but if I ever hear of them doing anything akin to such as this I will take back every good thing I have ever said of them. Keeble should teach these negro preachers better than that, even if we cannot teach some young upstart among the white preachers. Their practices will degrade the negroes themselves. It is abominable.

When N. B. Hardeman held the valley-wide meeting at Harlingen, Texas, some misguided brethren brought a group of negroes up to the front to be introduced to and shake hands with him. Brother Hardeman told them publicly that he could see all of the colored brethren he cared to see on the outside after services, and that he could say everything to them that he wanted to say without the formality of shaking hands. I think he was right. He told of a prominent brother in the church who went wild over the negroes and showed them such social courtesies that one day one of the negroes asked him if he might marry his daughter. That gave the brother a jolt and he changed his attitude!

In one of my own meetings a young negro preacher was engaged by the church as janitor. He made it a point to stand out in the vestibule of the church-building to shake hands with the white people. When I insisted that it be discontinued some of the white brethren were offended. Such as this proves that the white brethren are ruining the negroes and defeating the very work they should be sent to do, that is, preach the gospel to the negroes, their own race.

I saw a letter the other day from the colored preacher, R. N. Hogan, to a certain white brother stating that there were very few negroes in the section where he was preaching at the time, and that he was holding the meeting for the white brethren!

When negro meetings are held in most of the places now, the white brethren over-run the premises. They herald these negro preachers as the greatest preachers in the world, when as a matter of fact if any of the white preachers should say everything they say to a word, it would sound so uncommon that the brethren would stop it. But when a negro says it, in negro manner, the brethren paw up the ground over it.

I was preaching in a certain city where Marshall Keeble had held a successful meeting. In usual style he had poured it on the negroes and it had run on the white people. One brother who was against hard preaching went wild over Keeble’s hard preaching. Keeble preached it hard, calling names, and giving the sectarians Hail Columbia! His brother thought it was the greatest stuff he had ever heard. Later, when I was preaching in the same city, he squirmed until he polished the seat of a good pair of trousers because I drew the line on denominationalism. One night while he was squirming, I diverted attention by referring to one of Keeble’s hard sayings. Immediately this brother sat erect, smiled and nodded in approval of Keeble’s hard saying. I smiled back at him and said: Get yourself a negro preacher!

I am very much in favor of negro meetings for the negroes, but I am just as much opposed to negro meetings for white people, and I am against white brethren taking the meetings away from the negroes and the general mixing that has become entirely too much of a practice in these negro meetings. Such a thing not only lowers the church in the eyes of the world but it is definitely against the interest of the negroes. If any negro preacher says that this is not true, that will be the evidence that it is true, and that he has been spoiled by the white brethren and wants to preach to white audiences. And if any of the white brethren get worked up over what I have said, and want to accuse me of being jealous of the negro preachers, I will just tell them now that I don’t even want to hold a meeting for any bunch of brethren who think that any negro is a better preacher than I am! So we can just call that argument off before it starts-and the meeting, too.- F.E.W.”

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7 comments

  1. Ah, Foy Wallace. Check Richard Hughes’ history (Reviving the Ancient Faith) for a good read on him. It is hard to fault him for being a person of his time, as JD notes above. But I met Brother Hogan on a couple of occasions and know the good work of Keeble for the sake of the entire church. There were great men of faith who inspired a whole generation of faithful ministers – of many colors. I would hope that if Foy Wallace stood among us today, having seen the waves of change taking place in the broader culture and in the churches, he would speak differently. But that is, of course, not the way things go. I’m just glad I read things like this and they make me ill. I hope it has the same affect on others and nobody today reads this and says, “Amen!” It is with that person I think we have the real theological issues.

  2. The article provides an insight into past attitudes in the church and my reflects of a bigger picture of attitudes in the church presently. My faith in the truth of the gospel remain largely unshaken.

  3. my dad had many a head butting incidences with FEW. and there are many people around here who were strongly influenced by him. My dad said to me on several occasions, when it came to major changes that needed to happen in the church, racism being one of them, “Son, there’s just going to have to be a lot more funerals.” Yep… I pity people like this and those who still have these attitudes. all i can do is pray for change of hearts. I’m grateful for parents who always taught us that while there were cultural differences we were all the same in God’s eyes. I’m grateful for parents who weren’t racist and taught me to see people as God sees them.

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