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Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book

Volume 5 Number 1-4
March 1994

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Giving a Shout for Freedom, Part II:

The Reverend Malcolm Boyd, the Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., and the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s and 1970s

Michael B. Friedland, History Department, Boston College

This paper was presented at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax, VA.

Along with several other priests, Boyd took part in nonviolent workshops with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after which time the Episcopalians traveled from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson authorities arrested fifteen of them when they tried to integrate the city's bus terminal; the Reverend Layton Zimmer, chaplain of Swarthmore College, and Boyd were not in clerical garb and were therefore not arrested. Both traveled to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, founded by the Episcopal Church, where with five other Episcopal priests they tried to receive service at the university's Claremont Restaurant. The proprietor refused to serve the integrated group, whereupon the priests threatened to hold a hunger-strike and a sit-in until the school's regents agreed to pass a resolution desegregating the restaurant the following month, which they did. 35

The conclusion of the pilgrimage proved to be somewhat anticlimactic; after a Mississippi jury found one of the ministers not guilty of disturbing the peace after a trial in May 1962, charges against all the others were dropped. Most of the ministers facing imprisonment or a long, drawn-out appeals process were both relieved and troubled by the impression that they had received special treatment due to their profession. 36 While it is impossible to determine with any exactness the influence white clergymen had on the eventual outcome of the Freedom Rides, it is clear that the publicity engendered by their participation kept the issues alive once the violence inflicted on the original Freedom Riders had ceased to be news. The example of Protestant ministers (as well as rabbis and Catholic priests) 37 willing to risk injury and imprisonment by involving themselves in a fight that many felt was not their own indicated that individual clerics were trying to make their religion relevant by addressing racial problems facing society.

Boyd's participation in the events surrounding the Prayer Pilgrimage did not end upon his return to Wayne State University. The trials were yet to be held, and bail money was needed, and so the Episcopal priest turned to his earlier vocation, that of scriptwriting, and wrote a series of plays about race to be performed in coffeehouses and campuses by college students, civil rights and religious groups across the country: Boy, Study in Color, They Aren't Real to Me, and The Job. 38 Boyd described the theme of his plays as an "affirmation of humanness in the face of the powerful, sophisticated forces that try to break a person, compelling one to settle for less than personhood, and become a stereotype, a 'nigger,' 'boy,' 'queer,' a thing." 39 While the plays were popular among university students, television and radio producers often found themselves criticized for broadcasting what many viewers and listeners considered to be inflammatory material, and there were instances when the plays were closed or banned outright. 40

Civil rights were not Boyd's sole concern while at Wayne State University, 41 but by the spring of 1964, the struggle for an end to racial discrimination began to take up increasing amounts of his time and attention, in much the same way it was affecting the entire nation--especially the white religious community. 42 When the Civil Rights Act was passed in the summer of 1964, irate southern senators singled out liberal white clergy and sympathetic laypersons for criticism because of their support of the legislation, telling evidence of the strong moral influence the churches had on its passage. Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia complained that because the clergy had "failed completely in their efforts to establish good will and brotherhood from the pulpit," had turned to the "powers of the Federal Government to coerce the people into accepting their views under threat of dire punishment"--a "philosophy of coercion" that he likened to the doctrines of Torquemada "in the infamous days of the Spanish Inquisition." 43 Liberal white clergy were not content to lobby on Capitol Hill, however. The summer of 1964 found many of them involved in the Mississippi Summer Project, a voter registration and education campaign coordinated by civil rights groups working together under the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). In late March, representatives of the National Council, teachers, and sociologists met in Manhattan to discuss the establishment of "freedom schools" in Mississippi to give black children as well as adults the well-rounded education denied them in impoverished segregated schools provided by the state. 44

Two hundred-and-thirty-five clergymen and laypersons took part in the various activities making up the summer project, including counseling, delivering supplies, and, less often, sharing the students' task of helping to register black voters. Priests, ministers, and rabbis came from all over the nation to make up this ecumenical ministry; one reporter compared the diversity of the volunteers to the ethnically-mixed battalions of Hollywood war movies. 45

One such cleric was the Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., now the Suffragan Bishop of Washington, D.C. When he had been offered the position earlier in the year, he eagerly accepted it, believing that he could make a change by working in the nation's capital. "The church militant isn't just some theoretical liberal doctrinaire bit about socialism or public housing," he told an interviewer. "It's the little boy you get to know on the streets, and when you finally get to the end of why he's in rough shape, you're in Washington." 46 For the time being, however, he was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, meeting the members of the coordinating clerical body, the Ministers Project, who deployed the "creaky denominational executives, eager young firebrands with romantic notions, respectable suburban middle-aged pastors, Rabbis, and overseas missionaries with careful skill" as they visited white clergymen, professors of religion at the nearby University of Southern Mississippi, and counseled volunteers when necessary. 47

As both a combat veteran of the Second World War and an inner-city parish priest, Moore had seen his share of bravery and heroism, but he was nevertheless greatly impressed with the courage of the student volunteers and their counterparts in the black community. Driving up to the recently bombed COFO headquarters, which combined "the feel of a college dormitory, an Urban Church Summer Program, and a Marine Corps combat Command Post," he was surprised to find civil rights workers not only still present but also discussing the works of Homer and Edward Albee. Equally impressive but even more moving was the cooperation he felt among the clergy of different faiths. Writing of the ministers' dormitory in Hattiesburg, he noted that "the Holy Spirit inhabited this improbable tabernacle, and the ecumenical movement thrived there beyond the hopes of the most optimistic." It was important for the churches to be in Mississippi, for the clergy's presence helped keep some of the local vigilantes in check, as well as contributed a moderating influence and "in some cases needed man-power." But the movement "would have gone on without the Church." What made clerical participation important, he continued, was symbolized by the celebration of the Eucharist one Sunday:

The altar was an ironing board, the congregation assorted Roman Catholics, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, lay and ordained, local and Northern. The reredos [an ornamental partition or wall behind the altar] was the blasted out side of the Freedom Headquarters.... we were there to celebrate with him, the glory of his kingdom as it appeared around us in courage, in patience, in love, in fire, in Faith. We were there just to be there, just to say This is the Church, these purposes are of God. Through these young people, whether they know it or not, the Holy Spirit is working. For when all the registrations are counted, when the significant political repercussions of the Freedom Democratic Party are assessed, the most important thing will be that... a small group of people in this nation shook loose from its affluent society, and a few southern Negroes shook loose from a century of enforced paralysis, and together, Jew and Gentile, colored and white, they gave a shout for freedom. 48

Welcomed into the black communities, the white ministers, priests, and rabbis were scorned by local whites, they nevertheless attempted to reconcile the white population to the cause of equal rights, but attempts to carry this out failed utterly; when northern ministers and students attempted to visit local churches to discuss race relations with native white pastors, they were refused entrance and were sometimes literally thrown out of the building. The seriousness of the danger facing them was made all too apparent after the murder of three civil rights workers during the summer. It was not surprising that the tenure of the ministers, priests, and rabbis was not long. Most remained in the state for ten days to two weeks, and only a few stayed longer. 49

Among the latter was Malcolm Boyd, who had become national field director of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity earlier in the year. He traveled around the state with an interracial group of Episcopal priests to help in the voter registration drive and encourage Christian concern within the white community over the racial situation in the region. While in McComb, Boyd attended several COFO meetings, and stood guard at the COFO headquarters there to watch for potential bombers. Despite the dangers, the Episcopal ministers were grateful for the "redemptive quality the freedom movement was giving to the church in our land," Boyd wrote later, "and were grieved by the intense suffering and savagery we had witnessed." 50

But more than one summer of activity was needed to help solve the plight of poor blacks in Mississippi, a fact easily grasped by civil rights organizations as well as the National Council of Churches' Commission on Religion and Race, which had already decided in early 1964 that a small team of white ministers would remain in the state after September to establish the Delta Ministry, an independent long-term relief and reconciliation effort with Bishop Moore as chairperson. Funded by the National Council with extensive support from the World Council of Churches, the Delta Ministry's goals included direct relief services, community development, and a ministry of reconciliation between the black and white communities of Mississippi. 51

Operating out of offices in Hattiesburg, Greenville, and McComb, the small ministry supported black workers in their successful strike against segregated conditions in Greenville textile mills in the spring of 1965, established a tent city for black tenant farmers who had been driven off their land either for striking against the white landowners, or as a result of increasing mechanization on the cotton plantations, and continued to conduct freedom schools, workshops, and voter registration drives with other civil rights organizations. 52

White staff members made no secret that the Delta Ministry was acting in a supportive role; it was up to the indigenous black leadership, both within existing civil rights organizations and those who were independent, to make the decisions. The staff's advice was not always heeded; despite their warnings against direct-action, several hundred poor blacks, some from the ministry's schools and tent city, staged a "live-in" at Greenville Air Force Base in January 1966 to protest wretched living conditions in their own communities, vowing to stay until the federal government offered them financial assistance. Instead, federal and military authorities evicted them from the air base. 53 The staff had disagreed with the tactic, and in a press conference in Washington, Bishop Moore refused to condone the "live-in," although he noted that it was important to consider the deep sense of frustration that had led to it. Nevertheless, word spread that the event had been planned by the Delta Ministry and the National Council." 54

Such rumors did nothing to help relations between the white staff members and the local white community, including the clergy, which had never been good. Of all the goals touted by the Delta Ministry, only the aim of fostering reconciliation between the races proved to be a complete failure. To be fair, few local white clergymen had any interest in supporting such a ministry, viewing it instead as a further attempt by northern liberals to meddle in local affairs of which they knew nothing, and white southern churches began withholding funds from the National Council of Churches to protest what they considered to be a radical agrarian reform program. Nor could the Delta Ministry expect support from denominational hierarchies within the state. Much to Moore's dismay, Coadjutor Bishop John A. Allin of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi marshalled a resolution through the executive council of the Episcopal Church in December 1964 which provided that if church funds were to be used for civil rights projects in the South, projects in which Episcopal priests would be participating, the latter had to receive permission from local bishops to work in their states. Once the resolution was passed, Allin refused to allow Episcopal clergy into the state to conduct civil rights work, a situation that lasted only until February 1965 when the council rescinded the decision. 55

By the summer of 1966, the Delta Ministry had achieved markedly mixed results. An official evaluation by the National Council of Churches praised the staff members for their efforts at voter registration and distribution of needed food and clothing, but faulted them for worsening relations between black and white citizens of the state, as well as between poor and middle-class blacks, and for making little attempt to include local whites in their ministry, either as sponsors or recipients of aid. 56 The charge of worsening race relations had always been leveled at civil rights workers, but it had more than an element of truth here, for a few staff members, recalled one supporter of the ministry, were "incapable of working with those Mississippi whites who are showing some sign of change." Obviously the Delta ministry had to continue its work "whether the whites approve or not. But that is quite different from making a principle of not ever dealing with whites." One white staff member felt that working with local white people, however sympathetic, would jeopardize the work of the ministry. It had taken long enough to gain the confidence of poor blacks, "who had a right to be suspicious of our motives," and if staff members even appeared to identify with whites, such confidence would be lost. "If we err, it will be on the side of those with whom we work." 57

With funding being cut, the officials of the Delta Ministry found themselves appealing to individual donors for financial assistance. "I read in the papers that you were going to give some of your millions of dollars of profits earned at the Hungry i [a nightclub where Boyd read poetry and prose] to Civil Rights," Moore wrote Boyd half-jokingly. "The Delta Ministry is in really desperate straits. May I suggest, kind, rich Sir, that you consider this need?"58 Boyd promptly sent a contribution. "I guess I don't have to get flowery in thanking you for the check for the Delta Ministry," Moore responded. "It is fun to trace the progress of a dollar. From one of the right-wingers who gave you such a hard time, into the hands of a pretty waitress, to the boss of the Hungry i, to you, to me, to NCCC, to Mississippi, to a demonstrator against the type of guy who gave the dollar in the first place." 59

Ironically, Boyd's ability to raise money through his nightclub appearances (where he was sometimes accompanied by a blues musician) was due in large part to Moore's beneficence. The suffragan bishop had arranged with other Episcopal clerics to make Boyd a salaried "chaplain-at-large," or a "secular priest" which would enable him to work on behalf of causes such as civil rights without being tied down to daily parish duties.60 Both Boyd and Moore were excited by the prospect of working together in joint causes. "Malcolm," Moore wrote in a handwritten note, "I'm very excited about this and about having you nearby." By the fall of 1964 Moore had issued to Boyd a "formal call to the Diocese" of Washington, D.C., which Boyd accepted "with deep gratitude."61 As a canonical resident in the diocese, Boyd would "hang his hat at the Church of the Atonement" as assistant to the Reverend Quinland Gordon, the church's black Episcopal priest, but his responsibilities would also include continuing his work as national field representative of ESCRU and a speaker at universities across the nation. 62

Boyd wasted no time in taking advantage of his newfound freedoms. Joining up with William Jacobs, the managing editor of the Catholic weekly Ave Maria, the two men spent the fall and early winter of 1964 traveling throughout Mississippi to do research for a series of articles for the magazine. The series on the role of the white and black churches in the struggle for civil rights spanned several issues, for which the authors later received an award from the National Catholic Press Association. 63 Driving down country roads, the two men visited black clergymen, COFO workers, white clergymen from Catholic and Protestant congregations, and members of the white religious hierarchy. 64 Their impression of the black community in the civil rights movement was uniformly favorable; their opinion of the white clergy, less so. After meeting with Father Bernard Law and other Catholic priests in Jackson, they were tempted to agree with the comments of a Protestant minister who said that the Catholic clergy rated an "A" in diagnosis of the racial problems, but an "O" in therapy. Not that the members of the Protestant hierarchy were particularly progressive in outlook. Bishop John Allin of the Episcopal Church struck Jacobs as "among the three or four most charming men" that he had ever met, although the bishop did not trouble to hide the fact that he was unhappy with "the kind of radicalism that has come to Mississippi with the NCC's Delta Ministry, with COFO and with people like... Malcolm Boyd." Many white clerics believed that peace between the races would be achieved slowly, over a long period, and within the framework of existing institutional structures. 65 The need for gradual change through established channels was the single most commonly enunciated viewpoint among the white clergymen interviewed. The authors contended, on the other hand, that "the power structure is mainly responsible for conditions in Mississippi and cannot be changed fast enough to stop the unbelievably horrible things we saw and heard about during our trip." 66

Fears of change and "outside interference" was not limited to Mississippi's conservative white population, of course. Whites throughout the South believed that if only the "outside agitators" from the left-wing northern churches and national organizations left the region, race relations would calm down. But there was nothing calming about the attack on black marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, by state troopers on the afternoon of March 7, 1965. Hundreds of sympathetic whites traveled to Alabama to show their support, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been working in Selma since January, issued a call to all white ministers of good will to join him in a "ministers' march" the following Tuesday to protest the brutality. 67

The response was overwhelming, but the decision of so many northern clergymen to travel to Selma was not greeted with uniform praise, even in the North. "There was a time when a person could drop in at the parish rectory to discuss a problem with his clergyman," complained a Chicago woman in a letter that was reprinted in several of the city's papers. "Now, one must first telephone the rectory to find out if the clergyman is down in Alabama picketing. Why don't the clergy stick to the pulpit?" 68 The editors of Time praised some of the ministers for traveling to Selma because "their consciences and their sense of Christian duty demanded no less," but faulted others who were there "simply to win merit badges," quoting one minister who seemed to treat the entire situation as a game when he stepped off the plane in Montgomery, turned to a friend, and said, "Fix bayonets! Charge!" 69 The editors of Ave Maria asked religious leaders "to consider and determine what means of witness and protest are appropriate to clergymen and which are not," raising the question of whether the "appropriate moral response of clergymen is always the same as the appropriate moral response for civil rights leaders." 70

White southern ministers were harsher in their criticism. One denounced the "twenty-four hour prophets from New Jersey and New York who flew down South on Delta Airlines with martinis in their hands and roundtrip tickets in their pockets" who wanted to "return home as moral 'heroes.'" 71 A young Baptist minister in Lynchburg, Virginia told his parishioners in the Thomas Road Baptist Church the night the march began that the church did not have a mandate to involve itself in marches and demonstrations. Preaching the "pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ" was a full-time occupation which gave those who did it properly no time to do anything else, "including fighting communism, or participating in civil rights reforms." "Preachers are not called to be politicians but to be soul winners," he warned. The young minister's name was Jerry Falwell. 72

In Selma itself, the arrival of the white clergymen was greeted with dismay by their white counterparts. Any contact with the northern ministers was deemed suspect, for most of Selma's white population viewed the visitors as "outside agitators," an appellation that disturbed some of the out-of-towners not at all. "Why not?" said one minister. "An agitator is the part of the washing machine that gets the dirt out." 73

No stranger to the South, Boyd made his way to Selma to meet with other ministers and participate in the march. For other individuals, the decision to go to Alabama proved to be a fateful one. Among the clergy traveling to Selma was the Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston. His murder at the hands of local white segregationists only intensified the clamor throughout the country for federal protection for the marchers and congressional passage of voting rights legislation. 74

Clergymen were also busy in Washington, D.C. The Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches convened a meeting on Thursday, March 11 at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation calling for a voting rights bill and federal protection of the marchers in Alabama; the audience listened as Methodist bishops and Presbyterian ministers who had been in Selma two days before for the ministers' march described the role that the white clergy had to play in the struggle for civil rights. 75 Others joined protestors at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to continue the demands for federal intervention. Bishop Paul Moore attended the rally and denounced Johnson's "unbelievable lack of action," suggesting that another march on Washington might be necessary to spur the President's involvement. Afterwards, he donated money for the establishment of a kitchen to be set up to feed the protestors in the park, and then joined demonstrators picketing the White House. It was not the first time he had been in a picket line in the city; after he was made Suffragan Bishop in January 1964, he had taken part in marches calling for home rule for the capital. 76

Continue to Part III

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