During the Civil Rights movement, American churches confronted issues of racism that they had previously ignored. No church experienced this confrontation more sharply than the Methodist Church. When Methodists reunited their northern and southern halves in 1939, their new church constitution created a segregated church structure that posed significant issues for Methodists during the Civil Rights movement.
Of the six jurisdictional conferences that made up the Methodist Church, only one was not based on a geographic region: the Central Jurisdiction, a separate conference for “all Negro annual conferences.” This Jim Crow arrangement humiliated African American Methodists and embarrassed their liberal white allies within the church. The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education
decision awakened many white Methodists from their complacent belief that the church could conform to the norms of the South without consequences among its national membership.
Murray places the struggle of the Methodist Church within the broader context of the history of race relations in the United States. He shows how the effort to destroy the barriers in the church were mirrored in the work being done by society to end segregation. Immensely readable and free of jargon, Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930–1975, will be of interest to a broad audience, including those interested in the Civil Rights movement and American church history.