by David L. Chappell
Chappell's is one of the three or four most important books on the civil-rights movement, but because its conclusions will unsettle, or at least irritate, much of its natural constituency, it will surely fail to gain the attention it deserves. This unusually sophisticated and subtle study takes an unconventional and imaginative approach by examining both sides in the struggle: Chappell asks what strengthened those who fought segregation in the South and what weakened their enemies. His answer in both cases is evangelical Christianity. He argues persuasively that revivalism engendered the civil-rights movement's solidarity, leadership, world view, and rhetoric. Inspired by what he characterizes as this "illiberal" faith, southern black activists led what was at heart a religious movement with political dimensions. Although previous historians have noted this, Chappell, a liberal atheist, goes further, contending, again convincingly, that the ethos of the southern black movement - its pessimistic view of human nature, together with its ultimately redemptive faith - was not merely different from but in essential ways antithetical to northerners' tepid liberalism. He points out, for instance, that Martin Luther King's often fundamentalist religious views and his excoriation of such elements of secular culture as rock-and-roll were positions foreign to his liberal sometime allies, and that the secular liberal creed of pluralism and political equality had proved inadequate and largely irrelevant to the contest in which southern blacks were engaged. (Chappell is especially, and justifiably, hard on the liberal pseudo-tough guy Arthur Schlesinger Jr., whose position on the race issue he sees as both bland and obtuse.) Chappell's greatest insight, however, is to discern that the struggle against segregation triumphed owing not only to the religious views of southern blacks but also to the religious views of southern whites. Evangelical Christianity undermined whites' segregationist convictions even as it bolstered the black community's resolve - a fact that black leaders recognized and shrewdly exploited. By inventively mining archival material previously unexploited by civil-rights scholars (the correspondence of the White Citizens' Councils and of the editorial secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention's Sunday School Board, for example), Chappell makes a brilliant point at once startling and obvious: in the struggle over segregation white denizens of the Bible Belt, no less than black ones, needed the cultural depth, tradition, and moral authority of their churches. But, as Chappell reminds us (the facts were always available but have remained unexplored), the segregationists got none of that. In the mid-1950s the Southern Baptists and the Southern Presbyterians each overwhelmingly passed resolutions endorsing desegregation, and appealing to all southerners to accept it peacefully (in the Southern Baptist Convention the vote was staggeringly lopsided - about 9,000 to 50). In a land that embraced literalist views of the Bible, nearly every important southern white conservative clergyman and theologian averred that there was no biblical sanction for segregation or for white supremacy. And the country's - and world's - best-known Southern Baptist, the North Carolinian Billy Graham, shared the pulpit with Martin Luther King in 1957, commended what he called the "social revolution" King was leading in the South, and, having no truck with what he saw as the modern, secular concept of racism, insisted, even in the Deep South and in contravention of local laws there, that his revival meetings (along with his ushering staffs and choir) be integrated. (As a student of both evangelical Christianity and southern history, I've long known of this heroic aspect of Graham's career, but Chappell makes the important suggestion, alas undeveloped, that in fact the Graham revival of the 1950s and 1960s - a national, indeed international, phenomenon - was, by vitiating the forces of segregation in the southern white community, crucial to the success of the civil-rights struggle.) All this was plain to southern segregationists at the time, and indeed they understood that the white southern churches - although few clergymen were as stalwart as Graham - were their de facto enemies. (Which is why, for instance, the White Citizens' Councils progressed from an anti-clerical to an increasingly anti-Christian stance.) Without the sanction of their churches, Chappell concludes, "the segregationists' foundations in southern white culture were mushy. The segregationists had popular opinion behind them, but not popular conviction." In elevating evangelical Christianity as a crucial element to both sides of the civil-rights struggle - and in recognizing that white southerners responded, however reluctantly and tentatively, to the force of the Christian message they shared with their black fellow southerners (an interpretation Leslie Dunbar, Christopher Lasch, and Joel Williamson adumbrated) - Chappell is one of many historians who are bringing religion to the forefront in the study of American history generally and of social and political movements particularly. But, of course, the crucial importance of the (black and white) South's religiosity to the defeat of Jim Crow was long ago recognized by King, who always spoke of himself as a southerner, and who wrote of "our beloved Southland." He understood what V. S. Naipaul, in his journey through the South in the mid-1980s, would call "the great discovery of my travels": "In no other part of the world had I found people so driven by the idea of good behavior and the good religious life. And that was true for black and white."
by Madeleine Albright
This memoir's publication provides ample evidence of the peculiarities of the book business, which is governed neither by the iron law of the bottom line nor by a high-minded commitment to producing literary works of lasting value - or at least of passing significance. Albright had been out of office less than a week when Harvey Weinstein, the thuggishly glamorous co-chairman of Miramax Films (no doubt just off the phone with Gwyneth Paltrow), tracked her down at a spa in Mexico to urge her to choose Miramax Books as her publisher. That any publisher would so ardently pursue this quarry is quite odd; that the tinseliest would is unfathomable. Nearly all high officials' memoirs are as unrevealing as they are self-serving. (Albright's, no surprise, lacks a forthright account of the Clinton Administration's complicity, or acquiescence, in Croatia's ethnic cleansing of the Krajina Serbs; of the decision to expand nato, the most sweeping expansion of America's security commitments since the late 1940s; or of the causes and conduct of the war against Yugoslavia - the first war the U.S.-led nato waged, and one fought against a country that, however unsavory, posed no threat to any member of the alliance, least of all the United States. Readers will, however, find much State Department spin circa 1998, complete with the inevitable invocation of the lessons of Munich.) Moreover, such books promise to be boring, for when a former Cabinet officer - unlike, say, a record producer - reminisces, she perforce adopts the sonorous and bloated tone of one writing A Work of History, as she chronicles, for example, her speech endorsing "intercultural communications." So Madam Secretary won't be flying off the shelves at Costco, nor does it rival Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand. It's neither better nor worse than others of its ilk, although the former secretary's unwinning attitude and demeanor, which uniquely combine the attributes of the Democratic Party hack and the self-righteous Wilsonian, prove as irrepressible in print as they were when she sought and held office.
by Nicholas Boyle