When people die, even the racist ones, there is an inexplicable rush
to trumpet the good in that person, even where none exists from a
public policy perspective. The most recent example is Jerry Falwell,
one of the godfathers of the religious right.
Like many Southern
White ministers, Falwell didn’t sit on the sidelines at the outset of
the modern civil rights movement, he joined the opposition.
before the forces that now make up the Christian right declared their
culture war, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the
civil rights movement from the pulpit of the abandoned backwater
bottling plant he converted into Thomas Road Baptist Church,” Max
Blumenthal writes in an insightful article in The Nation magazine.
“This opening episode of Falwell’s life, studiously overlooked by his
friends, naively unacknowledged by many of his chroniclers, and
puzzlingly and glaringly omitted in the obituaries of the Washington
Post and New York Times, is essential to understanding his historical
significance in galvanizing the Christian right. Indeed, it was race
–not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called ‘values’ issues –
that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political
Four years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of
Education outlawing segregated public schools, Falwell gave a speech
titled, “Segregation or Integration.”
His message was
unmistakably clear: “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had
known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite
confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The
facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of
distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”
argument that God ordained segregation and White supremacy was advanced
by many southern White ministers. We should not forget that Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written to his
colleagues of the cloth. The letter, written April 16, 1963, said, in
part: I have been disappointed with the church…When I was suddenly
catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery,
Alabama a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white
church. I felt the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South
would be among our strongest allies.
“Instead, some have been
outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and
misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more
cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the
anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”
was not silent behind his stained-glass windows. He said, “The true
Negro does not want integration…he realizes his potential is far better
among his own race.”
As usual, Falwell was wrong. Autherine Lucy,
a “true Negro” applied to and was accepted as a student at the
University of Alabama. Once the university discovered she was an
African-American, however, officials said state law prevented her from
enrolling. With the legendary Thurgood Marshall as her attorney, she
sued and gained admission. When she arrived in February 1956, a mob
threw eggs at her and issued death threats. The university expelled
her, purportedly for her own safety.
The following year, nine
Black students attempted to desegregate the all-White Central High
School. Segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National
Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending the school. A
federal judge overruled Faubus and ordered the students admitted. When
the Black students reported to class, a mob formed and president Dwight
Eisenhower dispatched the Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division to
Little Rock. The nine students were allowed to attend classes, though
they were subject to abuse from White students.
Does that should like the “true Negro” did not want integration?
But Falwell didn’t stop there.
that integration “will destroy our race eventually,” Falwell said, “A
pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next
door to his church as man and wife.”
Not as an unmarried couple, not as gays or lesbians, but “man and wife.” That was too much for Falwell to stomach.
late as 1964, Falwell was attacking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil
wrongs” legislation. He questioned “the sincerity and intentions of
some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James
Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.”
Falwell charged, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in
all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in
our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and
No, it was the Bull Conners of the world that were
violently beating civil rights marchers. It’s too bad that Falwell, who
later claimed that he had changed his views, was on the wrong side of
Will Blacks and Whites Ever Agree on Race?
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