E book evaluate: In ‘From Preaching to Meddling,’ a white priest experiences civil-rights motion in Alabama


“Strangely enough, the racial superiority of crevasses is sinking – it may be hiding years later,” writes retired bishop Francis X. Walter in his memoir on the civil rights movement in Alabama, “From Preaching to Meddling”. “Reminds me how you could murder someone not too many years ago. Make a terrible bloody mess, but with enough bleach, hot water, and elbow grease, no one could tell what you had done. But then new equipment and new chemicals are coming. Now.” the floorboards glow like a Christmas tree. The blood was there all the time. “

Walter, who currently resides in Sewanee, Tennessee, was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1932 and raised in the Mobile Bay Creole community with parents more outgoing than most whites of the time. When his mother saw a black episcopal clergyman being treated with disrespect by his white colleagues in 1951, she told her family the story “with fire in her eyes”.

Walter paid attention to this and reached his own turning point when he was forced by his church to invite the same black priest from an event promoting racial harmony because “young girls would be present”. The priest was gracious and not surprised at this turning point, but Walter was deeply shocked and swore: “I will never be part of this system again. Never. Never.” The way Walter tries to keep this promise to himself under difficult circumstances makes up a large part of the memoir.

After graduating from seminary at the University of the South in 1957, Walter immediately began a two-year scholarship at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, where his views on race developed under the influence of the anti-apartheid Anglican priest Michael Scott. Walter was chaplain at the time at Grace Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, an integrated congregation of blacks, whites, and Hispanics. Obviously, the Old Confederation limited this and how the color line maintained failure. In Jersey City, a place of lazy politics, you could still take kids on the block to a vacation church school or whatever and not worry about color. Not in Mobil in 1958. “

Photo contributed / Francis X. Walter

When Walter returned to Alabama, threats from a prominent businessman to ruin his father financially prevented him from accepting the reputation of a black church in Mobile if he continued. He was then fired from his first position as pastor for St. James, a white church in Eufaula, when he insisted on promoting racial policies that made sacristy members uncomfortable.

With the benefit of decades of deliberation, Walter admits, “My own determination was to lead them out of segregation. As young and inexperienced as I was, and without the support of my bishop, my acts of non-participation [in gatherings at which Black Episcopalians were not welcome] posed an insoluble dilemma for me and the St. James parishioners. “The bishop he speaks of is the Right Rev. Charles CJ Carpenter, a complicated character for whom Walter has continued affection and much anger. He writes : “Bishop Carpenter was a special kind of racist – the kind who expected a certain generosity, charity from themselves and other whites, which should help people who could not help themselves. Such “charity” does not reach the level of love because it lacks the ballast of social justice. “

From 1965 to 1972 Walter was director of the Selma Inter-Religious Project (SIP). He explains: “The Selma project was designed to support, not lead, or initiate the racial struggle. Supporters and collaborators were primarily whites who understood that their job was to help blacks get away from it Liberate control and rule of whites in the black belt counties of Alabama. “

A notable episode during his tenure at SIP was his discovery and promotion of the female quilters of the Freedom Quilting Bee collective, some of which were stunning quilts that would ultimately receive national attention and be on display at the Smithsonian.

“From Preaching to Meddling” provides valuable eyewitness testimony to the struggle for civil rights in Alabama. Walter’s memoir is an important historical document from a humble man of faith who tried to live what he believed in a dangerously polarizing time.

For more information on local books, visit Chapter16.org, an online publication by Humanities Tennessee.

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