On Sunday, August 1, 1965, an interracial group
of six persons attempt to worship at First Methodist Church in Americus.
They are testing the influence of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based
on race, gender, and national origin, and outlawed discrimination
in places of employment. Willie Bolden, a member of the SCLC,
is the gentleman leading the group. After a sceen from another protest in Americus, this WSB clip shows the integrators approach the church and the twelve
white church members who cluster on the stairs in an attempt to prevent
them from entering. The activists tell these church officials that
they want to worship and pray. The men turn the demonstrators away,
with the words, “We don’t have room for you.”1 The integrators march
down the church steps and hold a brief prayer before departing.
Although this scene is not in featured in this WSB clip, a second
incident occurred across the street at the First Baptist Church.
The activists at First Baptist encountered hostility from church
members, including the Americus Fire Chief, H. K. Henderson, who
yelled “You have your own churches,”2 as the group attempted to
enter for worship. Church members cautioned the group to leave,
and threatened to forcibly remove them if they did not.
The saying that “Sunday is the most segregated day of the week”
highlights the urgency that accompanied activists' efforts to integrate
American churches. Ironically, places of worship proved one of
the most difficult institutions to desegregate. Because of its
Christian foundation, and the participation of many ministers and
religious in the group, the SCLC targeted churches for desegregation.
Segregated churches symbolized the hypocrisy of many Americans who
supported racial equality except on Sundays. However, the Civil
Rights Movement countered this hypocrisy by organizing as an
interfaith effort, and deliberately bringing Jews, Christians, Moslems,
and people of other religious faiths together to create social change.
Resources (click here)
1. The segregation of American churches has its roots in slavery.
Read the documents describing religion in slave communities on
site of the Gilder
Lehrman Institute of American History (Part VII) . How
might these tensions surrounding religion during slavery have contributed
to the segregation of black and white churches in the twentieth
2. How willing were African Americans to integrate white churches
during the civil rights era? What was at stake in maintaining separate
black and white churches?
3. What ideas and principles did non-Christian activists bring
to the Civil
4. How did Gandhi’s
principles of non-violence and compassion intersect with Christian
principles of brotherly love and altruism?
Take it to the
African American Protestant churches share many unique characteristics
that scholars describe as the vernacular tradition: for
example, gospel music, call-and-response interaction between
preachers and congregation, and passionate expression of feelings.
Discuss how these religious traditions have influenced black orators,
from the Reverend
Dr. King, to Shirley Franklin, to Barack Obama.
Writer: Lauren Chambers
Editors: Christina L. Davis, Deborah
Stanley, and Diane Trap
Chambers, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara
Site Designer: William Weems
Freedom on Film is not responsible
for the content of external web sites.