Preaching Festival 2011

1911 ~ The Centennials ~ 2011

Hannah Whitall Smith – Carry A. Nation – Mahalia Jackson – Bob Jones, Jr.

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2011 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Four Christian Departures or Arrivals in 1911

The year is 1911.  None of us has yet been born, much less born again from above. Yet all of us are on God’s timeless Mind and in God’s timeless Heart.

In 1911, were we to ask: “What’s new?”, we’d hear that Orville Wright kept his flying machine in the air for a record 9 minutes, 45 seconds.  Wow!  A Model T hits a new record in hill climbing and gasoline sales now surpass the sale of kerosene.  There’s another new motorcar – the Chevrolet.  And Studebaker is offering something else that’s new, customer credit.  The Stock Exchange now lists car stocks.  A Computer Tabulating Recording Corporation has been incorporated in New York.  100 years from now, it’ll be IBM, the world’s Number 1 “green company”.  You’d think that with a hundred years of experience it would no longer be green!   There’s a new shortening, made only of vegetable oil.  It’s called Crisco.  The Swiss have invented “processed” cheese, whatever that is.  Joseph Pulitzer’s will sets up some big cash prizes and Carnegie gives $125 million to education.  We Americans now average $983 a year and pay 2 cents to send a letter.

Bestsellers are J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Frank Baum’s Sea Fairies, E. M. Forster’s Celestial Omnibus and G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown.  Stravinsky premiers a new ballet called, Petrouchka. “Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine” and “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey, Hold Me Tight” are the hit songs.  There’s a new gospel song, too: “Farther Along”.

Tragedy strikes New York when 146 workers die in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory near Washington Square.  It’s the deadliest disaster in the city’s history!  Among the famous folks who’ll die in 1911: W. S. Gilbert, Gustav Mahler, Milton Bradley, F. A. O. Schwartz, the Presbyterian preacher A. T. Pierson, philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey and psychology pioneer Alfred Binet.

Some 1911 newborns will become famous.  Out in Cincinnati, the Slyes’ new kid, Lenny, will grow up to be Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys”.  Other 1911 babies are Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan, Lucile Ball, Bill Monroe, Marshall McLuhan, Ginger Rogers, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gian-Carlo Menottie and, down in Mississippi, little Tommy Williams, who’ll be nicknamed “Tennessee”.  Other babies will grow up to make their mark in religion – Peter Eldersveld on radio’s “Back to God Hour”, Bible scholar George Eldon Ladd at Fuller Seminary, faith healer A. A. Allen and L. Ron Hubbard and his silly Scientology.

But, this weekend, we’re remembering Hannah Whitall Smith and Carry A. Nation, both called Home in 1911 – Hannah on May 1, Carry on June 9. We’re also remembering two who were born in the Deep South in 1911, the centenary year of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  They’re Bob Jones, Jr., born in Montgomery, Alabama on October 19th and Mahalia Jackson, born in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 26th.  Born 300 miles apart, Jim Crow will separate them for another half-century.


Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith once wrote: “To be a mother is the greatest vocation in the world.  No being has a position of such great power and influence.”

Three years before she died, Hannah was in her wheeled chair, writing to her daughter, Mary, about troubles she and son, Logan, were enduring with their new tenants.  They’d brought an “army of dogs and parrots” and refused to pay the rent.  They’re mistreating Logan – calling him a “female worm”.  Hannah says he’s “so gentlemanly in his methods, I suppose … the poor fellow is powerless” to deal with them, “and of course I am too.”

But she’s not so much complaining as witnessing to Mary, who’d divorced an English barrister to marry the philandering art historian Bernard Berenson, and she’s now sharing his palatial Florentine villa with him and his occasional paramours.  Here’s Hannah’s point: “All this grapple to live cannot be the end-all and be-all of our sojourn in this world.  If it were, suicide would be a virtue as well as an enormous privilege.  But as soon as one sees that the whole thing is part of the process of evolution into the likeness and image of God, it becomes glorified; and we can embrace every pang and every worry as most valuable gifts and blessings.”

Hannah had learned to trust God’s love and wisdom.  Squatters, dogs and parrots were no match against God.  She’d entrusted four deceased children to God and now entrusted these three surviving children to God – though none of these would become a Christian.  Daughter Alys had wed the noted atheist, Bertrand Russell.  After many, and even simultaneous, extramarital affairs of his, he divorced her.  Logan – the squatters’ “female worm” – was a critic and aphorist who, as a lifelong bachelor, had a succession of young male secretary-companions.  He took care of his mother in her last years.

Logan had been a teenager when the family drove to a hovel in Camden to “pop in” on a stranger, Walt Whitman.  His Leaves of Grass had captured the children.  The family invited him back to Philadelphia and he stayed for a whole month.  Thereafter, he’d “pop in” on them for months at a time, and then, just as suddenly, he’d be gone before breakfast.  And, though Hannah wasn’t, Walt saw her as a “puritan”.  He said he’d “never hitched” with her.

In 1939, in his book, Unforgotten Years, a 74-year-old Logan recalled that, “Much that was suppressed in the young people of my generation found a frank avowal in the Leaves of Grass; feelings and affections for each other, which we had been ashamed of, thoughts which we had hidden as unutterable, we found printed in its pages, discovering that they were not, as we had believed, the thoughts and feelings of young, guilty, half-crazed goblins, but portions of the Kingdom of Truth and the sane experience of mankind.  It was above all, Walt Whitman’s rejoicing in his flesh and blood – ‘there is so much of me’, he sang, ‘and all so luscious’  – his delight in his own body and the bodies of his friends, which seemed a revelation.”

Hannah Tatum Whitall was born in 1832 into a wealthy family of Quakers in Philadelphia.  Her mother was Mary Tatum, her father, John Whitall.  He headed Whitall-Tatum, one of the earliest and largest glass manufacturers in America.  The company made all sorts of glass products – from medicine bottles and eyewash cups to glass insulators for high-voltage transmission poles. Their wealth assured that Hannah would never be lacking financially.

In 1851, Hannah married another Quaker, Robert Pearsall Smith.  For a while he worked for her father but he proved to be disappointing in business.

Meanwhile, frustrated with her inability to be the “good person” of Quaker prescription, she and Robert attended a Noon-Day Prayer Meeting Revival and both experienced what they took to be new birth.  Much to the dismay of her parents, the pair resigned their Quaker meeting and joined the Wesleyan Holiness movement – of which Ocean Grove is one legacy.  Hannah Whitall Smith and her husband became prominent speakers on this Holiness circuit.

In the 1870s, the family sailed for England for preaching engagements in Brighton, Oxford and at Lord and Lady Mount-Temple’s country estate that doubled as a venue for evangelical retreats.  Hannah’s popularity soon outpaced Robert’s and he became depressed and increasingly eccentric.  His testimony was totally destroyed when he started to push “spiritual wifery” and promote “holy kisses” for what Logan termed, “spinsters of a certain age [despite] my mother’s almost desperate warnings”.  Robert finally lost his faith and spent his last years in bitter and virtual seclusion.  In 1898 he died.

Hannah’s ministry flourished.  As one historian says, her “style was reasoned and deliberate [and her] sermons enchanted thousands … in a day when women were still refused a voice in public gatherings almost everywhere in the world.” (Melvin E. Dieter)

Her friends were Christian leaders like the Earl of Shaftesbury and Lady Henry Somerset.  George MacDonald was another close friend. She said he was “the dearest old man, so gentle and yet so strong, and with such a marvelous insight into spiritual things. … He reminds me more of my own dear father than anyone else I ever met.”  She attended Ascot and the Henley Regatta, had friends in the Bloomsbury circle and entertained the William Jameses and other literati.  Her friend Henry James was so inquisitive about her rheumatism that she assumed he was writing a novel with “a rheumatic heroine.”  She says her neighbor, Lord  Tennyson, would walk down the street and, if people took notice, he’d duck behind a bush.  If they didn’t, he’d dash back home.

Her classic work, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, was published in 1875 under her pen name, “H.W.S.”.  From a 1905 letter to Mary, we learn it was written, “at the point of the bayonet, as it were.  I did not want to write it at all, and only did it at father’s [i.e., Robert’s] earnest entreaties.  He had started a Paper, which I thought was a great mistake, and I declared I would not write a line for it.  But he begged so hard that at last I said I would write one article and no more, if he would give up drinking.”  But, after her first article, “everybody clamored for another, and father begged” for more, so that series turned into the book for which she’s now best known.

Called “the angel of the churches”, she was in demand on both sides of the Atlantic – notwithstanding her advocacy of universalism.  Universalism was quite popular among the evangelicals of the 19th century.  She also strongly supported temperance, a progressive, not “puritanical”, cause, borne of the abuse that women suffered at the hands of drunken husbands.

While going through a dark time of “questioning and perplexity”, she sought the counsel of another woman “considered to be a deeply spiritual Christian.”  She says this woman “listened patiently enough, and did not interrupt me; but when I had finished my story, and had paused expecting sympathy and consideration, she simply said, ‘Yes, all you say may be very true, but then, in spite of it all, there is God.’ … I waited a few minutes for something more, but nothing came, and my friend and teacher had the air of having said all that was necessary.  ‘But,’ I continued, ‘surely you did not understand how very serious and perplexing my difficulties are.’  ‘Oh yes, I did,’ replied my friend, ‘but then, as I tell you, there is God.’”  Hannah couldn’t get her to say anything more and she found this most frustrating and disappointing.  “I knew God was there, of course, but I felt I needed something more than just God; and I came to the conclusion that my friend, for all her great reputation as a spiritual teacher, was at any rate not able to grapple with a peculiar case such as mine was.”

But, Hannah went back to her to try again.  And, again: “to everything would come the simple reply, with an air of entirely dismissing the subject, ‘Yes, I know; but there is God.’”  Hannah writes, “At last, by dint of her continual repetition, I became convinced that my friend really and truly believed that the mere fact of the existence of God, as the Creator and Redeemer of mankind, and of me as a member of the race, was an all-sufficient answer to every possible need of His creatures.”

She concludes her account with Paul’s words that we’ve printed on each issue of our EC Record: “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)  So, Hannah writes, “nothing else is needed to quiet all our fears, but just this, that God is. … Therefore God is enough!  God is enough for time; God is enough for eternity. God is ENOUGH!”

When Moses asked to know God’s name, the incomprehensible G-D answered: “I AM”.  That concise reply, affirmed millennia before, was what Hannah, too, would hear in her day: This great God is!  That’s enough!

On February 7, 1911, she wrote to Mary: “This is my 79th birthday, but I wish it was my 89th as I should then be so much nearer my happy escape.”  Well, her escape was just two and a half months away, on the 1st of May.  Three days before that, she’d sent a general letter to all her friends:  “My old activities [are] laid aside, … I am only waiting and longing for the blessed call to my heavenly home.”  She told of “an old colored aunty who’d been active in Mission Work for years, but was [likewise] at last laid aside [in her case] by a severe cough that racked her day and night.”  Asked why she was so “bright and cheerful”, she said: “Why, honey, in course, I’se happy.  Once the Lord used to say to me, ‘Nancy, come here and do this,’ or ‘Nancy, go there and do that’ and I knew His will was good, and I went and did what He said, and in course I was happy.  And now He says, ‘Nancy, lie here and cough’, and I know His will is good, and I lies here and coughs, and am just as happy.”  So, Hannah said: “In my measure I feel as Nancy did.  Once my Divine Master sent me on His errands, and I knew His will was good, and was happy in trying to do it.  And now He has shut me up to an invalid life, and tells me to sit in my wheeled chair, and to be content to let others do His errands and carry on His work, and I know His will is good just the same, and am happy in trying to accept it.  … Nancy and I … are rich in nothing of our own, but rich beyond words in the wisdom and goodness and love of our God. … This God is our God, and He is enough!  This is my greeting for 1911. … May all to whom I send this message say Amen and Amen!”


Carry A. Nation

Just six weeks after Hannah’s Homegoing, Carry Nation was called Home. They shared the love of and for their one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  They shared connection with the Holiness Movement, too, though neither was reared in that spiritual community.  Carry grew up in the rigid, separatist sect of Campbellites.  Hannah and Carry shared commitments to temperance and to the rights of women and other marginalized.  Carry led a group that went “from house to house [to] wash, sew, clean house, and otherwise help the helpless.”  And they also shared the grief and loneliness of poorly matched marriages – for Hannah it was one husband, for Carry it was two.

Carry Amelia Moore was born on the 25th of November, 1846 on a farm near the site of Kentucky’s Cane Ridge revivals, the camp meetings that spawned the Campbellites.  Her family was usually fairly well off and even owned slaves.  But her mother was often delusional – thinking that she was Queen Victoria and parading around as such.  During these scary episodes, little Carry sought refuge in the slaves’ quarters.  But, she was very close to her father.  In fact, she was so fond of her father that, in childhood, she filed her teeth to match his that had been worn down by his use of a corncob pipe.

While she was still a child, the family moved to Missouri and she grew up there among the Campbellites.  It was there that she’d heard terrifying tales of hell and, during a long illness, converted to escape “the Bad place.”

At 19 and while nursing Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War (begun 150 years ago this year), she met Charles Gloyd – a soldier, a doctor and an alcoholic.  Two years later, they began a difficult marriage that she soon had to escape due to his abusive behavior.  Though pregnant, she moved out.  Six months later – and even before the baby was born – Charles was dead of alcohol poisoning.  But the misery she endured in that alcoholic marriage was part of what prompted her life’s work in the temperance movement.

Carry struggled for years to care for her chronically sick daughter.  She was acquainted with a much older man in the area, a David Nation, who had his eye on her.  He had two grown daughters and four other offspring aged 5 to 18.  Carry wasn’t much older than his oldest daughter, about whom rumor had it: she had a penchant for poisoning folks.  Well, when David asked her to marry him, she insisted that someplace else be found for his two oldest daughters.  Carry’s family sensed he wasn’t a good choice for her and they threatened to disown her if she married him.  But she did, at 28.  He was 46.

Now she was Carry Amelia Nation – “Carry A. Nation” – the name she’d later copyright and the name that would become the lampooned stereotype of the temperance movement.

David Nation had tried his hand at newspaper work, law, the ministry – and he’d never done well in any.  And, when it came to his preaching, Carry didn’t make it easy for him.  She’d interrupt his sermons to bark corrections at him, and if he didn’t right away get it right, she’d stand up and dismiss the congregation.  Under these conditions, his church jobs never did pan out.

So, with her first husband’s mother and their daughter in tow – she and David moved to Texas where they bought a cotton field near the Gulf.  That venture failed.  So, David tried his hand at a saddle shop and other things and Carry ran some hotels.  David failed.  But Carry did very well at running the hotels, though, since David was often away, Carry was often lonely.

It was during this time that she met Zuleika Weems.  Although Carry’s major biographer writes that, “apparently [Zuleika] never married despite the attention of several suitors who, according to Nation’s diary, even took a whip to each other for her affections”, Zuleika’s own descendents have a website that indicates she’d been in two marriages before meeting Carry.

Here are some of Carry’s cryptic jottings to herself about Zuleika: “My Zuleika, why do I love her!  Why don[’t] I love someone else less lovely so that there might be more good in it.  She loves me. … How sweet it is to be loved; had rather have my body starved than my heart.  What would life be to me without love and though I never had many to love there has always been someone to love me very much for love begats [sic] love.  Miss Zuleika is a dear good girl and she reminds me of Annie my lively and loving Sister. … Miss Zuleika stayed with me last night and I slept so well; I love her rather extravagantly considering I am a married woman.”

Well, David got caught up in some violent feuds between rival political gangs, and he and Carry had to hurry out of Texas.  They took off for Kansas and settled in Medicine Lodge where he went back to preaching and she returned to running hotels.  It was there that she began her temperance ministry: singing hymns and shouting insults into saloons.  But she felt she wasn’t making enough progress against all the evils of the liquor trade.

Then, on June 5, 1899, she heard a “murmuring, musical tone” that called her to go 24 miles south to the town of Kiowa and “smash”.  Or, as we’d say more recently, “act up”.  Taking some brickbats, she got into her buggy and drove south.  At Kiowa, she soon used up all her brickbats.  So, she scurried from saloon to saloon, grabbing whatever was at hand – billiard balls, cue sticks, whatever, and she “smashed” liquor bottles, windows, mirrors and provocative pictures of nudes.  She later said that, on that first foray, she’d “felt invincible, like a giant”.  Even before she got back to Medicine Lodge, the news had been telegraphed from Kiowa.  Her supporters cheered her as her returning buggy came into view.  But in Kiowa, the newspaper reported: “The consensus of the public opinion in this city is [that] the old lady is of unsound mind and … should be kept at home by her people.”  Fat chance!

There was no stopping her now.  And to demonstrate just how poisonous liquor was, she downed four bottles in public and nearly passed out.  Like Old Testament prophets, she was enacting proclamation.  As in performance art today, she was making her point.  She was a ‘60s “Happening” and a one-woman Flash Mob from the future, all rolled up into one.

She soon took the train to Wichita, dragged with her, a big suitcase-full of ammunition. She arrived at a Wichita hotel at night and prepared to do battle. The next morning she announced: “This is the right arm of God and is destined to wreck every saloon in your city!”  She did thousands of dollars worth of damage and was then badly beaten by a saloonkeeper and some prostitutes.  She was arrested and jailed.  Kneeling in her cell, she posed for photographs that she’d later use to publicize more “smashings”.

People were taking note from one side or the other.  Thomas Edison leapt into the fray against Carry.  He shot two short melodramas that called her “womanhood” into question.  One was, Why Mr. Nation Wants a Divorce.  It depicted a harried husband jumping about on the screen, trying to cope with many demanding children in the absence of his wife.  Finally, at his wits end, he guzzles lots of liquor.  America’s newspapers headlined: “Mr. Nation Mutinies at Last!”  He filed for divorce in 1901 and a court found in his favor that Carry was guilty of “gross neglect” in her housewifely duties.

David died two years later.  His children were notified but were too far away to attend.  Carry wasn’t even notified.  Said the local paper: “Whether his unhappiness in his domestic affairs was due to his own conduct or that of the now famous Carrie, or both of them, the public does not know, but certain it is, that he has surrendered to the last and final enemy – Death.”

Carry continued her “hatchetations”, sold hatchet pins to raise money and launched a paper she called, The Smasher’s Mail.  She spoke at temperance meetings across the country and was a hit on the vaudeville circuit and with college students who’d invite her for the fun of watching her antics as farce.  But to the common folk, she was a new found “Joan of Arc”.

Progressive politicians joined in the fight.  However, they were bent on totally outlawing all alcohol.  And so, by 1919, Prohibition was the law of the land.  As with so many governmental “do-good” projects, it was a flop, accompanied by horrific unintended, but predictable, consequences of corruption, without solving the tragic effects of irrational personal choices.

In Carry’s last years, except for speaking on the Chautauqua rounds and reprising hatchetation in Holly, Michigan’s Battle Alley and in the saloon of DC’s Union Station, her work was done more quietly than ever before.

In 1907, having settled down in the little Arkansas water-cure town of Eureka Springs, her ministry centered on the day-to-day practical needs of poor women with children who’d been abused by drunken husbands and fathers.  She’d bought up several properties on Steele Street near the black ghetto.  She christened the main building “Hatchet Hall” and, with her background in hotel management, provided for woman-centered “associative households” in all her buildings, with community meals (much of the cooking done by Carry), a school for the children, a rest home for the elderly and free food distribution to the poverty stricken of Eureka Springs.

To make ends meet, Carry sold her little hatchet souvenirs and her bottled water she called the best substitute for “liquid damnation”.  The bottles were engraved with the slogan, “Oh, let me drink as Adam drank”.  Carry discovered a “God-given healing spring” that brought in some income from hot and cold baths.  She also discovered a cave and opened it to all, without charge, for cold storage to keep food fresh for up to six months at a time.

Her health deteriorated and, in January 1911, she collapsed while she was preaching.  She was heard to mumble, “I’ve done what I could” – an allusion to Jesus’ defense of the woman with the alabaster of ointment. (Mark 14:8)  After receiving some local medical care, she was transferred to a hospital in Leavenworth, where she died on the evening of June 9, 1911.

A funeral service was held at Central Christian Church in Kansas City and, nine days later, Hatchet Hall held a memorial service.  The Kansas City minister spoke of Carry’s faith, courage and “simple motherly love”.  A quartet sang Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” and Carry’s remains were buried in the Belton, Missouri cemetery near her parents’ graves.  Her own grave was not marked with a proper stone until 1924 when the WCTU erected a large marble slab inscribed with her name and Jesus’ words about another who’d served him: “She Hath Done What She Could.”

Mahalia Jackson

Little “Halie” Jackson was born in a “shotgun shack” in “back ‘a town” New Orleans, on October 26, 1911.  The place was home to her grandfather (a former slave), and her parents, siblings, aunts and cousins – 13 in all – and a dog.  Her father worked on the dock and barbered at night.  On Sundays he preached.  Her mother died when Halie was only 6.  An aunt, dubbed “Duke” because she was so bossy, took over Halie’s rearing with a very heavy hand.

She sang so well to the foot-tapping, hand-clapping Sanctified songs at Mt. Mariah Baptist Church, that relatives in vaudeville urged her to become a blues singer.  She’d listen to Bessie Smith records – when Aunt Duke wasn’t around to object.  And, though mesmerized by the blues, she could hear, even as a child, that, as she’d say later: “Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.  Blues are the songs of despair … a blues singer sings out of ignorance of the divine power that lifts us up. You know, it’s just like a man who’s a drinker, and when he gets all through being drunk, he’s still got his troubles.”  For her, hope was always in gospel music alone.

At 16, she and her aunt from Chicago took a train back to Chicago, riding all the way in a segregated car right behind the noisy and smoking engine.

Chicago’s South Side was New Orleans all over again.  She found “wash jobs” and worked as a hotel maid.  And she joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church choir.  Greater Salem was her home church for the rest of her life.

In 1935, at 24, she met Isaac Hockenhull at a church social.  He was a graduate of Fisk and Tuskegee, two very good schools for blacks. They married three years later.  She went into the beauty parlor business and had five women working for her.  Ike used his training in chemistry to create lotions for Mahalia to sell in her shop.  She was singing gospel on the side.  But Ike had big plans for an operatic career for his wife.  Mahalia, of course, insisted she was born to sing gospel, not opera.  They were clearly not on the same page.  He persisted with his fantasy and she persisted in resisting it.  She’d say later, “We came apart over gospel singing.”  But his excessive gambling and boozing took a toll, too.  They were soon divorced.  She’d marry once more.  But that, too, would end in divorce.

Mahalia recorded a song called, “Move On Up a Little Higher”, on the Apollo label and, in black church circles, her singing was catching on.  But she was still unknown among whites.  Then, Chicago’s legendary radio personality Studs Terkel, having wandered into a record store and hearing her voice, was overwhelmed.  He traced her to Greater Salem Baptist.  He was soon airing her songs to his white audiences and her untutored and artless, but magnificent contralto, began to catch attention everywhere.

Secular critics raved about her voice.  But they were oblivious to what she was singing about.  Joe Goldberg granted: “Although Mahalia’s message is of prime importance to her, we tend, rightly or wrongly, to listen to Mahalia rather than to her material.”  In his liner notes for “Every Time I Feel The Spirit”, Gil Millstein opines: “Again, how many listeners will be brought to the mourners’ bench … is beside the point.  The likelihood is that each, in his own way, will be transported”– to some somewhere “beside-the-point”?

If not “getting” the value of the gospel, secular producers did “get” the value of a big commercial star, and Columbia Records signed her in 1954, dubbing her “The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer”.  It’s been estimated that Mahalia Jackson recorded more songs than any other singer of any genre.

She went from singing in only black churches to singing for presidents and royals – from Washington to London, Paris, Stockholm, Tel Aviv.  She sang on all the TV variety shows and in New York’s Philharmonic and Carnegie Halls, Madison Square Garden and at the great Newport Jazz Festival on the 6th of July 1958.  The live recording includes that memorably intoned intro: “It’s Sunday, and it’s time for The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer.”

And, of course, she was at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.  (I remember listening on a car radio in a Los Angeles gas station.)

King’s associate, Ben Hooks, preacher, attorney, and later, NAACP head, recalled that, on that day, King was prepared to give a Committee-approved speech.  But, he said, Mahalia leaned over and whispered, “Martin, give ‘em the I have a dream’”.  King had delivered that speech often. “Well, he did it”, said Hooks – if only the ending.  And that’s what we all remember.

Besides her great voice and delivery, Mahalia was a savvy and successful businesswoman.  And she was always suspicious of someone’s using her.  At times, this got expressed in rather ugly ways.  She, herself, could be selfish, manipulative and even foul-mouthed – no doubt in defensiveness.

The world’s using her had used her up.  At the end of her life she was physically and emotionally spent.

She was only 60 when she died on January 27, 1972.  Thousands paid their respects as her body lay in state at Greater Salem Baptist Church.  Her remains were flown to New Orleans and a biographer says: ”Mahalia had come home.”  Well, no, that changed place was no longer home to her.  As another Southerner observed: “You can’t go home again.” (Thomas Wolfe)

But Halie had been singing about her real Home all her life.  And now, at last, she’d moved on up a little higher – “somewhere ‘round God’s altar … where it’s always howdy, howdy, and never goodbye.”


Bob Jones, Jr.

Bob Jones, Jr. wrote his own obituary.  Here’s part of what he’d written:  “One of the great joys I have had in life, possibly my greatest joy aside from my family, has been to see Bob Jones graduates in various occupations, particularly in pulpits large and small, and on the mission field, standing firm for the Word of God, winning men and women to Christ, and having a positive influence for the authority of the Scriptures.”

Of course, he didn’t have to write his own obituary, yet that was very much like him.  Anyone who’d known him well would have been honored to do it, though others – such as those who hadn’t known him well – would never miss an opportunity to “speak evil” of him, alive or dead.

Well, Dr. Bob, Jr. didn’t hesitate to “speak evil” of the living or the dead.  But he didn’t do it as personal attack.  He did it to stand up for the Word of God – as he read it.  And doing so, he might slip into hyperbole, as when he denounced Jerry Falwell as “the most dangerous man in America” (for his political alliance with the unorthodox) and when he renounced Billy Graham’s “doing more harm than any other living man” (for his evangelistic alliance with the unorthodox).  Bob Jr. took seriously that saying of his dad’s: “It’s never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”  He used sarcasm in dismissing the name-it-and-claim-it nonsense of prosperity preaching and all that, “ ‘Praise God’ sanctimoniously sighed and the ‘Bless the Lord’ blasphemously belched forth by the phonies and hypocrites, the deceivers and the deceived who appear on … the ‘700 Club’.”  He was harsh on faith healers: “I have no brief for Oral Roberts, whom I regard as one of the biggest religious phonies in America today.”  As for Fundamentalists’ “King-James-Only” notions, he called them “silly”, even “blasphemous”.

A preacher he otherwise admired had a motto, “No attack and no defense”.  Bob Jr. said he could approve of that if the man meant, “he was not going to engage in personal attacks upon another individual or spend his time answering the personal attacks of his own enemies.”  But, he argued: “When truth is attacked, those who love truth must come to its defense, and when a personality is associated in the minds of people with the attack, it is impossible, in defending the truth, to avoid dealing with the personality.”

God’s true prophets have always had to do this.  As a Bible scholar notes: “In virtually every generation of ancient Israel, orthodox Yahwism … was ignored by a majority of people.” He says it’s “much as in America today [with] idolatry, exploitation of the poor, ritual sex”, etc.  (Douglas Stuart)  What but “ritual sex” is antigay and pro-queer fixation in churches today?

Well, had I not transferred after my two years at Bob Jones University, I’d have been in chapel when Dr. Bob, Sr. preached his historic 1960 sermon, “Is Segregation Scriptural?”  Reading that sermon today, I can hear his typical, softly spoken, conversational cadence as he set out what, for him, was the reasonable and “scriptural” foundation for racial segregation.  He held it with sincere conviction.  But biblically, it was, then, as flimsy as the “scriptural” foundation for discrimination against gay people is today.

Dr. Bob Sr.’s text was from Paul’s talk to philosophers in Athens: God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” (Acts 17:26)   He focused on, “bounds of their habitation” and said, “That is as clear as anything that was ever said.”  To him, it meant the different races should stay within the “bounds God set” for them.  He did say that whites were wrong to drag Africans here as slaves, but he ignored his ancestors’ dragging themselves from the European “bounds God set for them” and moving into the “bounds God set” for the Cher-O-Creek, the indigenous people of his part of the state of Alabama before it was a state.

Though his sermon was irrational, it wasn’t mean-spirited.  That wasn’t his way.  He spoke warmly of wonderful “colored people” and of wonderful people in all races.  It’s just that, they should stay put where God put them!

Now, so far as Paul’s phrase is concerned, the consensus of evangelical scholars is that, Paul’s point was simply “the goodness of God in providence for the needs of mankind”. (I. Howard Marshall)  Thus, Paul’s point was not only not Dr. Bob’s, it was the very opposite point, in Athens and in letters to Galatians, Colossians and Romans. (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Rom 10:12f)

Dr. Bob’s proof-text was in the Bible, but his argument was not.  His sermon’s source was the sermonizer’s formative years – born in Alabama just eighteen years after the Civil War and given the name, Robert Reynolds Davis Jones – for his dad’s Confederate army buddy and for Jeff Davis, president of the Confederacy.  Dr. Bob’s only child, Bob Jr., was born into the Deep South’s heritage in Montgomery, Alabama, just fifty years after the Confederacy was founded in that town of 8,000 souls – half of them slaves.

Forty-eight years after that 1960 sermon, Bob Jones University issued an official apology, confessing that the school had been biblically wrong on race.  It was stated: “Like any human institution, we have failures as well.  For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture.  Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures.  We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.  In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment, to love others as ourselves.  For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.”

Now, the North had a similar history.  Slave owners founded Harvard and Yale and Brown University was named for the biggest slave-owner in the country.  There were black slave owners, including the third-biggest slave owner in South Carolina.  In 1860, New York City’s largest industry was the outfitting of slave ships. The biggest mass grave of slaves – 20,000 broken bodies of mostly teenagers and young adults – was just four blocks from New York’s City Hall.  It was never all about race, or even all about class.  It was always all about our fallen humanity’s self-serving self-righteousness.

When I left BJU in 1958, only four percent of all Americans approved of interracial marriage.  And Gallup found that only one in four Americans approved of the Civil Rights Era’s Freedom Rides, for example.  This year, on the Freedom Riders 50th anniversary, journalist Calvin Trillin, who’d been with the Riders back then, reports in his New Yorker essay that one of the commemorating speakers called John and Robert Kennedy “the brothers grim” for dragging their feet in the Civil Rights era.

And lest we sit here in smug judgment on those who were reared in an earlier provincialism from our own provincialism, let’s learn a lesson from all this.  We dare not assume that we, ourselves, have come very far toward greater enlightenment.  To think we have, would be the mistake C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”.  We can all be as blind to our blindness.

To prove that to ourselves, let’s each, ask ourselves: Have I ever changed my mind?  If I have, I think I’ve left the boonies.  But, no, I haven’t left the boonies.  How so?  Well, I’ll no doubt change my mind once or twice more, at which time I’ll then think I’ve left the boonies.  But have I?

Besides, even with integrationists’ best intensions, they failed to foresee or prevent the detrimental side effects of forced integration: e.g., a sometimes malicious and, after Affirmative Action, understandable backlash of white resentment as well as a backlash of black students’ resistance to competing with better prepared white students – a refusal to “act white”, i.e., take school seriously.  Today, for example, a black undergraduate applicant is more than 500 times likelier to be admitted to a university than a similarly qualified white or Asian applicant and median SAT scores of blacks who are admitted are 150 points lower than whites or Asians.  Can any unintended consequences nonetheless be foreseen in all of that?

In 1931, Bob Jr. graduated from the school his father founded in Florida in 1927.  The college was never just another college and never intended to be.  One bright example of this: Its chief academic officer was the first woman (Eunice Hutto) to hold such a post in any coeducational school in America.

After graduation, Bob Jr. went to the University of Pittsburgh and did his master’s thesis on “The History of Evangelism in America”.  He also studied at Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the University of Alabama.

With the Great Depression, Bob Jones College faced a land crisis in Florida and the school had to move.  While returning from up North, Bob Jr. came upon a vacated college campus in Cleveland, Tennessee and the school was moved there in 1933.

At 27, Bob Jr. wed BJC graduate, Fannie May Holmes.  They’d have three children and the marriage flourished for 59 years – until he died in 1997.

In the ‘40s, the college outgrew the Cleveland campus, so, in 1947, Bob Jr. undertook the move to a brand new campus and a new identity as Bob Jones University.  Many cities pursued the school’s relocation – Boston, Kansas City, Atlanta, Knoxville and others – but Greenville, South Carolina won it.

In his 30s, Bob Jr. toured America with solo Shakespearean performances and directed his Classic Players, the country’s only college-based repertory.  Some attacked the school for what they called its “reeking with theatricals and grand opera which lead young people… into a worldly life of sin.”

Meanwhile, Bob Jr.’s syndicated columns, “A Look at the Book”, and his printed sermons were published as books: As the Small Rain, Showers Upon the Grass and All Fullness Dwells.  At 34, he wrote a book on preaching and, later, two novels, Wine of Morning and Daniel of Babylon.  In 1955, BJU’s film school turned Wine of Morning into a movie in which Bob Jr. played the role of Pontius Pilate.  The film represented America’s collegiate film schools at the Cannes Film Festival, where its director (Katherine Stenholm), a pioneer among women film directors, gave the keynote.

Dr. Bob Jr. was president of “The World’s Most Unusual University” from 1947 to 1971, when Bob, III, (my BJU classmate) was made president.

Incidentally, he’d always hated that generational suffix, “Jr.”  So, in his later years, he stopped using it – and became simply “Dr. Bob Jones”.

At 73, he wrote his reminiscences and reflections in a book he called, Cornbread and Caviar.  Bob III borrowed the cornbread metaphor to refer to his dad’s “just folks” side – “easily teas[ing], sometimes shock[ing], and frequently surpris[ing] with unwarranted kindness … a twinkle in his eyes [and] the outspokenness of his convictions”.  The caviar side showed in what his son called the “delectable style of [his] preaching”.  Over 200 of his sermons can be heard at  He was, to my mind, one of the four best preachers I’ve ever heard – along with, another poet in the pulpit, Maurice Boyd, and two great expositors, Roy Clements and Tim Keller.

The caviar was also in Dr. Bob’s Shakespearean performances as well as in his discerningly collected sacred art – Rembrandt, Rubens, van Dyck, Tintoretto, Botticelli, Cranach, Dore and others from the 14th through the 19th centuries.  A curator of the Louvre sighed that this magnificence was to be had only by finding one’s way to an isolated land called South Carolina.  Two years before he died, Dr. Bob filmed four programs on the history of religious art as he strolled through BJU’s galleries.

An historian described him in these words: “As President, he was authoritative and decisive, personally considerate but guarded, and somewhat distant and aloof.  Unlike his father, who exuded great personal warmth, a charismatic magnetism, and just ‘loved people’ and loved to be in crowds, Bob Jones Jr. was simply a different man, loving instead the privacy of his office and study or the school’s art collection.” (Daniel Turner)   Yet he traveled the world widely, preaching, urging an uncompromising stand for biblical truth, visiting alumni and, of course, adding to the art collection that contributed so well to the cultural maturity of generations of students.

A final word of appreciation is from Al Franken.  In his Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, he says that he and an assistant posed as mentor and potential student with the BJU admissions director and they openly ridiculed BJU policies.  They’d “expect[ed] to encounter racist, intolerant homophobes.  Instead, we found people who were welcoming, friendly and extremely nice.  A little weird, yes, and no doubt homophobic, but well meaning … kind of,” – he had to add.

Well, there they are – four of our siblings in Christian faith.  Their earthly sojourns began or ended in 1911.  Each was complex; no two were alike.  Christians aren’t created by a cookie-cutter.  Yet, they were united as sinners saved by one Savior.  They were inexplicable apart from their trust in Him.


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