Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Hardin Jr., December 8, 1989. Interview C-0071. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Church congregations can integrate with help of strong leadership and volunteers

Hardin discusses the process of integrating Methodist churches in the South despite widespread fears of admitting black visitors to white churches. He credits strong leadership and the availability of volunteers with the success of integration thus far. He is especally grateful for black visitors who chose to attend First Methodist Church in Birmingham.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Hardin Jr., December 8, 1989. Interview C-0071. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DONALD MATHEWS:
You can integrate the conference, in terms of when you come to meet, the annual conference, and you can have black ministers and sometimes white ministers in white and black churches, but probably not often. But you can't integrate congregations.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Not that way, Unless you can find some lay person who will give strong leadership, and say now, "Look, this is our bounding duty as good Methodist people, for us to set an example." I was down in Meridan, Mississippi, preaching in a series of services. At that particular time I was president of the Council of Bishops, and I was preaching for thme there in Meridan. And when I got there the pastor told me that they were very much afraid that some of the blacks were going to try to crash the evangelist services, just as a matter of testing the bishop or themselves or the congregation. And I told him, "Now look, not only am I a bishop, I'm the president of the Council of Bishops, and everybody your ushers turn away from the door, they're turning me away too. So you'll have to just let them know that when they don't let a black in, they let me out. I'll just quit and go home." But nobody came. The last night I was there I told them, "You are some of the loveliest, most cultured people I know of in Methodism," and I said. "If you let yourselves be part of the problem instead of part of the solution, I don't see how the Lord can ever forgive you." And I left. Well, I thought I'd never hear from them again. About six months later they called me over the phone and said, "Can you come down here again this coming year?" And I said, "No, I can't come, but thank God you asked me." I felt that way about it. Oh, I don't know how to explain what goes on. I don't how to explain why some people have so much trouble. I think they agitate people unnecessarily. I think there's a challenge about some people. They just want to push and tug over something.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Style of confrontation, sharpening differences.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Yes.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Well now, you were there for twelve years in South Carolina?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
South Carolina, twelve, yes.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Did you see much improvement over the period of time? I think there was, wasn't there?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Yes, I saw a good deal, but I've seen even more since. I was followed by two good bishops. Actually, they both have held a stick high, and they've moved cautiously but firmly.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Going back to thinking about the integration of congregations, it would be hard to integrate standing congregations. The only way you can get an interracial congregation is to create one from scratch?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
It's easier to do that way because you get volunteers. You could, way back yonder, a good while ago, you could have blacks in your services if your people knew that you believed it was the right thing. I remember in Birmingham, I used to have black people in my Sunday night services. They would voluntarily, they wouldn't ask about whether they should or shouldn't. Most of them would voluntarily go to the balcony, but whites were up there too, thank goodness. We would have these services. I had a Sunday night service everywhere I ever served, and I averaged around 400, 450 people on Sunday night at Birmingham for eleven years. I used to laugh and say that there was a preacher who came up there every Sunday night. Sat there in the balcony taking notes. And I still have the feeling that he preached that sermon at his church the next Sunday. [Laughter] But no black was ever turned away from the First Methodist Church of Birmingham as long as I was there, not ever.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Those were difficult years in Birmingham. You were there in the `60s.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
But they came. And my people knew that I wouldn't allow them, you know, to do anything else but accept them. I didn't have to bully them. They just got the feeling that this is part of it, and we're going to take it.