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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Hardin Jr., December 8, 1989. Interview C-0071. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

King includes Hardin in his list of unprogressive ministers

Hardin considers Baptists as generally more antagonistic to integration than Methodists, though he acknowledges that there were powerful conservative Methodist ministers. He also describes the disappointment of being included in Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" after he had publicly opposed George Wallace and segregation.

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:
This is not a question that I find easy to ask, because I don't. . . . But I'll ask it anyway. It has to do with the difference between Methodists and Baptists in the integration problems, civil rights actions of the '60s. Do you think there were any basic differences between the two denominations, or Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Yes. The Baptist, on the whole, were far more antagonistic, openly, about integration of any kind. That doesn't mean that we had people who were lily white. They weren't. But the Baptist were more so. We are overlooking something that ought to be brought into this. After I had gotten hold of the Alabama-West Florida conference, and Bishop Harmon had gotten hold of the north Alabama conference, we had this showdown when Martin Luther King came to Birmingham, and he issued the letter "From a Birmingham Jail." Now, that letter, "From a Birmingham Jail," was addressed to six people. I was one of them. Bishop Nolan Harmon was one of them. The Episcopal bishop was one of them. The Presbyterian minister was one of them. And the other one was a liberal Baptist who was, I believe, the director of the Baptist organization in town there. He was a very forward looking man. The way that thing came about. I think it was about two weeks before the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" came out, the governor, on the steps of the state capital, said, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Now, when Wallace said that, we six went into the press, and we said that there was no statement for the governor to make. That if he had to contest anything, it should be contested in the courts of the land and not from the capitol steps. We rebuked him as strongly as we possibly could. He [Martin Luther King] picked up those six names as just ideal people to address a "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Nolan Harmon was so mad. He called me over the telephone, and he was furious. And he wanted us to go in and protest and say that this was not fair. That we were the only people who had been outspoken in rebuking the governor, and he jumps on us from a Birmingham jail. And I told him, "Nolan, you're just wasting your breath. You're wasting your time. Let it go." I had letters from California and all asking me to explain why that letter was addressed to us. It was addressed to us because he found the handle to put on the letter. I'm convinced, in my own mind, that that letter was written before he ever got to Birmingham. I think it was studied and written, and I'm still convinced although I could be wrong. But anyway, that was the thing that had happened, and we had rebuked the governor about this thing. And yet we were held up as the recipients of such a rebuke from the Birmingham jail.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Why do you think he did that?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Because he wanted prominent people to address it to. It wouldn't have much influence if he'd addressed it to a backwoods Baptist church. But here were three bishops, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. He had just a good team. I never have felt that he treated us right there, but Lord knows, there wasn't any use to argue about it. He was getting his thing done. And we would do more harm to rebuke him. That wouldn't have been popular at all.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Was it pastor Goodson?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
No, Governor Wallace was the man who was the block of everything. He wasn't going to move an inch, not an inch forward. Dot said I was rude to Wallace. I didn't mean to be. But he was a delegate to the annual conference over which I presided. And one morning after we'd just opened the conference, somebody came up to me to tell me that Governor Wallace was out in the hall. And I thought, well, if he comes in, I'll have to present him. He's the governor of the state and he has that right. I kept waiting for him to come in. I could hear him talking out in the hall. He was politicking out there. He wasn't hurrying in. And then, just about the time that we were deeply into something very important, he came sauntering down and sat down in the front seat. Well, I nodded to him, and then went on with the debate. And then I interrupted and I said, "The chair's aware that the governor of the state has entered, and it's always a matter of importance when the governor of the state arrives. We're delighted that he has come. We were going to give him the floor a few minutes ago but he was detained in the hall, and we're now deeply into a situation which must continue, and I'll ask the secretary to direct us in our discussion." I just turned away. Dot said, "Paul, you ought to have had him stand up." I said, "Stand up, my foot. He was trying to stand up my conference." That was what he was trying to do, you know.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Those were exciting years to be a pastor and a bishop at the same time. Those are difficult years because you were presiding over change in which personality very easily got inflated and hurt. Politics-it takes a great diplomat to do that.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Well, one of the men down there, one of the conservative men, wanted very much to be on a district, and he was a power. I had men call me asking me to put him on a district. He, himself, came to see me. Wanted to get on the district. And I said, "I'm sorry. I have to pick men that I think will work warmly and closely to me. I just don't believe that you can do it. I'll have to confess that I doubt myself whether we would be compatible to the point where we could do intelligent work and make intelligent appointments. And so, I'm sorry but I just have to have people in my cabinet that are more in line with my thinking than you are." So we didn't put him in.