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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David Burgess, August 12, 1983. Interview F-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Legacies of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen

Burgess evaluates the lasting impact of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, placing it as one of the forebears of the modern civil rights movement. The Fellowship helped create a Christian foundation for the civil rights movement, he believes. It inspired a new generation of civil rights activists and legitimized an alternative understanding of Christianity that allowed for social activism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David Burgess, August 12, 1983. Interview F-0006. 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

DAVID BURGESS:
I think the impact first was I think it helped to lay the basis for the christian basis of the civil rights movement in the south. This wasn't just some hot head IWW idea or the early reincarnation of Tom Watson before he became a bigot and a senator. These had biblical roots and that was the great strength physically in Buck. And another person came down to the Americas
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
Gerdin?
DAVID BURGESS:
Yes, I just went down to visit him later. But I don't think that he was part of the fellowship.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
He was there.
DAVID BURGESS:
Yes, he was there, but he was doing his own thing writing his own book and running his own farm. And our kids went down there in the summer of 55 to their work camp and there were eight tents. And the next year they had the big top tent and so forth. But I think he and Buck and Howard Taylor and Nell sort of gave the vision of the transformation of the south as biblic as the message. I was say in a secondary sense that it helped the new generation as they came on the civil right movements and the various things that they did. Benjamin Mays I think is very important in this regard. You know that he had a big influx in New York City in this and that down in Mississippi. But impression of what the hell happened after they boys leave from 475 and Indianapolis and there full effect. How you live with this problem after the movement leaves. I would say that was probably the most important thing. Now another thing was just helping some of us to hold on, and not to become bitter and disillusioned. Being that is just not terrible but I have my problems and you have yours and they are both the same feeling. I added a little heart.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
You need not be alone.
DAVID BURGESS:
Right. And that was very important, because I don't know later because I wasn't there but I was dealing with churches owned by the textile owner. You were dealing with fundamentalists who were under paid, under the pay of the owner. You are dealing with very convinced and conservative churches who didn't want shock the trustees who are more. And you are dealing with a series of class churches. And the working class churches were just as bad as the upper class churches in terms of their attitudes toward the later movement. And I say that or think that at least now you have a (I don't have any illusions about the transformation of the south) but at least you have a split sort of like the Latin American-Catholic Church. A split in the heirarcy of the church as well as the ministry and lay people of what the christian way is. That was not always true when I was there in the forties and the fifties. You are really dealing with a combinaiton between the difference you have on one extreme and the absolute antagonism you have on the other. That phrase that is always used by the feminist, that phrase (I have forgotten the text) Do not equally yoke with unbelievers. And then the communist doctrine and all of that stuff, line of bull.