Segregation in Churches

September 3, 1954

Report Outline
Churches as Last Stronghold of Segregation
Concern of White Church Over Negro Status
Role of Negro Church in Segregated Society
Factors Aiding and Hampering Integration

Churches as Last Stronghold of Segregation

Outlawing of segregation in public schools by the Supreme Court last May gave a strong moral boost to churchmen who have been making sincere, but so far largely ineffective, efforts to do something about racial separatism in the sphere of religion. While church leaders over the past decade have preached with increasing vigor in favor of racial integration, the vast majority of whites and Negroes have continued to go their separate ways to Sunday worship. Of all American institutions, the church has seemed the most resistant to change in this respect. It is now possible that compulsory termination of segregation in education will help in time to promote its voluntary abandonment in religion.

Recent church activities point to profound changes in the attitude of the clergy and influential lay leaders toward racial distinctions; the groundwork already may have been laid for a truly interracial religious life in the future. The moral dilemma rising out of the conflict between Christian principle and the practice of segregation—detected by Myrdal a decade ago—has now come prominently to the surface. Old taboos against discussion of racial separatism from the pulpit, particularly in the South, have fallen away. While the Supreme Court was still weighing the school segregation question, southern churches were trying to prepare the minds of the people for acceptance of the anticipated verdict.

The Court's decision itself was warmly welcomed by church leaders. Often a note of regret, that the courts should be in advance of the church with respect to so fundamental a Christian principle, was sounded. Unquestionably, there are many more white churchgoers today who are disposed to accept the implications of mixed worship than there were a few years ago. It is doubtful, however, whether many more Negroes are ready to give up their own Negromanaged religious institutions for the as yet uncertain benefits of mixed church membership.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Segregation and Desegregation
Apr. 23, 2004  School Desegregation
Oct. 18, 1996  Rethinking School Integration
Feb. 24, 1995  Housing Discrimination
Dec. 26, 1975  Busing Reappraisal
May 03, 1974  Desegregation After 20 Years
Aug. 24, 1973  Educational Equality
Sep. 06, 1972  Blacks on Campus
Mar. 01, 1972  School Busing and Politics
Aug. 16, 1967  Open Housing
Apr. 29, 1964  School Desegregation: 1954–1964
Feb. 06, 1963  Interracial Housing
Aug. 27, 1958  School Integration: Fifth Year
Jan. 15, 1958  Residential Desegregation
Oct. 16, 1957  Legal Processes in Race Relations
Oct. 17, 1956  Enforcement of School Integration
Jan. 12, 1955  School Desegregation
Sep. 03, 1954  Segregation in Churches
Oct. 08, 1952  Race Segregation
Nov. 07, 1947  Negro Segregation
Civil Rights Movement
Civil Rights: African Americans
Religion and Politics
Segregation and Desegregation