Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Friday, April 17, 2009

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South

Quick post: Nice review of a new book on Billy Graham by historian Steven P. Miller.

The New York Times Book Review includes a nice review of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, described by the publisher as a book that "considers the critical but underappreciated role of the noted evangelist in the creation of the modern American South."

The book wonderfully weaves politics, religion, and racial relations together around the emerging career of evangelist Billy Graham and the important election of Richard Nixon.

According to the article:

{{w|Billy Graham}}, American religious figure.Image via Wikipedia

Graham’s rise to prominence as an evangelist coincided with the turbulent years between Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the landmark civil rights legislation of 1964, and throughout that decade he wrote and sermonized in favor of racial harmony, staged desegregated rallies in balkanized cities, and counseled obedience to court rulings and legislation that many of his fellow Southerners were determined to resist. As a voice for both Christian conservatism and racial progress, he served as a bridge between the Old South and the New, and as a model for a region struggling to shed its worst baggage without losing its identity.

That’s one story. But there’s another story as well, one that paints Graham as a coward and an apologist for racial backlash. He supported desegregation but took few risks on its behalf; he cultivated a studied moderation in a time that cried out for moral clarity; he was more interested in flattering the white South’s self-regard than in calling his region to true repentance. As a steadfast supporter of Richard Nixon’s career, from the 1950s down through Watergate, he simultaneously enabled and embodied Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” which shut civil rights liberalism out of power and turned the region Republican for a generation.

Nixon gives his trademark Image via Wikipedia

Neither story is the whole truth, but both are true. And it’s a credit to Steven P. Miller that his “Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South,” a study of the evangelist’s relationship to the cause of civil rights on the one hand and the cause of conservatism on the other, does justice to the tensions and complexities involved — for Graham, for the South and for the country.

The book is good, just out (I got my own copy this past week), and a textured historical analysis of the recent, American past we are still learning to understand.

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