The Reverend Malcolm Boyd, the Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., and the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s and 1970s
Michael B. Friedland, History Department, Boston College
This paper was presented at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax, VA.
President Lyndon Johnson agreed to meet with two groups of clerical representatives the following day and discuss his civil rights strategy. The first meeting was less than cordial. Bishop Moore demanded to know what was taking the President so long to draft a voting rights bill and send it to Congress, in language so hostile and blunt that one reporter described it as verging on rudeness. Johnson replied that he had to be extremely careful about the wording of the bill to insure its safe passage through Congress, and then proceeded to remind the ministers of all he had done on behalf of civil rights. The conversation drifted to more general topics, and by the time the ministers had left, many of them derided the meeting as a “snow job.” 77 The second group, led by the Reverends Joseph Ellwanger, Eugene Carson Blake, and other National Council of Churches representative was less contentious, and they had a lengthy talk concerning the need for federal intervention in Selma, but the President’s comments elicited little praise from the majority of clergy when they were told about the meeting at the Church of the Reformation later that day. Others were angry not only at the President, but at the racial makeup of the delegations, for out of sixteen clergymen, only two had been black. “We didn’t come 1,500 miles to be jeered at,” shouted a black minister from Minneapolis at the afternoon meeting as the second group returned from the White House. “I think you have been pleased with the prestige of being appointed to a committee to talk to the President…. Whose fight is this anyway?” 78
Despite the march’s success, as well as the efforts of the “new breed” of clergy to show their compassion through action, 79 the question asked by the black minister was to be heard in various forms throughout the rest of the decade. At the same time a white “backlash” against increased civil rights demands developed (Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., was confronted with a sharp drop in contributions from local Episcopal churches for his support of fair employment practices and open housing), black militants were moving away from the goals of integration. 80 Advocates of black power demanded black control of the civil rights movement, expunging sympathetic whites from administrative and staff positions in formerly interracial organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, thus alienating many former supporters in the white community, including clergy. At the same time, many activists in the pulpits found themselves increasingly disturbed with the Johnson Administration’s escalation of the war in Southeast Asia. What had been almost a sideshow during the Kennedy era had become, in the minds of Johnson, his aides, and many Americans after 1965, a test of strength between the forces of international Communism and the American will to contain those same forces.
Most Americans viewed the war in the same terms, and as American bombing and the numbers of American troops in Vietnam escalated, those who questioned the war were denounced as seditious if not as traitors. Social activists among the clergy, disturbed both by the carnage and by the attacks on the right to dissent, held a press conference at the United Nations Church Center on October 25, 1965 to protest the charges of Communism directed at antiwar demonstrators. Pleased with the interest shown in the conference, the leading clergymen, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, and Lutheran pastor Richard Neuhaus decided to organize themselves as Clergy Concerned About Vietnam. By February 1966, CCAV included such luminaries as the Reverend John C. Bennett, president of Union Theological Seminary, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of Interfaith Activities for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Reverends William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and Robert McAfee Brown. The goals of the new group were moderate: a continuation of the bombing halt and the beginning of negotiations for an end to the war; indeed, they praised the President for his initiation of the former and his expressed interest in the latter. They did not call for immediate withdrawal, nor did they advocate civil disobedience. Significantly, none of the members of the national committee were clergymen at the parish level; they were editors of religious journals, denominational heads, college chaplains, professors of theology, and leaders of national religious groups, giving them a level of freedom that rank-and-file clergy did not enjoy. 81
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