The Federal Council of Churches, the World Order Movement, and Anti-Racist Activism, 1946–54

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Gene Zubovich, University of California, Berkeley
The Federal Council of Churches (FCC), an organization representing half the voting age population of the United States, made front-page headlines when it renounced racial segregation in 1946 and pledged to work for “a non-segregated church in a non-segregated society.” This paper looks at how the FCC chose to fulfill its promise to end racial segregation by focusing on its two strategies: education and political action. The FCC mobilized the latest social scientific techniques to combat racism, including “action research” and the newly-created “sensitivity training,” which the organization believed to be especially well-suited to deal with segregated churches. Additionally, the FCC worked with the Truman administration and the NAACP to articulate and publicize the liberal political agenda on segregation and began lobbying, going to court, and joining political coalitions that pressed for the end of Jim Crow. While the educational efforts to transform the behavior of the churches failed, this paper argues that the political activism of the FCC paved the way for greater involvement of white Protestants in the Civil Rights movement following Brown v. Board. Historians Thomas Sugrue, Taylor Branch, and James Findlay have documented the participation of white religious activists in antiracist coalitions in both the American North and South in the 1960s, but religious activism in the period prior to Brown v. Board remains largely unexplored. This paper seeks to explain why and how predominantly white Protestant organizations like the FCC became involved in the Civil Rights movement by looking at the first steps—and missteps—the organization took in the late 1940s.