When assessing the Congress of Industrial Organization's (CIO) postwar Southern Organizing Campaign, evangelical Protestantism shows up only on the debit side of the historians' ledger. Focus on anti-union hate sheets like Militant Truth and Gospel Trumpet conveniently substitutes for analysis of the shifting religious terrain of the South. In contrast, we argue that the potential for a sympathetic hearing from southern religious leaders was greater than scholars have previously believed, but that the CIO staff responsible for interpreting Operation Dixie's mission misunderstood the creeds and the theology of the most vibrant southern churches. By choosing individuals who boasted of their endorsement by the liberal Federal Council of Churches, the CIO incurred the wrath of southern denominations that had supported collective bargaining and an employee's right to join unions just a few years earlier. This missed opportunity is not the entire story, however. We also argue that the CIO's religious activists often challenged the Southern Organizing Campaign to promote racial equality and desegregation even when such challenges threatened to harm organizing goals. At the same time, they repudiated the claims of Communists to be the true supporters of black advancement in the labor movement. The connection of religious faith to the struggle for justice in the postwar South is surely far more complex than what exists in previous accounts.
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Research Article| March 01 2009
Sanctifying the Southern Organizing Campaign: Protestant Activists in the CIO's Operation Dixie
Labor (2009) 6 (1): 5–32.
Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Ken Fones-Wolf; Sanctifying the Southern Organizing Campaign: Protestant Activists in the CIO's Operation Dixie. Labor 1 March 2009; 6 (1): 5–32. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2008-043
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