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“The Right Achieved and the Wrong Way Conquered”: J. H. Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Conflict over Civil Rights

  • Wallace Best
Abstract

The infamous conflict between Joseph Harrison Jackson, longtime president of the National Baptist Convention, Inc. (NBC), and Martin Luther King, Jr., has attracted considerable scholarly attention. For nearly a decade, the two Baptist clerics fought for control of the largest African American religious organization in the country as King sought to use it as the “institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement.” Treated as a simple confrontation between the “radicalism” of King and the”conservatism” of Jackson, however, the conflict has been misinterpreted and, therefore, undervalued by scholars. It was not a struggle between conservative and progressive forces within the NBC, and Jackson and King were not ideological polar opposites. Their conflict was essentially religious in nature and was predicated on questions regarding what constituted church work among black Baptists. In retaining control of the NBC, Jackson wanted to make sure that the answers to those questions would reflect what he perceived to be the “vital center” of American culture. He was convinced that his commitment to “correct” the social ills of society through national and religious unity would achieve that which was right while conquering that which was wrong. Faced also with the challenges of an increasingly global context within which black religious leaders were compelled to operate, Jackson envisioned the NBC as an organization involved with efforts to bring peace and economic parity around the world. In Jackson's view, King's aim to use the NBC as the “institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement” was both “anti-American” and limited in scope. Jackson's “gradual” stance on civil rights and his confidence in the democratic process to bring about social change reveal one of the many options employed in post -WWII African American religious and political culture.

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1 “Chicago's ‘Other’ Rev. Jackson,” Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1973; “Influential Minister Is Honored,” Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1990.

2 Branch, Taylor, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 228, 695. See also Lewis, David Levering, King: A Biography (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1970), 158, 333, 336, 637n; Bishop, Jim, The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1971), 419 ; Martin, Hosea L., “The Rev. Joseph H. Jackson: Chicago's Paradoxical Pastor,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 18, 1967 ; and Tribble, Sherman Roosevelt, “Images of a Preacher: A Study of the Reverend Joseph H. Jackson, Former President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.” (Ph. D. diss., Northwestern University, 1990).

3 Branch, , Parting the Waters, 228 ; Hamilton, Charles V., The Black Preacher in America (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1972); Marrable, Manning, “The Ambiguous Politics of the Black Church,” in his How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (Boston: South End Publishers, 1983), chap. 7; Miller, William Robert, Martin Luther King, Jr.: His Life, Martyrdom, and Meaning in the Words (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968); Garrow, David J., Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 1986).

4 “The Dedication of the Joseph H. Jackson Tower,” Howard University School of Divinity, September 16, 1992, a pamphlet, J. H. Jackson Papers, “Inventory” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Ploski, Harry A. and Williams, James, eds., Reference Library of Black America, vol. 5 (Chicago: Afro-American Press, 1992), 1328 .

5 Marty, Martin E., Modern American Religion: Under God Indivisible, 1941–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 397 ; Chicago Daily Tribune, June 18, 1967; Tribble, “Images of a Preacher,” 121; Jackson, Joseph H., A Story of Christian Activism: The History of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (Nashville: Townsend Press, 1980), 408–13; Jackson, J. H., Unholy Shadows and Freedom's Holy Light (Nashville: Townsend Press, 1967), 83, letter dated 8/3/60 app. A241; “J. H. Jackson” file, Chicago Defender Library.

6 Ralph, James R. Jr., Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 6 ; Arnold Hirsch, “Massive Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953–1966,” Journal of American History (September 1995): 522–50; Gary Gerstle, “Race and the Myth of Liberal Consensus,” Journal of American History (September 1995): 579–86; Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1967; Strickland, Arvarh E., “The Schools Controversy and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago,” Historian 58 (Summer 1996): 717–29; Cohen, Adam and Taylor, Elizabeth, American Pharoah: Mayor Richard J. Daley, His Battle for Chicago and the Nation (New York: Little Brown and Co., 2000).

7 Clayton, John, Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1678–1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 280–90; “Dr. J. H. Jackson Must Stand Trial September 14 (1955) for Contempt of Court,” Claude Barnett Papers, box 385, “J. H. Jackson” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Chicago Defender, February 12, 1955; Chicago Defender, February 19, 1955.

8 J. H. Jackson Papers, box 7, “Churches Served, Monumental Baptist Church, Philadelphia” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

9 Claude Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 5, Chicago Historical Society; Burkett, Randall K., “The Baptist Church in the Years of Crisis: J. C. Austin and Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1926–1950,” in African American Christianity, ed. Boyer, Paul (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 142 ; “Baptists Lead Drive to Solve Slaying,” Chicago Defender, May 3, 1930.

10 Letter dated November 10, 1940, J. H. Jackson Papers, box 9, folder “Correspondence 1940,” Chicago Historical Society.

11 Letters to Jackson, postmarked June 27, 1941, and June 30, 1941, respectively, J. H. Jackson Papers, box 9, “Correspondence June–July 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society. I characterized these letters as secret correspondence because a number of them contained handwritten notes by Funches asking Jackson that he not circulate them. On the June 27, 1941, letter, for example, Funches added, “You must not let these letters be seen. It would hurt both of us.”

12 Letter to Jackson postmarked June 27, 1941, J. H. Jackson Papers, box 9, “Correspondence June–July 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1973.

13 Letter dated June 27, 1941, J. H. Jackson Papers, box 9, “Correspondence June-July, 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Western Union telegram dated August 12, 1941; letter dated September 3, 1941, J. H. Jackson papers, box 10, “Correspondence 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

14 See “History of Olivet Baptist Church,” pamphlet prepared by Amos Martin, Oneida Cockrell, and Dr. Daniel W. Hopkins of Olivet Baptist, 1992, 3; “Facts and Figures: Olivet Baptist Church,” Carter G. Woodson Papers, Library of Congress; Miles Mark Fisher, “The History of the Olivet Baptist Church of Chicago” (Master's thesis, University of Chicago, 1922), 97; “The World's Largest Church,” The Afro-American, January 9, 1922; Grossman, James R., Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 156 ; and Harris, Michael W., The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 118 .

15 “Olivet, Chicago, Gives Five Years of Progress: Membership and Official Board Endorse Leadership of Eminent Pastor,” American Baptist, September 6, 1946; National Baptist Voice, April 1954, 2; Chicago Defender, November 14, 1942; Chicago World, November 14, 1942; Chicago Bee, November 15, 1942; Illinois Baptist Messenger, September 1946; letter dated March 19, 1942; Registrar's office at the University of Chicago, telephone interview by author, June 19, 1997.

16 “About Dr. J. H. Jackson,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 8, Chicago Historical Society; Chicago Defender, February 11, 1950; “Olivet a Busy and Progressive Church, New Measures for the New Year, 1959,” Olivet Baptist Herald, February 1959, and Chicago Review, August 16, 1946, found in J. H. Jackson Papers, box 7, “Churches Served, Olivet Baptist Church” folder 2.

17 Letter dated June 24, 1941, J. H. Jackson Papers, box 9, “Correspondence June–July, 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

18 Letter dated September 30, 1941, Jackson Papers, J. H., box 10, “Correspondence June–July 1941” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Proceedings of the Seventy-Second Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (Nashville: Sunday School Publishing House, 1952), 60 ; Proceedings of the Seventy-Third Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (Nashville: Sunday School Publishing House, 1953), 59.

19 Though under pressure, the relationship between Jackson and King seemed to have been reasonably amicable as late as 1956. Coretta Scott King sang that year at Olivet in a program sponsored by Mrs. J. H. Jackson and the Olivet Boosters Club. Also, Jackson had introduced King Jr. at the convention, where he shared the platform with him and collaborated with him on the “we must have the ballot” speech. Jackson also was an honored guest at the Montgomery celebration commemorating the MIA bus boycott victory. See Chicago Defender, October 13, 1956.

20 Tribble, , “Images of a Preacher,” 95; Proceedings of the Seventy- Third Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (Nashville: Sunday School Publishing House, 1953), 4 .

21 J. Raymond Henderson, “Open Letter to Dr. J. H. Jackson, Newly Elected President of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.,” National Baptist Voice, November 1953.

22 Jackson's recommendation to the board called for an unprecedented amount of study and consideration, calling for numerous readings, discussions, and reports throughout the year. The Record of the Seventy-Fifth Annual Session (Diamond Jubilee) of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. (Nashville: Sunday School Publishing House, 1955); “The Tenure Issue: Excerpts from the Minutes of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, “J. H. Jackson” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

23 Jackson, A Story of Christian Activism, 342–434; “The Tenure Issue” (emphasis in original).

24 New York Amsterdam News, September 24, 1960.

25 “Jackson Spanked in Poll of Delegates, 1864 to 536,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 17, 1960; “Negro Baptists Pick a Brooklyn Pastor,” New York Times, September 9, 1960; “Clergymen Lead Disturbances: Religion Missing as Chaos Reigns in Baptist Confab,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 17, 1960; “Order Forgotten by Pastors: Delegates Are Shocked by Fantastic Procedure,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 17, 1960.

26 “Baptists Factions Still Deadlocked over Presidency,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 24, 1960; “Baptists Still Split: Court Throws Case Out,” Pittsburgh Courier, October 8, 1960; “National Baptist Board Reaffirms Dr. Jackson,” Pittsburgh Courier, October 15, 1960; “Open Letter to Dr. Taylor,” Pittsburgh Courier, October 15, 1960; Branch, , Parting the Waters, 389 .

27 Letter to O. Clay Maxwell, president of the National Sunday School and B.T.U. Congress, “J. H. Jackson” file, Chicago Defender Library.

28 Branch, , Parting the Waters, 501–2. Jackson came under heavy criticism for implicating King in the death of Arthur Wright. Erma Hughes of the Erma Hughes Business College, for example, addressed a letter to Jackson denouncing him for his comment. She proclaimed her faith that Martin Luther King was a “race man” and a “capable leader who is a builder of humanity.” Jackson, she declared was “Too Dogmatic and Contrary” (emphasis in original). Having received a copy of the missive from Hughes, King responded within days, thanking her for her “forthright and courageous letter to Dr. Jackson” in his defense. He expressed his wish that “it had been an open letter which could have been circulated to many, many papers.” King called Jackson's accusation a “vicious and unwarranted” attack on his motives and his integrity. Jackson, for his part, denied that he ever made the statement implicating King in Wright's death. To Hughes, he sent a one-paragraph response: “Your whole letter was based on an untrue statement….” In an expansive letter to Martin Luther King, Jackson states that “I did not say that you had masterminded the invasion of the convention hall that resulted in the death of a delegate's death.” Jackson accused the Associated Press for the statement. See letter dated September 16, 1961, letter dated September 19, 1961, letter dated September 12, 1961, Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, “Martin Luther King” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

29 Branch, , Parting the Waters, 561 .

30 “Jackson Snubs Historic Race and Religion Conference; Negro Baptists Only Religious Group Not Cooperating,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 8, Chicago Historical Society; Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, 695–96.

31 Fosdick, Harry Emerson, Adventurous Religion (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1926), 273–74.

32 Jackson, A Story of Christian Activism, 273; Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1967; Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1973.

33 Negro Digest, May 1967.

34 Chicago Defender, November 12, 1955; “The Election of the President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 8, Chicago Historical Society.

35 Lawrence J. Friedman, “Life in the Lion's Mouth: Another Look at Booker T. Washington,” Journal of Negro History 59 (October 1974): 337–51; Donald J. Calista, “Booker T. Washington: Another Look,” Journal of Negro History 49 (October 1964): 240–55; Meier, August, Negro Thought in America, 1880–1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (Ann Arbor.: University of Michigan, 1966), 100118 ; Harlan, Louis R., Booker T. Washington: The Wizard of Tuskegee, 1901–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

36 “Program of Commissions National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc. as presented by President J. H. Jackson, 1953,” J. H. Jackson Papers, box 70, “NBC Inc.” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

37 See Marty, , Modern American Religion, 8 ; Coontz, Stephanie, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic Books, 1992); Foreman, Joel, ed., The Other Fifties: Interrogating Mid-Century American Icons (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1997 ); and Carter, Paul A., Another Part of the Fifties (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

38 Marty, , Modern American Religion, 8 ; Riesman and Galbraith quoted in Alexander, Charles C., Holding the Line: The Eisenhower Era, 1952–1961 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), 133, 148.

39 Pelt, Owen, The Story of the National Baptists (New York: Vantage Press, 1960), 105 . Before a split in 1915, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., constituted a single organization under the leadership of Reverend Edmund Morris. At the convention that year, however, a dispute ensued over the organization's Nashville-based publishing house. Responsible for printing all materials related to the convention, the publishing house had become a powerful and prosperous organization in its own right. The Reverend R. H. Boyd, secretary of the publishing board, claimed that the publishing house was independent of the convention and was not obliged to support it financially or reveal any of its financial dealings. When the convention rejected that notion, Boyd and his followers left to form a rival organization. They retained the name National Baptist Convention, but, lacking legal incorporation, they were until recently called the National Baptist Convention, USA, Unincorporated.

40 Ibid., 217–21.

41 Congressional Record, April 18, 1956, 6470–6471.

42 Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1967; Tribble, “Images of a Preacher,” 64.

43 “Negro Needs Met by Olivet Church,” Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1960.

44 Minutes of the NBC annual meeting (1964), 5.

45 Jackson asked Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was serving in the eighty-fourth Congress by this time, to introduce the bill. It read as follows: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the 17th day of May in each year shall be known as Anti-Segregation Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22nd day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday in September, the 11th day of November, the fourth Thursday of November, and Christmas Day are now by law made public holidays.” See Congress, House, Making May 17 in each year a legal holiday to be known as Anti-Segregation Day, 84th Cong., 1st sess., H. R. 3016, Congressional Record, January 25, 1955; Jackson, , A Story of Christian Activism, 288 .

46 Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1960; Congressional Record, April 18, 1956, 6470–6471; “About Dr. J. H. Jackson,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 8, Chicago Historical Society.

47 J. H. Jackson Papers, Box 72, “Conclusion and [indecipherable] Manuscript” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

48 Minutes of the NBC annual meeting (1952), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 327.

49 J. H. Jackson Papers, box 385, “Sermons 1934” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Chicago Daily News, September 16, 1953.

50 Manchester, William H., The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932–1972 (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), 677 ; see also Warren, Heather A., “Intervention and International Organization: American Reformed Leaders and World War II,” American Presbyterians 74 (Spring 1996): 4356 ; Toulouse, Mark G., The Transformation of John Foster Dulles: From Prophet of Realism to Priest of Nationalism (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985); “The Development of a Cold Warrior: John Foster Dulles and the Soviet Union, 1945–1952,” American Presbyterians 63 (Fall 1985): 309–22.

51 Chicago Defender, May 21, 1955; Chicago Defender, August 27, 1955.

52 Fitts, Leroy, A History of the Black Baptists (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985), 267 . The speech is taken from the Minutes of the NBC annual meeting (1938), 100.

53 Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1967.

54 Marty, , Modern American Religion, 295 ; New York Times, February 18, 1955.

55 Marty, , Modern American Religion, 121 ; Schlesinger, Arthur Jr.,, The Vital Center (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), 156 .

56 Alexander, , Holding the Line, 126 .

57 Ibid., 118–19, 194; “Avows Negro Hasn't Right to Push White,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder 7, Chicago Historical Society.

58 “The Urge Congress Movement, To Pass President Eisenhower's Civil Rights Program,” J. H. Jackson Papers, box 61, Chicago Historical Society.

59 Jackson, , A Story of Christian Activism, 324, 329.

60 “Why We Are for Governor Stevenson as President of the United States,” J. H. Jackson Papers, box 61, Chicago Historical Society. The five other African American ministers were: Rev. J. H. Brown, Rev. F. L. Porter, Bishop W. J. Walls, Rev. T. N. Lee, and Rev. L. H. Gore.

61 Ibid.

62 Marty, , Modern American Religion, 306 ; Reilly, Kenneth O‘Reilly, “Adlai E. Stevenson, McCarthyism, and the FBI,” Illinois Historical Journal 81 (Spring 1988): 4560 .

63 Alexander, , Holding the Line, 18 .

64 See Arlene Lazarowitz, “Years in Exile: The Liberal Democrats, 1950–1959” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1982); and Stewart Gerry Brown, “Civil Rights and National Leadership: Eisenhower and Stevenson in the 1950s,” Ethics 70 (January 1960): 118–34.

65 Owen Pelt, “The Election of the President of the National Baptist Convention, Inc.,” Claude A. Barnett Papers, box 385, folder, 8, Chicago Historical Society.

66 Jackson, , A Story of Christian Activism, 227 ; “Program of Commissions: National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., as presented by President J. H. Jackson, 1953,” J. H. Jackson Papers, box 7, “NBC, Inc.” folder, Chicago Historical Society.

67 “The Man Whom We Present for National Leadership,” American Baptist, September 1947; “Dedication of the Joseph Harrison Jackson Tower, Howard University Divinity School, 1992,” J. H. Jackson papers, “Inventory” folder, Chicago Historical Society; Chicago Daily Tribune, June 18, 1967.

68 See Heather A. Warren, “That They All May Be One: America's Quest for Christian Unity, 1918–1948” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1992); Payne, Earnest A., The World Council of Churches, 1948–1969 (London: Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, 1970); and Gaines, David P., The World Council of Churches: A Study of Its Background and Ministry (Peterborough, N.H.: R. P. Smith, 1966).

69 Mays, Benjamin E., Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 5 ; Chicago Defender, January 8, 1955, and February 5, 1955.

70 McDonnell, John J., The World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church (New York: E. Mellen Press, 1985).

71 Jackson, , The Story of Christian Activism, 500502 .

72 Ibid., ix.

73 Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 187 .

74 Schlesinger, , The Vital Center, 156 .

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Religion and American Culture
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