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Houston Bryan Roberson

Houston Bryan Roberson’ Fighting the Good Fight` is a rather interesting and original depiction of one of the best known churches in America, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist church. At a first glance, it may seem that the writing is a mere historical depiction of an important sight; however, due to his original perspective and his technique, the author managed to use the history of the church both as a background and as a pretext for presenting the phenomenon that was the Civil Rights Movement.

The issue that stands at the heart of the monographic work is not so much the practical history of the church, which is indeed an emblematic site for Montgomery, but rather the role it played in the economics of one of the most important events in the struggle for civil right in 1950’s America. In fact, as the author himself points out, the role of the book is to underline “the ways in which institutional religion provided both moral training and service to the community in a local setting over time” (Roberson xvi).

Moreover, because of the essential part played by the church in advocating, promoting and supporting the emancipation of the black community, its presentation was also used to express the ultimate goal of the Civil Rights Movement, which is indirectly stated even from the beginning of the book, “So then…we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. ” (Roberson 1)

Although the subject revolves around the historical presentation of the church, the author does so by relying on the background that shaped its evolution and therefore gave its important role in history. Thus, Roberson follows the small details of the establishment of the church in the late 1870’s up until a century later; still, the attitude he portrays throughout the text suffers some changes. Thus, in the beginning, the tone expressed a sense of the optimism that characterized the early days after the end of the Civil War, and the new perspectives given by the Emancipation Act.

This was especially present in the depiction of the scene with the old black woman who is moved from her seat in the seats formally reserved for the enslaved people, “’she was politely told that the church had prepares another place for her to sit’. She would celebrate this new day in an old place: a familiar place: the gallery formerly designed for enslaved and free African Americans. ” (Roberson 1-2) Moreover, the real situation in the US is shown, as “at the close of the Civil War, most white churches in Alabama, as in other parts of the South, expected business as usual despite the confederacy’s defeat and the abolition of slavery.

” (Roberson 3) Therefore, even through these opening lines, the author makes his intentions known, those of combining the particular and personal elements of the church’s history with those taking place on the larger scale of the Free Movement initiative. This idea is the focal point throughout the book; in this respect the author tries to set forth the evolution of the church at the hands of six generations of ministers, which, at the same time, express the different stages the history of the emancipation movement has gone through.

In this respect, the author follows the historical line of the development of the church itself, while pointing out to the realities of the surrounding events. The first name of the church, the Second Colored Baptist Church, shows exactly its aim and the audience it addressed and cared for. Thus, in the late 19th century, it was a symbol of the emancipation tries of the black population that was suffering from the hardships of discrimination. The next evolutionary stage in the Civil Rights Movement can also be seen in the way the famous church evolved.

Therefore, after World War II, many of the African Americans began to consider themselves entitled to fair treatment especially from the white authorities and thus began to challenge segregation rules in group meetings, reunions and other gatherings that were meant to result in collective actions. In the desegregation era, the church was greatly involved, as “over the years it has served the community through the use of its facilities- meeting place for many civic, educational and religious groups- and its human resources.

” (Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) They would engage in events that would facilitate the participation of different classes of citizens, both black and white, to draw the attention on the cause of the black community. However, as in the historical times that were unfolding, there were both ministers interested in the financial aspects of the parish, and those wanting to develop the church into becoming more and more a place for support for the black population in its struggle to resist segregation.

Indeed, the religious aspect of everyday life and especially in those turbulent times was essential for offering guidance and advice, as even “white southern Baptist often looked to their pastors for guidance concerning relationships with African American members of their churches”. (Roberson 3) These various perspectives are presented by the author when describing the six generations of ministers that succeeded to the leadership of the church.

There were positive results in the following period, in the 50s, such as the Brown decision of 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which marked important successes in the fight against discrimination and the idea that segregated facilities represents a breach of equality laws promoted at the declarative level in the US. In developing his main idea, that of placing the church in the overall perspective of the Civil Rights Movement, Houston Bryan Roberson treats one of the most important issues of that period and an essential moment in the future development of the equality spirit.

The Bus Boycott is important for both the structure of the book and for the real impact it had on the people taking part and those witnessing it. In the first situation, the boycott marked the full emergence of the most representative figure of the movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. In the context in which the author made clear distinctions between those ministers that had either an “organizational focus” or a “prophetic focus”, Dr King was considered as one of the ministers that were more dedicated to his believers, rather than to the financial aspects of the parish.

(Roberson 196) On the other hand, however, the boycott in itself was seen at the time, and is still considered so, to be one of the turning points in the development of the Movement. It represented the black community challenging white supremacy in Alabama, a reaction that triggered others throughout the country. Due to the role Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church had in helping people, it remains in the history of the town as a pilgrimage site where “thousands of national and international tourists come to be inspired by and educated on the role of the Church and Dr.

King in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. ” (Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) The following period, which marked the transition from nonviolent opposition to a time in which the cultural heritage was used more to promote the black community identity was, despite the different era, greatly influenced by King and his concepts of nonviolence, therefore the indeed, the church he used to preach has a significant importance in the collective memory of the black community.

Overall, it can be concluded that Houston Bryan Roberson’s book was indeed written with a double address. On the one hand, from the perspective his historical academic preparation offered him, the book is a monograph description of one of the trademarks of the national heritage. On the other hand, while making use of the information and detailed descriptions of the eras he focused on, the author also presents the historical insights of the Civil Rights movement and the Bus Boycott.

References

African American Odyssey. The Civil Rights Era, 2002, accessed 29 January 2007, from http://memory. loc. gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart9. html Roberson, H. Fighting the Good Fight: The Story of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 1865-1977. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. The Dexter Parsonage Museum. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 2002 accessed 29 January 2007, from http://www. dexterkingmemorial. org/c_church. cfm; Internet.

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