Mississippi Praying

Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975

303 pages

August, 2013

ISBN: 9780814708415



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Carolyn Renée Dupont is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

All books by Carolyn Renée Dupont

Winner of the 2013 Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize presented by the American Society of Church History

Mississippi Praying examines the faith communities at ground-zero of the racial revolution that rocked America. This religious history of white Mississippians in the civil rights era shows how Mississippians’ intense religious commitments played critical, rather than incidental, roles in their response to the movement for black equality.
During the civil rights movement and since, it has perplexed many Americans that unabashedly Christian Mississippi could also unapologetically oppress its black population. Yet, as Carolyn Renée Dupont richly details, white southerners’ evangelical religion gave them no conceptual tools for understanding segregation as a moral evil, and many believed that God had ordained the racial hierarchy.
Challenging previous scholarship that depicts southern religious support for segregation as weak, Dupont shows how people of faith in Mississippi rejected the religious argument for black equality and actively supported the effort to thwart the civil rights movement. At the same time, faith motivated a small number of white Mississippians to challenge the methods and tactics of do-or-die segregationists. Racial turmoil profoundly destabilized Mississippi’s religious communities and turned them into battlegrounds over the issue of black equality. Though Mississippi’s evangelicals lost the battle to preserve segregation, they won important struggles to preserve the theology that had sustained the racial hierarchy. Ultimately, this history sheds light on the eventual rise of the religious right by elaborating the connections between the pre- and post-civil rights South.


  • “Provides a wealth of insight. . . . Dupont has offered the single best study documenting and analyzing the conflicted role of white southern Protestant churches, and their leaders, in reacting to the civil rights struggle. Her analysis is compelling, her writing forceful and fluid, and her research substantial and original.”

    —Paul Harvey, University of Colorado

  • "Mississippi Praying helps us better understand how white southerners made sense of their Christian faith and their segregationist practices. Dupont shows how the evangelical faith of many white Mississippians, far from being a source of other worldly escape from the political realm, served as a bulwark in their fight to maintain white supremacy. It is a critical story for properly understanding both the southern civil rights struggle and the history of modern American Christianity."

    —Joseph Crespino, Emory University

  • "I am grateful to [the author] for further recovering the central role of religion in the civil rights era."


  • "By examining white Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian confrontations with the civil rights movement, Dupont (Eastern Kentucky Univ.) offers a compelling answer to the question of why the most religious state in the US was also its most racist."

    —E.R. Crowther, CHOICE

  • "Dupont makes a valuable contribution to the scholarship on the intersection of race and religion by highlighting religion's centrality in the struggle for black equality. Mississippi Praying is must reading for scholars interested in religion, race, and African American studies."

    —Walt Bower, Religious Research Association Review

  • “Gripping and detailed, Mississippi Praying tells how the fight to maintain white supremacy was deeply embedded in all the state’s institutions, particularly its churches.  Such a narrative challenges readers to understand how some forms of racism topple, while others yet persist.”

    Southern Spaces

  • “Carolyn Renee Dupont’s examination of Mississippi white evangelicals’ fervent support of segregation during the 1950s and 1960s offers historians a fresh interpretation of the confounding paradox of God-fearing whites condoning and even participating in massive resistance. […] This book successfully challenges the reader to think beyond a variety of biases inherent in discussion of literature’s relationship with ethnic, regional, and national identities.”

    The Journal of Southern History

  • "[...] Dupont has written an intriguing and impassioned book that should stimulate debate."

    The American Historical Review

  • "This is an inspired and sparkling religious history of the three major white denominations—South Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists—in the state of Mississippi for the three decades of the Civil Rights movement...This is not simply a tale about what happened in the struggle for black equality in Mississippi from 1945 to 1975.  It is a mirror, reflecting what is still happening in segregated churches all over America, not just in Mississippi, not just in the South, but all over this great republic."

    Baptist History & Heritage

  • "Dupont’s prose should be the envy of historians everywhere. Crisp, incisive, and thought-provoking, it moves the reader easily through nine chronological chapters. She draws on powerful examples to make her case, covering everything from Brown v. Board of Education, to the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative reconfiguration, and the splitting of Southern Presbyterians in the 1960s and 1970s."


  • “Dupont's book is an essential companion to any study of the civil rights movement, not only for its treatment of how religion impacted the movement’s history but also for the way it exposes how easily oppression can be wrapped in a cloak of religiosity that blinds its adherents to injustice occurring all around them.” 

    The Historian