Contentious Unions

Black Baptist Schools and White Baptist Money in the Jim Crow South

  • Author(s): Mathews, Mary Beth Swetnam
  • Series: America's Baptists
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2024-09-18
  • Status: Not Yet Published - Will Back Order
  • Available in Hardcover - Printed Case: Price $60.00 | Buy Now
  • Available in Kindle: Price $42.00 | Buy Now
  • Available in PDF: Price $42.00 | Buy Now

“A significant work of scholarship that tells us not just about these particular places, but more importantly about the world of Black higher education in the decades before the civil rights movement.”—Paul Harvey, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

In Contentious Unions: Black Baptist Schools and White Baptist Money in the Jim Crow South, Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews interweaves the stories of the founding and development of Richmond Theological Seminary (Virginia), Central City College (Macon, Georgia), and American Baptist Theological Seminary (Nashville, Tennessee)—colleges that saw challenges, complexities, and hard-won accomplishments in the Post-Reconstruction era. Her study begins just after the Civil War, when one of these institutions provided educational opportunities for newly freed slaves, and follows the fortunes of the schools through the 1960s.

Mathews reveals the financial, curricular, and identity struggles of schools that came into being and survived under difficult circumstances. The institutions relied on funding from White Baptists, but also had to fight against control and exploitation from those who helped them financially. Though each school evolved with a different identity and educational mission, Mathews concludes that “they could be simultaneously symbols of racial independence as well as victims of white supremacy.”

As “oppositional spaces,” these schools gave their communities access to the ground floor of the civil rights movement, and the author highlights their connections to some of the more famous activists such as John R. Lewis, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, and Gordon P. Hancock. Ultimately, Mathews’s book is a fascinating and complex account that uses the history of these three institutions to illuminate the origins of the long struggle for civil rights.

MARY BETH SWETNAM MATHEWS, the author of Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South and Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars, is a professor of religious studies at the University of Mary Washington.