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Christianity and Race in the American South

A History

The history of race and religion in the American South is infused with tragedy, survival, and water—from St. Augustine on the shores of Florida’s Atlantic Coast to the swampy mire of Jamestown to the floodwaters that nearly destroyed New Orleans. Determination, resistance, survival, even transcendence, shape the story of race and southern Christianities. In Christianity and Race in the American South, Paul Harvey gives us a narrative history of the South as it integrates into the story of religious history, fundamentally transforming our understanding of the importance of American Christianity and religious identity.

Harvey chronicles the diversity and complexity in the intertwined histories of race and religion in the South, dating back to the first days of European settlement. He presents a history rife with strange alliances, unlikely parallels, and far too many tragedies, along the way illustrating that ideas about the role of churches in the South were critically shaped by conflicts over slavery and race that defined southern life more broadly. Race, violence, religion, and southern identity remain a volatile brew, and this book is the persuasive historical examination that is essential to making sense of it.

Read the introduction.

264 pages | 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Chicago History of American Religion

Black Studies

History: American History

Religion: American Religions


“Harvey provides an excellent survey of the many ways southern people have told their story through arguments, ideas, visions, and dreams as well as practices and expressions. White theologians and evangelical believers are the major speakers and actors of a multiversed story. Readers hear the voices of whites and blacks, masters and slaves, those who are powerful and those who are without power. . . . Reflecting 25 years of writing, this book is worthy of careful reading and reflection. Highly recommended.”


“In this timely and readable history, Paul Harvey ably interprets the pervasive ironies of the American South: a place where faith-drenched Christians defended slavery and impoverished prophets arose alongside an economically burgeoning New South. In taking note of these paradoxes, Harvey has produced a thought-provoking historical account of religion and race that’s brief enough for lay audiences to read and, perhaps more importantly, talk about.”

Christian Century

“Harvey presents a narrative slideshow of significant moments in the intertwined history of race, religion, and culture in the South. He concisely traces and interprets this history from the colonial period through the antebellum era, the Civil War, Reconstruction, segregation, and the civil rights movement. . . . The book is slim in its narrative, but copious in its notes and indexing. It is recommended for both academic and parish libraries for its value as an important history on race and religion in the South and as a useful reference on the subject.”

Catholic Library World

“Insightful. . .Harvey blends well-known history with an array of freshly researched material.”

Journal of Church and State

“Harvey uses his time to weave a concise yet surprisingly comprehensive (given both the effort’s brevity and its author’s proposal to offer a “deliberately selective narrative”) history of a region and its religious life over roughly four hundred years.”

North Carolina Historical Review

“This book demonstrates yet again why Harvey has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s top historians of race and religion. In Christianity and Race in the American South he writes with the authority, conviction, and insight of one of the many prophetic figures he studies. This is a smart, compelling, and beautifully written book that will transform our understanding of the past—and the present.”

Matthew Avery Sutton, author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

Christianity and Race in the American South will be the standard text for scholars and students of southern religion for many years to come. But Harvey’s textured, tightly woven narrative history is also much more. It is an astonishingly expansive yet wonderfully concise page-turner, a synthesis full of original research, and a study in power and paradox. This urgent, important book should be read in every high school and college in the region—and outside it too.”

Alison Collis Greene, author of No Depression in Heaven

“These pages contain a riveting, soulful story, through which Harvey deftly explains how hopes for redemption and systems of oppression became mutually constitutive of life in the American South.  Written with authority, wisdom, and verve, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the intersection of religion and race indelibly shaped the nation’s past—and why it continues to inform our future.”

Heath W. Carter, author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago

Table of Contents

Introduction / The Transcendental Blues of Southern Religion
One / “Proud and Undutifull”: Religion, Violence, and Death in the Early South
Two / “Tumults and Distractions”: The Revolutionaries and the Revivalists
Three / “Being Affected Together”: Revivalism, Slavery, and Empire
Four / “Was Not Christ Crucified?”: Race and Christianities in the Antebellum Era
Five / “That Was about Equalization after the Freedom”: Religion, War, and Reconstruction
Six / “Death Is Ridin’ All through the Land”: Race and Southern Christianities from Segregation to Civil Rights
Seven / “Trust God and Launch Out into the Deep”: Civil Rights and the Transformations of Southern Religious History
Eight / “They Don’t Have to Be Poor Anymore”: Politics, Prosperity, and Pluralism

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