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Presbyterians and the Civil Rights Movement

On January 22, 1964, CORAR sent fifty-two clergymen to participate in Freedom Day, a voter registration event in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Encouraged by the program’s success, CORAR created the Hattiesburg Ministers’ Project to coordinate clergy participation in picket lines, canvassing, and voter registration attempts. The volunteer clergymen were met with bitterness and resentment by the community, and nine UPCUSA ministers, including K. Stephen Parmelee and Emil Hattoon, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Despite the arrests, the project was largely successful, and in May 1964, it was transferred to the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCCC) to be incorporated into the Mississippi Summer Project and, later, into the Delta Ministry.

Ministers participate in a protest in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Religious News Service, photograph by George Bollis, 1964.

Volunteer clergymen in Hattiesburg participate in a preparatory briefing in a local church before joining the picket lines. Religious News Service, photograph by George Bollis, 1964.

CORAR supplied voter registration leaflets like the one below to Presbyterian ministers for use in church mailings and house to house distribution. United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Council on Church and Race Records, 1963-1971. Click to read.

Reverend Robert J. Stone, Associate Director of CORAR, sits in front of posters advertising Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 1964. United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Council on Church and Race Records, 1963-1971. (Image ID: 3176)

Posters in the window of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, offices of the NCCC’s Delta Ministry. Religious News Service, photograph by Bruce Hilton, 1966.

Jon L. Regier, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. minister and head of the Division of Christian Life and Mission of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 1963. National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Department of Communication Records, 1925-1997. (Image ID: 3156)

700 clergymen and members of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s Presbytery of New York march in a peaceful pre-Independence Day demonstration in support of President John F. Kennedy’s pending civil rights legislation. Religious News Service, photograph by James E. Curry, 1963. (Image ID: 3095)

Nine days before the Solidarity Day March in Washington,  Reverend Gayraud S. Wilmore, executive director of CORAR, wrote this letter to members of the UPCUSA encouraging participation in the march. United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Council on Church and Race Records, 1963-1971. Click to read.

On June 19, 1968, members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. Synod of Virginia were prominent among the 50,000 people who gathered to demonstrate in Washington, D.C. for the Solidarity Day March. Members are pictured as they leave a prayer service at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Religious News Service, photograph by Fred Griffing, 1968. (Image ID: 3094)