The American Civil Rights movement began in the early 1950s and its impacts are still seen today, as well as a continued push for change. Charles Marsh’s book God’s Long Summer outlines a few of the major individuals involved in the early Civil Rights movement, covering those both for and against it. This book helps to show the movement as more than just a fight for equality but also a fight between good and evil. The movement itself can be viewed as a religious struggle from any point in the spectrum of its supporters and aggressors. The main theme of the stories within Marsh’s book is use of religion to back ones individual beliefs as shown through people such as Mrs. Hamer, Sam Bowers, and Ed King. All of these individuals let the movement consume their lives and for one very important reason: everything they knew was at stake.
The first individual Marsh introduces is a black woman named Fannie Lou Hamer, who from a young age felt it was her purpose to stand aside her brothers and sisters in Christ and fight for racial equality. Hamer first realized her calling into the Civil Rights movement at Williams Chapel Church in Mississippi when the preacher told his congregation that “God’s time” was upon them, and that they should not “back down from the challenge.” It is clear that the people of Mississippi saw this time in their lives as not just a fight to gain what they did not yet have, but a fight to keep what they could lose. It was God’s plan for them, and they were his children being oppressed. Most of Mrs. Hamer’s actions in the movement took place in various churches around the south. She taught others to be forgiving of the whites saying, “Regardless of what they act like, there is some good there.” She took this stance because she knew that someday, if the people banded together, that things would be different. The whole movement for people like Hamer was a religious one. They wanted the freedom that God promises all. These individuals felt that if they did not fight for what they believed in that it could all be lost. There was already segregation in the church and Martin Luther King Jr. once said that, "the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." He was not the only one who saw this, others too felt that the church was pushing away individuals and denying them the right to freely worship God.
One man who saw the church pushing away Negros, was Reverend Ed King. King grew up in Vicksburg as a typical white child, and as such he was taught to accept racism without a thought. King said, “By the time [he] had learned that God is love… than all men are brothers with a common Father, [he] also knew that [he] was better than a Negro.” Eventually, as King got older he realized how much hate was around him and that regardless of what he so blindly believed growing up, God loved all people, blacks and whites alike. He wanted other people to realize this too and went around preaching about how “Jesus Christ died and rose again for all.” King was attempting to teach others about the Civil Rights movement as a religious struggle. He saw that as Christians were pushing other Christians away they were disobeying God’s word to love one another, and thus putting their salvation at stake. If the southern people continued in their ways they would not be following Jesus at all; they were placing their prejudices first, and their faith second.
In some cases, these prejudices eventually turned to hate and violence. The KKK was on the rise as well as a new organization called The White Knights. The leader of this group was a man named Sam Bowers. Bowers too used the Bible to support his cause, but he skewed its teachings to support his militant and hateful ways. He believed “God had singled him out for a high and holy calling” and he taught his followers not to accept anyone who was not a “Christian, American Anglo-Saxon.” Like many other Christian Militants, Bowers wanted to take away any people he thought were unworthy, and that the church should not allow them. These kinds of people were attempting to take away any way for the southern blacks to worship or practice freedom of religion. If this mindset had spread around and caught on over a larger scale the negro people may have lost everything they had connected to the Church. And that is exactly what Bowers, and those like him wanted.
Not only was everything at stake religiously in the movement, but many people risked and some eventually lost their lives for it. Individuals similar to Ed King and Fannie Lou Hamer died trying to stand up for those being oppressed during the time of segregation. People like Sam Bowers murdered such individuals. It became a time of kill or be killed, but numerous brave souls took this risk to fight for what they knew was right. They did this because the people were beginning to lose their place in the church. Negros were being pushed out of the religious scene and due to this many began to lose and even turn away from their faith. On the other side, the people persecuting others in the movement were losing their salvation. They were sinning and using God to support their sins.
Hankins covers a variety of individuals in all areas of the Civil Rights movement to show readers that everyone was struggling religiously, and they all stood to lose or gain everything. No matter pro or anti civil rights everyone was using verses from the Bible as a reason for their cause. Though the movement’s surface level purpose was to fight for desegregation and racial equality, it was also so much more. It defined the times and every person’s actions. God’s Long Summer is more than just a book of stories, it is a book of testimonies. It covers people who would die, or kill, for their cause. Looking back on the movement today, the problems of this century seem so much smaller. But it is often easier to see what is at stake after the fact, society should continue to push to better itself, and it should do so with reverence to the past.