In March 1965 a new church was founded in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the city had no shortage of churches, it became necessary to launch the congregation because racial conflict had precipitated a split at 3,500-member Second Presbyterian. The issue had been whether the church’s Session, its board of lay leaders, should admit groups of black and white students who had come to worship on about a dozen occasions between March 1964 and March 1965. After months of internal and external efforts to pressure the Session to allow integrated groups to enter the church, Second Presbyterian’s pastors publically repudiated the Session’s stance and the majority of the congregation voted to make the longest-serving Elders inactive for a period of three years. When the hardline segregationists who had dominated the Session realized their influence was eroding, they resigned their positions at Second Presbyterian and started their own congregation called Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC).

During the course of this conflict, members of Second Presbyterian learned that behind their Session’s decision to bar integrated groups from worship was a 1957 policy that committed the church to racial segregation in all its activities. That statement, like most mainline ecclesiastical attempts to defend segregation during the 1950s, revealed theological diffidence. It began, in fact, with the acknowledgement that since “many learned and devout Christian men have debated pro and con the question of segregation being Scriptural…this is a moot question.” Without a reliable biblical warrant for racial separation, the church’s Session established the continuing necessity of segregation on the Cold War maxim that the moving force behind integration was “godless communism.”1

When members of the Session’s segregationist faction left Second Presbyterian in 1965 to establish their own congregation, they were determined to build a stronger theological foundation for racial homogeneity. Thus, written into Independent Presbyterian’s constitution was this attempt to establish once and for all the church’s position on race:

Believing that the scriptures teach that the separation of nations, people and groups will preserve the peace, purity and unity of the Church, it is, therefore, the will of this Church that its members and those visiting the Church, its worship services, and all its activities, shall be compatible with the congregation.2

Avoiding any explicit reference to racial identity, this article of the IPC constitution was less overt than the policy adopted eight years previously at Second Presbyterian, which explicitly condemned “integrated meetings of the white and negro races in our local churches, camps and conferences, at all age levels.” However, by offering a “scriptural” rationale for segregation this statement ventured a claim that the authors of the 1957 policy had not deemed necessary.

When the men who authored the constitution of Independent Presbyterian Church confidently invoked the Bible in support of segregation they defied a growing conviction among mainline Christians that the practice was “unchristian” and thus indefensible on religious grounds. Keenly aware that denominational practices were subject to change under the influence of shifting cultural mores, these men sought an enduring foundation for maintaining the racial status quo. They needed a theological argument for segregation that could withstand, or at least deflect, charges that the practice was discriminatory and immoral and thus had no place in the church.

It is not surprising that this group of southern evangelical Protestants sought to locate this argument in the Bible. Yet the claim that “the scriptures teach…the separation of nations, people and groups” is notable for several reasons. First, it would appear to challenge the historiographic view that Southern Christians had little confidence in the Bible as a basis for racial segregation, a confidence that is thought to have all but disappeared among members of major Protestant denominations in the South (that is, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists) by 1965. Second, the IPC constitution ignores the scriptural passage relied upon more than any other during the kneel-in era to repel “incompatible” visitors—the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11:15–19 and parallels). Third, the document’s discussion of “compatibility” seems to acknowledge that at IPC a visitor’s identity would determine his or her eligibility for church membership, despite the fact that white churches targeted for integration in Memphis and elsewhere had consistently maintained that they were excluding unwelcome visitors based on their behavior and motivation.3

Most significant, the claim that the “the scriptures teach…separation” indicates that its authors were alluding to an interpretive tradition they considered well established. But what part of the Bible did these men believe taught the “separation of nations, peoples and groups”? The most popular segregationist proof-text was Acts 17:26, where Paul tells the Athenians, “God…hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of [the nations’] habitation.” But the founders of IPC would have recognized this as a tenuous foundation for an exclusive church, since in the very same sentence Paul affirms that God “hath made of one blood all nations” (a fact segregation’s Christian opponents never tired of mentioning).4

In this article, I argue that the biblical background for understanding the claim that “the scriptures teach…separation” was in fact an established tradition of American exegesis applied in the nineteenth century to the Bible to defend slavery and the perpetual separation and subjugation of Africans. This interpretive tradition, which seemed to reveal a pattern of God-willed “separation” in the Bible, allowed white Christians to claim a “biblical” basis for segregation in the face of growing pressure to view the practice as inimical to genuine Christianity, and—just as importantly—to do so without appearing to be racist.

Religion and Segregation in Recent Scholarship

I acknowledge that such a project will seem counter-intuitive because scholarship on the Christian defense of Jim Crow has tended to downplay its similarities with antebellum support for slavery. The prevailing view is that religious apologies for segregation had little if anything in common with the robust proslavery arguments developed in the second third of the nineteenth century.

There are good reasons for this perception of a disconnect between the religious cases for slavery and segregation. First, it is supported by the historical observation that nineteenth-century white Southerners built denominations in order to defend slavery, while in the twentieth century the same denominations could muster very little theological or biblical support for segregation, and at times officially declared it immoral and unchristian.5 Second, the view that segregationist thought owed little to proslavery thought is bolstered by the fact that, unlike Christian advocates of American slavery, segregationists routinely buttressed their religious arguments with secular and “scientific” lines of thought.6 Finally, biblical and theological arguments concerned with human bondage would appear to have no practical application in the defense of segregation.

But this last point reveals a weakness in the prevailing scholarly consensus. According to historian David Chappell, “the Bible, which had so much slavery in it, offered so little objective support for postemancipation racism.”7 But slavery apologists had compensated for this absence of biblical racism by interpreting one text—Genesis 9:20–27—in ways that would prove a boon to segregationists. Although the so-called curse of Ham would lose its appeal with the demise of slavery, proslavery interpreters’ habit of racializing Noah’s descendants and reading Noah’s prophecy (Genesis 9), the Table of Nations (Genesis 10), and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) in light of one another made this section of Scripture of continued interest to racist Bible readers in the century after the Civil War.

Understood as a narrative disclosure of God’s will for distinct people groups in the postdiluvian dispensation, Genesis 9–11 would become a promising basis for a biblical defense of Jim Crow. This was true among religious elites; that is, pastors and officials connected to the mainline denominations who engaged in thoughtful (if tendentious) biblical exegesis, as well as non-elites such as laypeople and pastors in independent churches who developed “segregationist folk theology” from whatever scraps of biblical and theological lore were close at hand.8 Surveying examples of both should make it possible to identify the dominant forms and persistent themes of a “distinction and dispersal” tradition of biblical interpretation that reveals surprising connections between the religious defenses of slavery and segregation manufactured by southern whites.

Looking for Parallels

In the introduction to A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, Chappell summarizes the apparent discontinuity between religious arguments for white supremacy between the 1850s and the 1950s. “Compared to the thorough, confident support that slaveowners received from their leading theologians and other cultural authorities a century earlier,” Chappell writes, “the segregationists look disorganized and superficial.”9 It is true that the sort of assured biblical and theological claims one associates with slavery apologists are often missing from the writings of the Christian defenders of racial segregation. But the “distinction and dispersal” tradition represents an important substantive link between the way nineteenth-century Southerners utilized the Bible and its invocation by twentieth-century advocates of segregation.

The most obvious reflections of this tradition in the literature of support for Jim Crow are tracts that recast the tale of Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:20–27—which climaxes in Noah’s exclamation, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers”—as having to do not with the imposition of slavery but with the necessity of “racial” separation. Among these was South Carolina Baptist Humphrey K. Ezell’s The Christian Problem of Racial Segregation, published in 1959. Ezell contended that in Noah’s curse, “God has segregated the races. Shem and Japheth are to dwell in tents together; but a curse is placed upon Ham and his descendants, and they are to be servants to Shem and Japheth.” What is the connection between the prophecy of Ham/Canaan’s servitude and the necessity of racial separation? Ezell explains that since Ham’s descendants were to serve those of Shem and Japheth, “it is not God’s plan for [them] to intermarry.”10 Here the distinctive destinies of Noah’s sons are held to entail a “segregation” that forbids intermarriage between Hamites and the descendants of Shem and Japheth.

Few apologists for segregation followed Ezell in reinterpreting Genesis 9 as a manifesto for separation. But, as we shall see, many viewed the curse through the lens of Genesis 10 (Table of Nations) and 11 (Tower of Babel), which American Bible readers had long assumed were part of a unified history of the families that repopulated the postdiluvian world.11 An example of how this assumption influenced segregationist thought can be found in a 1957 publication by Alabama attorney and Methodist layman Festus F. Windham titled A Bible Treatise on Segregation: An Analysis of Biblical References to Determine the True Relationship of the Races.12 While the majority of Windham’s “biblical references” are to Genesis, he began not with Ham’s curse but with “the origin of nations immediately following the flood” in which, he noted, the “unity of the race was destroyed because they undertook to build a city and a tower that would reach to heaven.” For this sin, Windham wrote, God “separated the descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth…and here began [their] segregation.”13 It was only after describing this great act of dispersal that Windham turned back to Genesis 9 and Noah’s response to “the way Ham treated his father.”14 Windham noted that the fulfillment of Noah’s curse occurred after the Hamites’ move to Africa, from which they “emigrated[!]…as slaves of the Caucasian and other races.” Windham then continued to read backward from Genesis 11, claiming that the separation of Noah’s sons actually originated in creation:

In the distant past it was God’s handiwork and intention to preserve inviolate the separation of the descendants of Ham and those of Japheth and Shem: Because of their sin, they must bear a mark different from that of the descendants of Shem and Japheth; they are always to be the servants of others. It is this act of God in creation that brought about the necessary segregation of the races.15

Segregation, on this view, was intended by God from the beginning, and after being resisted at Babel was re-imposed in in the subsequent dispersion. The role of the interceding curse, according to Windham, was to place a “stamp” on Hamites that reinforced the separation of this inferior race by dooming it to serve others. In this reading, the curse’s function is not to introduce segregation, but to reveal why Hamites have been permanently set apart.16

In their own ways, Ezell and Windham attempted to rehabilitate the “curse of Ham” so familiar to southern Bible readers as a justification for black bondage and subservience and refashion it as a warrant for segregation. But doing so was not so easy. For example, Ezell’s strained exegesis reveals that while it may be reasonable to read distinctions among Noah’s descendants in Genesis 9, the chapter simply does not address separation. Windham’s tract suggests that a more compelling biblical case for segregation could be made if Noah’s prophecy were read in light of a larger narrative of distinction and dispersal. The minimal role played by Noah’s curse in Windham’s reading of Genesis 9–11 indicates the possibility that, in the hands of creative Bible readers, the ever-popular curse of Ham could be eclipsed by other passages in this section of Scripture, which appear to address more directly the physical separation of human groups.17

The Distinction and Dispersal Tradition and the Biblical Argument for Segregation

With these clues in mind, let us peruse some notable sermons and addresses by religious advocates of racial segregation for traces of this distinction and dispersal tradition with particular attention to images of distinction among Noah’s sons, God’s intended separation of the groups descended from them, and condemnation of attempts to resist this divine plan of dispersal. A good place to start is the widely circulated and oft-cited speech of G. T. Gillespie, Presbyterian pastor and president of Mississippi’s Belhaven College, who was one of the more prominent religious figures in the years after Brown v. Board of Education to articulate a theology for segregation. Gillespie’s infamous address to the Presbyterian Synod of Mississippi in 1954, subsequently published by the Mississippi Citizens Council as A Christian View of Segregation, contended that segregation is not a function of “race prejudice” and does not necessarily entail discrimination.18 On the contrary, Gillespie argued, segregation tends to diminish friction and prevent “such intimacies as might lead to intermarriage and the amalgamation of the races.”19 Thus far, there is nothing particularly “Christian” about this view of segregation. In the second half of his address, though, Gillespie turned directly to the Bible in order to counter the claim, increasingly being heard from representatives of American Protestantism, that segregation is “unchristian.”

Gillespie begins with a concession some have interpreted as signaling a lack of confidence in the Bible’s support for segregation. He writes, “the Bible contains no clear mandate for or against segregation as between the white and negro races.” While it is hard to imagine an antebellum proslavery intellectual making a similar acknowledgement about Scripture and slavery, it is important to note what Gillespie believed Scripture does contain—“considerable data from which valid inferences may be drawn in support of the general principle of segregation as an important feature of the Divine purpose and Providence throughout the ages” (emphasis added). Significantly, many of the biblical passages from which Gillespie inferred this “general principle of segregation” are located in the primeval history of Genesis.20

Among the places Gillespie saw this “segregation principle” at work are Genesis 4 (where Gillespie interprets Cain’s banishment as “the first separation”) and Genesis 6, which according to Gillespie records “the promiscuous intermarriage of the Sons of God, that is, the descendents [sic] of Seth, with the ‘Daughters of Men,’ who were apparently the descendents [sic] of Cain”—a union that resulted in a “complete breakdown of family life” and precipitated the flood. The third paradigm of segregation in Genesis, according to Gillespie, involves the sons of Noah. “After the flood,” he wrote, “the three sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth, became the progenitors of three distinct racial groups, which were to repeople and overspread the earth” (emphasis added).21 Gillespie then connected this primordial event of racial distinction to the “table of nations” which immediately follows it:

This brief record [in Genesis 10], the accuracy of which has not been successfully disputed by the anthropologists and ethnologists, while affirming the unity of the race, also implies that an all-wise Providence has “determined the bounds of their habitation.” Which same Providence by determining the climatic and other physical conditions under which many successive generations of the several racial groups should live, is thereby equally responsible for the distinct racial characteristics which seem to have become fixed in prehistoric times, and which are chiefly responsible for the segregation of racial groups across the centuries and in our time (emphasis added).22

From there, Gillespie reveals the “general principle of segregation” in the origin of linguistic differences narrated in Genesis 11:

The Confusion of Tongues, which took place at Babel, with the consequent scattering of the peoples was an act of special Divine Providence to frustrate the mistaken efforts of godless men to assure the permanent integration of the peoples of the earth. Incidentally it indicates that the development of different languages was not merely natural or accidental, but served a Divine purpose, in becoming one of the most effective means of preserving the separate existence of the several racial groups (emphasis added).23

Gillespie’s A Christian View of Segregation offers a well-executed example of an interpretive strategy Ezell and Windham pursued with less success: marshaling the tradition of distinction and dispersal in support of racial segregation. Completely absent are traditional elements of the “curse of Ham”—Noah’s drunkenness, the responses of his sons, the details of his prophecy, and the episode’s legacy of sin and servitude—which were the touchstones of proslavery interpretation. The sons of Noah remain part of the story; but the curse is a minor episode in a larger tale of postdiluvial distinction, dispersion, rebellion and re-dispersion.

A younger colleague of Gillespie at Belhaven College during the 1950s was Bible professor Morton H. Smith. In a Southern Presbyterian Review column written for church women in 1957, Smith emphasized many of the points Gillespie had introduced three years earlier, even citing some of the same biblical texts. After acknowledging “the unity of mankind,” Smith stressed the divine preference for diversity revealed in the story of the Tower:

There in Genesis 11 we find the history of man’s attempt to rebel against God’s command to disperse and replenish the earth by remaining together as a unified people. There we see that it is God himself who scattered the people, enforcing this by the confusing of tongues….This may not be the origin of the races, but it certainly is the divine separation of people into different groups (emphasis added).24

From this and related Bible passages, Smith extracts a lesson for the present-day:

[I]t is certain that in the combined accounts of the genealogies of the sons of Noah and the dispersion at the Tower of Babel we find God’s direct action of separation of different elements of the human race into different groups. On the basis of this fact, it would seem that the principle of separation of peoples or of segregation is not necessarily wrong per se. In fact, it seems clearly to be God’s order of things, in order to see that man fulfills his God appointed tasks on earth (emphasis added).25

Smith cites other texts, but Genesis 9–11 is the linchpin in his biblical apology for segregation. This becomes clear when he repeats, in a discussion of racial intermarriage, that “Babel was an attempt to [amalgamate the races]” to which God responded by “scattering man.” “Who are we,” Smith asks rhetorically, “to fly in the face of God’s revealed will?”

Unlike most segregationists in mainline denominations, who studiously refrained from citing sources associated with the defense of slavery, Smith provides us a glimpse of the distinction and dispersal tradition’s roots in the antebellum South. He does so by citing Benjamin M. Palmer (1818–1902), an expositor of Ham’s curse during the 1850s, who in the 1870s began applying the Bible’s primeval history to the relationship of the races in the postbellum South. Smith commends Palmer’s view, based on “the declared policy of the Divine Administration from the days of Noah until now,” that “it is indispensable that the purity of race be preserved.” According to Palmer,

The sacred writings clearly teach that, to prevent the amazing wickedness which brought upon the earth the purgation of the Deluge, God saw fit to break the human family into sections. He separated them by destroying the unity of speech; then by the actual dispersion, appointing the bounds of their habitation, to which they were conducted by the mysterious guidance of his will (emphasis added).26

“The first pronounced insurrection against [God’s] supremacy,” Palmer claimed in 1872, was Nimrod’s rebellion at Babel. Here Palmer reflected an aspect of the distinction and dispersal tradition unfamiliar to many contemporary readers (and scholars): the assumption that because Nimrod is associated with Babylon in Genesis 10:10, he must have built the Tower of Babel described in Genesis 11. Nineteenth-century racists seized upon this traditional association and reasoned that since Nimrod was the grandson of Ham through Cush, his tower was essentially a “Negro” integration project.27

Morton Smith was remarkable not only for commending the segregationist exegesis of a notorious proslavery divine in the 1950s, but for continuing to apply the distinction and dispersal tradition to America’s “racial problem” as late as 1964. In an article published that year in The Presbyterian Guardian (a journal associated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), Smith claimed that Genesis provides a strong Christian basis for condemning “integrationists.” While Smith did not argue that Genesis answers every question about the origins of difference, he did maintain that Genesis 11 seems to narrate the origin of languages, national distinctions, and perhaps even “racial origins.”28 In this biblical story, Smith wrote,

we have a divine intervention which broke up the unity of the people. Mankind was seeking to remain together, thus disobeying the command of God to replenish the whole earth. Prior to the flood the human race had demonstrated what it would become if allowed to develop as a single people. Thus God, by a judicial action, intervened, confused their tongues, and scattered the people…Thus God…by his act of judgment intensified the diversity or pluriformity that was inherent in his creation (emphasis added).29

If, as Smith’s reading of the Tower episode suggests, “ethnic pluriformity” is the revealed will of God, then “it is highly questionable whether the Christian can have part in any program that would seek to erase all ethnic distinctions.” This was precisely what Christian segregationists feared in the prospect of integration, Smith wrote, since “the real goal of the integrationist is the intermarriage of the races, and therefore the breakdown of the distinctions between them.”30

Smith concluded his argument with an effort to communicate the Babel episode’s import for white suburban Christians: “One wonders, when he looks at the parallel of the great city planned at Babel, and the intervention of God to prevent sin’s growth, and the modern large cities with their high crime rates, whether the principle of separation started at Babel should not be continued today.”31

The Southern Presbyterian Journal

There are dozens of religious journals to which we might look for evidence of how the Bible was read by segregationists during the civil rights era. Because our inquiry began with an attempt to understand a Southern Presbyterian document (the constitution of Memphis’s Independent Presbyterian Church), it makes sense to explore The Southern Presbyterian Journal (SPJ, after 1959, The Presbyterian Journal), which between 1942 and 1973 was the publication of choice for members of the Presbyterian Church (US) concerned with nascent liberalism in the denomination.32

Between the mid-1940s and late 1950s the SPJ regularly ran articles and editorials that defended segregation, at times with direct reference to the Bible. The first application of the distinction and dispersal tradition to race relations seems to have appeared in March 1944 in an editorial response to the Annual Race Relations Message of the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) by journal founder L. Nelson Bell. One looks in vain at this FCC statement, Bell noted, for recognition of the fact that between “friendly race relations” and “unrestricted social equality” is “a line which must not be crossed.” This “God-ordained racial line,” Bell went on, “was established by God when he made men of different races.” “Why God saw fit to make some men white and some men black may go back to Genesis 9,” Bell observed.33

In 1946 the SPJ included an article by B. W. Crouch, a Presbyterian elder from South Carolina, titled “Dr. Palmer on Racial Barriers.” As Morton Smith would do a decade later, Crouch expounded an argument for segregation from the views of Benjamin M. Palmer, whom the author honored as “among the profound thinkers of a former generation.” According to Crouch, Palmer recognized that blacks and whites “must be separate and free from social intermingling, and neither allowed to cross the bounds set both as taught by history and in God’s word.” Crouch cited the same address Morton Smith would commend to SPJ readers in 1957, in which Palmer argued from Genesis that “the human family, originally one, has been divided into certain large groups for the purpose of being kept historically distinct.” How “sensible” was Palmer, Crouch noted wistfully, compared to those who wish to pull down God-established barriers between the races.34

In 1948 the SPJ published an article by Mississippian J. David Simpson with the rather declarative title “Non-Segregation Means Eventual Inter-marriage.” Claiming that segregation is “definitely Scriptural,” Simpson relied mainly on two passages: Acts 17:26, in which Paul tells his Athenian audience that God has determined “the bounds of [humans’] habitation”; and Genesis 11, about which Simpson asked rhetorically, “What do you think the ‘Tower of Babel’ confusion story in the Scriptures meant if it did not mean that even the races should for the most part establish even their territorial boundary lines for their habitation, as well as racial?” A Bible study published in the SPJ the same year affirmed that “the real division of different groups of men came at Babel.” Segregation might be necessary, according to the study, to control the “hatred, suspicions and cultural differences” stemming from the confusion with which God punished the rebellious people involved in building the Tower.35

J. E. Flow, author of a 1951 SPJ editorial titled “Is Segregation Unchristian?” grounded his assertion that segregation is “in harmony with the plan and purpose of the Almighty Himself” by relying on both aspects of the distinction and dispersal tradition. Flow located distinction in the “stubborn fact” that there are “three most distinct races of men distinguished by the color of their faces, the yellow man, the black man, and the white man,” while he saw dispersal in the judgment at Babel: “When the people began to build the tower of Babel, in the land of Shinar,” Flow wrote, “God interfered and confused their language so that they could no longer understand each other’s speech and were forced to scatter out in different directions.” In Flow’s view, it made no sense to argue that segregation was unchristian if the separation of peoples was initiated by God after the flood.36

In 1956, J. V. N. Talmage, a veteran Presbyterian missionary in Korea, began to contribute pieces to the SPJ that cited archeological and geological evidence to support the accuracy and reliability of the Bible’s primeval history. In one of these, titled “The Tower of Babel,” he analyzed biblical evidence to pinpoint the historical moment of “the great dispersion” after the flood. Just as easy to discern for Talmage was the message of the Bible’s Tower story—that plans for a “one-world government under the control of a few” ignore the fact that “racial and language barriers were set up by divine intervention in order to preserve local freedom.”37

In 1957 Presbyterian Women’s Circle study aids published in the SPJ included an installment on “Nationalism versus Internationalism” by Carl W. MacMurray. When MacMurray offered an account of “why…God divide[d] mankind into separate nations?,” regular readers of the SPJ could not have been surprised: “In Genesis 11:6–8 we learn that mankind at Babel was united in apostasy, and when God saw there was nothing by which they would be ‘restrained’ in their vain imaginations, He confused their language, disrupted their unity, and scattered them abroad.” According to MacMurray, this passage teaches “that the division of mankind resulting in separate nations was a judgment of God designed in mercy to ‘restrain’ human society in its evil course.”38

In 1957 the SPJ published “A Southern Christian Looks at the Race Problem” by G. T. Gillespie, a reworked version of the 1954 address discussed above. Gillespie began a shortened discussion of segregation in the Bible by moving directly to the Tower of Genesis 11: “God, himself, thwarted the first man-made plan of integration by the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, and scattered the peoples abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Gillespie went on to explain that divine providence was “directly responsible for the linguistic differences and other factors which have served to keep the peoples of the earth segregated into tribal, national or racial groups, from prehistoric times down to our day.”39

As these examples indicate, contributors to this mainline Protestant publication were reluctant to claim a clear biblical mandate for segregation of the races. The favored approach was to imply that because separation was revealed as God’s plan in the postdiluvian word, it could not be incompatible with the divine will in the present. This message was communicated using rhetorical questions (“what do you think the Tower of Babel story means if not that racial groups should exist separately?”), condemnations of those who wish to pull down “God-established barriers” between the races, suggestions that segregation “might be necessary” to manage human conflict, and the haunting specter of racial intermarriage. Thus, while the SPJ’s advocacy of segregation through the distinction and dispersal tradition may have been subtle, it was extraordinarily consistent. Almost without exception, when Babel was mentioned in the pages of the SPJ during the 1940s and 1950s, it was in connection to some ill-conceived attempt to bring people or churches together.40

Because references to Genesis 9–11 tended to disappear from the SPJ after the late 1950s, it is perhaps surprising that the distinction and dispersal tradition would find its way into a Presbyterian church’s constitution in 1965. It would appear that, much like the SPJ authors who cited Benjamin M. Palmer a half-century after his death, the founders of Independent Presbyterian Church were self-consciously seeking a return to “the doctrines held by their forefathers in the Presbyterian church.”41

Outside the Mainstream

It is more difficult to track the distinction and dispersal tradition beyond the bounds of mainline Protestantism, where it tends to show up in sermons and tracts rather than in magazines and journals. One preacher clearly indebted to the tradition was Texas Baptist Carey Daniel, who identified a template for segregation in the tripartite division of humankind after the flood, in which God “assigned three parts of the earth (proportionate with their future numbers) to the three sons of Noah and their families.” In Daniel’s view, the Bible “repeatedly forbids the co-mingling of the children of Shem, Ham and Japheth,” a prohibition egregiously violated in the building of the Tower of Babel. Daniel cast Nimrod the tower-builder as “a twofold rebel, a double-dyed anarchist” who resisted both God’s plan of salvation and God’s scheme of racial segregation, the latter by leading people to defy God’s command to “scatter and separate from one another racially.”42

In 1956 another Baptist, New Yorker Kenneth R. Kinney, presented a biblical argument for segregation in The Baptist Bulletin that creatively recapitulated the distinction and dispersal tradition as it had come to be applied to racial segregation.43 Kinney proclaimed his “firm conviction that God ordained, for the period of man’s life on earth, the segregation (which term is the equivalent of the familiar Biblical term ‘separation’) of the three lines which descended from the sons of Noah.”44 Kinney emphasized that one of these segregated groups—the Hamitic—possessed “a spirit of rebellion” that was manifest in Hamite occupation of the Semites’ inheritance in the land of Shinar. “The judgment of Babel,” according to Kinney, resulted from resistance to God’s decree that Noah’s descendants separate and disperse according to plan. Kinney’s solution for Hamite rebellion resonates with the themes of massive resistance:

[They should] return to the proper observation of God’s order; thus to develop their own culture. Thus, we believe, to return to the principle of separate but equal cultures…[I]t would seem that as it was the Hamitic family of old which rebelled against God’s “order,” so their descendants are doing today, aided and abetted by spurious liberals whose bleeding hearts are likely more concerned about votes than about the people involved.45

Furthermore, in Kinney’s view, since God intended the three groups stemming from Noah’s sons to maintain family and national identity, intermarriage between “Japhetic (European), Shemitic (Oriental) and Hamitic (African) groups” ought to be forbidden.

Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, self-published in 1963 by Georgia Pentecostal Finis Jennings Dake, offers glosses on Genesis 9–11 that unmistakably reflect the distinction and dispersal tradition. For instance, Dake claimed, “the 3 sons of Noah were to produce 3 distinct classes of people” such that “all races, colors and types of men came into being after the flood.” Unlike other purveyors of the distinction and dispersal tradition, Dake believed that “the nations were scattered and the earth was divided into continents and islands” only after the tower builders were rebuked. They were led, of course, by Nimrod, who “became a great leader; taught men to centralize…and established the first kingdom and the first great false universal religion opposing God.” Dake characterized Nimrod’s rebellion at Babel as the beginning of “the achievements of lawless tyrants who taught men to revolt against divine laws and duly constituted authority.”46 In comments on Acts 17:26, Dake reprised the theme of divinely ordered dispersion in a brief article titled “Separation in Scripture”:

In spite of a common ancestry, from Adam first and later Noah, it was God’s will for man to scatter over the earth, to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28; 8:17; 9:1). Man’s failure to obey caused God to confuse his language (Gen. 11:1–9) and to physically separate the nations by dividing the earth into continents (Gen. 10:25). Both physically and spiritually, separation has been a consistent theme for God’s people…47

Evidence of the distinction and dispersal tradition in the writings of Christian spokesmen as diverse as Gillespie, Smith, Daniel, Kinney and Dake suggests that it was a well-established and persistent element in the broader Christian defense of segregation. To learn more about the tradition’s origins in nineteenth-century American biblical interpretation, we will explore some of its likely sources.

Slavery and Segregation Revisited

There is some evidence for direct literary influence between proslavery explications of Ham’s curse and the segregationist folk theology that grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.48 But the key thematic links with the nineteenth century are found in readings of Genesis 9–11 that emphasized the unique characters and destinies of Noah’s sons, the refusal of Ham’s descendants to accept their allotment in God’s scheme of land distribution, and God’s enforced separation of peoples after the rebellion at Babel.

Before the Civil War, the notion that Hamites had rebelled against God-ordained dispersion was well-established in popular interpretations of Genesis that emphasized Noah’s curse. Frederick Dalcho, Thomas Smyth, and Josiah Priest were among the proslavery authors who perpetuated the charge that the sons of Ham had usurped land allotted to other descendants of Noah. According to Priest’s Slavery as it Relates to the Negro or African Race (1843), the adaptation of men and animals to their proper geography is “a grand law of God in nature” that was violated with impunity by the descendants of Ham. One of Priest’s contributions to nineteenth-century American biblical interpretation, in fact, was to develop a fully racialized portrait of Ham’s grandson Nimrod that personified rebellion against Noah’s (and God’s) rule.49

Another antebellum source in which the theme of Hamite rebellion figures largely is Jerome Holgate’s 1860 novel Noachidae: or, Noah, and His Descendants. In this 350-page fictionalized retelling of Genesis 6–11, the major villain is Orion (Nimrod), who strenuously resists the dispersion of Noah’s progeny after the flood. Nimrod’s followers arrive on the Plain of Shinar, encounter Semites from the family of Asshur to whom Noah has assigned this region, and refuse to recognize the latter’s land rights. For Holgate, Nimrod’s refusal to acknowledge Noah’s role as God’s viceregent in the postdiluvian world make him an embodiment of Hamite contempt for the divinely-appointed ordering of society.50

Between 1865 and 1910 the interpretive tradition of Hamite rebellion was kept alive by authors such as Buckner H. Payne, who under the pen name “Ariel” wrote The Negro: What Is His Ethnological Status? in 1867. “Ariel’s” surmise that blacks were actually preadamite creatures who survived the flood by boarding the ark with other “beasts of the field” forced him to relinquish the identification of Africans with cursed sons of Ham. But he perpetuated the distinction and dispersal tradition with his claim that Nimrod’s accomplices in tower building were “mostly negroes” who resisted being “scattered over the earth.” It was precisely “to prevent this concentration of power and numbers,” according to “Ariel,” that God “confounded [humans’] language, broke them into bands…and scattered or dispersed them over the earth.”51

Previous reference has been made to Benjamin M. Palmer, who between the 1850s and his death in 1902 studiously applied Genesis 9–11 to the shifting realities of America’s racial landscape. As the appeals to Palmer’s 1872 lecture at Washington and Lee University by B. W. Crouch and Morton H. Smith attest, Palmer’s segregationist reading of Genesis remained well-known into the mid-twentieth century, particularly among Southern Presbyterians. As we have seen, Crouch and Smith found particularly relevant Palmer’s claim that God was determined to “break the human family into sections” in order to limit postdiluvial wickedness. According to Palmer, the first “insurrection” against this plan was the Hamite Nimrod’s plan of consolidation at Babel, which became a paradigm for all subsequent schemes to force together distinct human groups.52

In 1887 Palmer again utilized Genesis as a basis for maintaining separation when he argued against an overture for reunion with Northern Presbyterians. In reminding Southern Presbyterians that “the race problem” constituted “an insuperable barrier” to reunification, Palmer appealed again to Genesis, claiming, “God has divided the human race into several distinct groups, for the sake of keeping them apart.” Having promised Noah that the world would not again be destroyed by flood, God restrained human wickedness by breaking “the unity of human speech” and scattering the tower builders “upon the face of all the earth.”53 Facing a rising tide of pro-reunion sentiment, Palmer stood fast on Scriptural ground he had occupied since the 1850s, alleging that the postdiluvian dispensation in human history is regulated by a divine law of separation. When this law is violated, condemnation is inevitable, as “all the attempts to restore the original unity of the race by the amalgamation of these severed parts” are destined for divine judgment.54

Another postbellum writer who sought to maintain the relevance of Genesis 9–11 for American race relations was J. W. Sandell, a Confederate veteran who was extolling the virtues of the Old South as late as 1907. In The United States in Scripture, Sandell reiterated the efficacy of Noah’s curse, though four decades after the Emancipation Proclamation he was obliged to view it in terms of ungovernability rather than servitude. More importantly, Sandell found the legend of Nimrod and the Tower eminently serviceable as a biblical rationale for racial segregation. God’s response to the Tower of Babel, Sandell wrote, proved that “it is an outrage upon nature to undertake to force the extremes of the races to equality with each other.”55

In the first half of the twentieth century, when segregation and racial hierarchy were largely uncontested among white Bible readers, the principle of separation purportedly taught in Genesis was kept alive in popular biblical commentaries and preaching aids.56 While ignoring the question of Ham and Nimrod’s racial identity, these works reiterated aspects of the interpretive tradition that would be foundational for the eventual recycling of distinction and dispersal by segregationists: 1) Genesis 9–11 sets out the principles upon which our world is founded; 2) God willed that after the flood Noah’s descendants should disperse and repopulate the world; 3) those who resisted this dispersion were very likely led by Nimrod, whose name is connected etymologically with rebellion; 4) the emblems of this postdiluvian defiance were the Hamite usurpation of Semitic land and the building of the Tower of Babel; and 5) God thwarted the rebellion at Babel and dispersed the builders according to the original divine scheme.

That American Bible readers continued to find in Genesis 9–11 a useful resource for interpreting social and political movements into the middle of the twentieth century is reflected in Harry Lacey’s God and the Nations (1947). Deeply concerned by the trend toward postwar internationalism, Lacey advanced the familiar argument that following the Deluge God prepared each land “with a view toward separating the sons of Adam.” God’s decision to divide the human race “rather than communising it,” according to Lacey, contained a clear lesson for the postwar world: current attempts to unify humankind “will be as anti-God in [their] object and prove as disastrous in [their] end as original Babel was.”57


It is evident that the interpretive tradition of distinction and dispersal developed by nineteenth-century exegetes as a way of explaining the destiny of Africans and the relationship between the “races” in America remained operative in scriptural arguments for segregation in the post-Brown era—in sermons, tracts, Bible study aids and even court decisions.58 Why, then, has the connection not received more attention from scholars?

For one reason, it is easy to miss. As we have seen, among the segregationist documents that play on this tradition is G. E. Gillespie’s A Christian View of Segregation, which includes an extended discussion of Providence’s role in creating “distinct racial characteristics,” “segregat[ing] racial groups across the centuries and in our time,” and “scattering” the earth’s peoples as a bulwark against their “permanent integration.” Nevertheless, if one is not attuned to the deeply rooted traditions of biblical interpretation on which Gillespie is drawing, it is easy to be distracted by the essentially demographic approach to the problem of race relations he assumes in the first half of the tract, summarized in boilerplate “secular” claims that segregation is not born of race prejudice, is one of nature’s universal laws, tends to promote progress and does not imply discrimination. Only on page 8 (of 16) does Gillespie begin to lay out the details of his biblical argument for segregation, and only about a quarter of this section of the tract involves the tradition of distinction and dispersal.

In other words, A Christian View of Segregation is a difficult piece to summarize, since, like other segregationist publications from this era, it involves two very different types of argumentation. Historian Joseph Crespino’s comment that Gillespie’s address “attempts to place the debate on segregation on political rather than religious grounds” is not so much wrong as incomplete.59 Indeed, if one is not familiar with the interpretive tradition Gillespie is developing in the tract’s second half, it is tempting to dismiss his biblical arguments as an afterthought. Chappell seems to succumb to this temptation when he describes Gillespie’s position as “hesitant and inconclusive as to its biblical bona fides” and concludes that “even committed segregationists were unwilling to claim biblical sanction.”60

Without doubt the religious argument for segregation was more tentative and muted than the argument for slavery a century earlier. The weakness of the segregationist case is particularly evident when well-known advocates failed even to mention the Bible in their publications, when some who did displayed little confidence or passion, and when leading conservatives such as L. Nelson Bell claimed that “there is no biblical or legal justification for segregation.”61 But these expressions of ambivalence should not obscure an important thread of continuity in the American tapestry of white supremacy, namely segregationists’ reliance on the distinction and dispersal tradition that since the antebellum era had been central to white attempts to establish and reinforce purportedly God-ordained racial destinies.

  1. Minutes of the Session of Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee, October 7, 1957, 3. Compare this statement from Presbyterian leader Morton Smith in July of the same year: “There are genuine differences of opinion among true Bible believing Christians regarding what the Bible teaches about race relations” (“Bible Study for Circle Bible Leadership on ‘Jesus and Citizenship,’ Lesson 8. Brotherhood and Race” Southern Presbyterian Journal [July 7, 1957], 17).

  2. Constitution of Independent Presbyterian Church, Article III, paragraph 2. The roots of the phrase “peace, purity and unity of the Church” are not clear, but it is interesting to note their resonance with the motto of the Mississippi Citizens’ Council publication, appropriately titled The Citizens’ Council, which was “dedicated to the maintenance of peace, good order and domestic tranquility” in the state.

  3. These aspects of Southern kneel-in movements and the responses they provoked in targeted churches are discussed in Stephen R. Haynes, The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  4. The passage is cited in the King James Version.

  5. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for this way of stating the issue.

  6. Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 230; Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 284–5n24; David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), ch. 6.

  7. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 112.

  8. This phrase was coined by Paul Harvey. See Freedom’s Coming, 229–45. Carolyn Dupont says of segregationist folk theology that it “found expression nearly everywhere—in secular newspapers and organizations, at the state’s universities and schools, at county rallies, and in legislative chambers. Though it lay dormant much of the time, when segregation seemed imperiled, it erupted with fury through the normally placed surface of life-as-usual.” See Carolyn Dupont, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945–1975 (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 80.

  9. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 6.

  10. Humphrey K. Ezell, The Christian Problem of Racial Segregation (New York: Greenwich Book Publishers, 1959), 14.

  11. See Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification for American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  12. New York: The William-Frederick Press, 1957. As it turns out, Windham’s “analysis of biblical references” includes very few references to other biblical texts, and these are buried deep in his tract. In fact, the only other places in the Bible he claims teach segregation are those where “Jehovah through the prophets ordered the segregation of his chosen people” (Ibid., 18); see also 8. A list of Old Testament passages purportedly emphasizing God’s will that the Hebrews be separate appears on pages 23–24.

  13. Ibid., 7

  14. Windham refers to this act later as a “grave and ugly sin,” although it is not further characterized (12). Later, Windham writes: “Didn’t Ham’s son uncover his father’s nakedness? Bible scholars need be no more alarmed about the curse on Ham’s descendants than about the curse on Adam, which brought sin to all his kin even down to this generation….” (32). Still later, Windham writes that “Ham committed the sin of uncovering his father’s nakedness” (44).

  15. Ibid., 9.

  16. Ibid., 13. In other places, Windham suggested that segregation is in fact rooted in the curse: “With Adam sin came into the world and with Ham segregation and servitude for his descendants” (19).

  17. For instance, Paul Harvey notes that according to a group called the Birmingham Committee for Religious Truth, “God forced segregation and forbid integration, [and] even changed the tongues of Four Brothers, the sons of Ham, and scattered them abroad”; and he cites a self-described “Bible student” in Birmingham who condemned church publications which ignored the fact that in setting apart the races God had “confounded them and changed their tongues” (Harvey, Freedom’s Coming, 242). David Chappell also provides evidence of segregationist folk theology in the distinction and dispersal tradition in two letters to Billy Graham in 1958. Both mention the Tower of Babel, one writing that “since the Tower of Babel God definitely segregated the races” (Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 254n30).

  18. Gillespie, A Christian View of Segregation, Digital Collection, University Libraries, University of Southern Mississippi, Gillespie’s address was also republished in the Southern Presbyterian Journal (June 5, 1957) and the Natchez Times (November 22, 1954). See Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 251n23. Despite his identity as a pastor and college president representing a mainline denomination, Gillespie apparently influenced some non-elite segregationists, including Billy Ray Hargas, an evangelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma (Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 251n23).

  19. Gillespie, A Christian View of Segregation, 3, 8.

  20. Ibid., 8.

  21. Ibid., 8, 9.

  22. Ibid., 9.

  23. Ibid., 9.

  24. Morton H. Smith, “Bible Study for Circle Bible Leadership on ‘Jesus and Citizenship,’ Lesson 8. Brotherhood and Race,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (July 7, 1957), 18.

  25. Ibid., 19. Smith also discusses God’s insistence on the “segregation of Abraham’s seed” in the Old Testament (intended to insure Israel’s “religious purity,” he writes) and counters integrationist Bible readings of Paul by claiming that the apostle’s doctrine of the unity of the church does not imply that Christians should “forget or seek to erase the God given distinctions.”

  26. Benjamin M. Palmer, The Present Crisis and its Issues, An Address Delivered before the Literary Societies of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., 27th June, 1872 (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1872), 18–19.

  27. Ibid., 19.

  28. Morton H. Smith, “The Racial Problem Facing America,” The Presbyterian Guardian (October, 1964), 125–28; 125.

  29. Ibid., 126.

  30. Ibid. Smith saw the threat of intermarriage illuminated throughout the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 6, where we see “the tragic results of intermarriage between the godly seed and the ungodly.” The “segregation of Abraham’s seed” that resulted from the practice of endogamy, he writes, though ultimately designed to preserve spiritual purity, “was accomplished by means of a racial or ethnic segregation.”

  31. Smith was less confident in the New Testament’s relevance for endorsing segregation, admitting that he “is not able to find any clear teaching of the Scripture that would condemn individual intermarriage”; yet he offered the opinion that because diversity is God’s will for humankind, “any scheme of mass integration leading to mass mixing of the races is decidedly unscriptural” (Ibid., 127, 128).

  32. The recent digitization of the journal by the Internet Archive has made it possible to determine how and how often its contributors applied the distinction and dispersal tradition to the issue of segregation.

  33. L. Nelson Bell, “Race Relations—Whither?” Southern Presbyterian Journal (March 1944), 5. Another application of Genesis 9–11 to racial matters in SPJ appeared later in 1944. A Bible study designed to reveal “the truth about the races” includes this passage: “The Unity of the Race Destroyed, Gen. 10:1 and 11: 1–9. The different races of mankind came from the three sons of Noah, and when they first began their history were united as one. But on the plains of Shinar, the place that later became Babylon, these people of the earth sought to build a tower, not reaching to heaven, but open toward heaven so that they could find the secret of the universe and take the place of God in running the world. As soon as these people sought to run the world without God confusion set in and they were separated. But leaving God out they became confused about and suspicious of each other. Ever since the nations have not understood one another and have been jealous of one another and this has led to much of our trouble.” See “Third Sunday: The White Problem,” SPJ (October, 1944), 23.

  34. B. W. Crouch, “Dr. Palmer on Racial Barriers,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (December 2, 1946), 5–6.

  35. J. David Simpson, “Non-Segregation means Eventual Inter-Marriage,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (March 15, 1948), 6–7; W. G. Foster, “Young People’s Department,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (July 1, 1948), 14–15.

  36. J. E. Flow, “Is Segregation Unchristian?” Southern Presbyterian Journal (August 29, 1951), 4–5.

  37. J. V. N. Talmage, “The Tower of Babel,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (November 21, 1956), 5-6. See also J. V. N. Talmage, “1500 Years after Jarmo,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (October 31, 1956), 6–7. A year later, Talmage published an article in which he argued that “the Biblical story of Nimrod is no myth, but fits in exactly with the latest discoveries.” Nimrod’s Babylonian name, according to Talmage, was Gilgamesh: “With the family of Noah still undivided, Nimrod led them down from the highlands to the plains, now fertile with sufficient rain, and he founded three cities—Babel, Erech and Accad.” See J. V. N. Talmage, “Nimrod the Devout Hunter,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (November 7, 1957), 9–10.

  38. Carl W. MacMurray, “Helps for Circle Bible Study for March,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (February 13, 1957), 11.

  39. G. T. Gillespie, “A Southern Christian Looks at the Race Problem,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (June 5, 1957), 7–12; 11 (emphasis added).

  40. “Christian Race Relations Must Be Natural, Not Forced,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (August 17, 1955), 4. See L. Nelson Bell, “What It Stands for Will Determine Whether the Ecumenical Movement Will Become an Ecclesiastical Tower of Babel or a Spiritual Blessing,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (October 17, 1951), 6–7; L. Nelson Bell, “Babel on the Hudson,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (November 2, 1960), 11; and B. Hoyt Evans, “Three Structures,” Southern Presbyterian Journal (March 7, 1962), 14.

  41. Untitled document celebrating Independent Presbyterian Church’s first year of existence (Archives of Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee).

  42. Carey Daniel, “Segregation’s Archenemy Hiss’ United Nations, Or, Let’s Get the U.S. Out of the U.N.,” in God the Original Segregationist and Seven other Segregation Sermons (n.p, n.d.), 17. Like Festus Windham, Daniel found evidence of a divine blueprint for separation in creation itself. According to Daniel, “if we are to trace the Scriptural doctrine of Segregation to its origin we must go back even behind the tenth chapter of Genesis to the first chapter and the story of Creation. There in that opening passage of the Bible we are told repeatedly for the sake of emphasis—NO LESS THAN TEN TIMES IN FIVE VERSES—that God made each of His creatures ‘after his kind.’…This means that the Lord made each creature with a gregarious instinct so that it would associate only with its own kind and reproduce only after its own kind….Segregation is therefore a Divine Principle that operates throughout all nature, and mongrelization is a sinful and satanic mockery of it….So the Lord pronounced His original creation, this highly segregated creation of His, to be VERY GOOD—not bad. It is the Devil who would have us believe that segregation is bad” (God the Original Segregationist, 15).

  43. Kenneth R. Kinney, “The Segregation Issue,” The Baptist Bulletin (October, 1956): 9–10.

  44. Ibid., 9.

  45. Ibid. Emphasis in original.

  46. Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1991), OT 9, 11.

  47. Ibid., NT 159. This article and other references to separation continued to appear in editions of Dake study Bibles until the late 1990s. See

  48. In a 1953 sermon on Genesis 9:18–27 by J. C. Wasson, a Methodist minister in Itta Bena, Mississippi, the language describing Ham’s offending behavior—that he “had on this occasion treated his father with contempt or reprehensible levity”—appears to be dependent on the nineteenth-century Bible commentary of Adam Clarke, who wrote that “Ham, and very probably his son Canaan, had treated their father on this occasion with contempt or reprehensible levity.” It is likely that this language came to him via antebellum pro-slavery intellectuals, who tended to cite Henry as an authority on the Bible and were fond of the idea—dominant at certain periods in the text’s reception history—that Ham laughed at his father Noah. See Haynes, Noah’s Curse, 40. According to Carolyn Dupont, Wasson’s sermon includes other verities of the proslavery argument, including that “Ham” means hot and signifies “burnt or black.” See Mississippi Praying, 82.

  49. Josiah Priest, Slavery as it Relates to the Negro or African Race (1843. Reprint: New York: Arno Press, 1977), 39.

  50. Jerome B. Holgate, Noachidae: or, Noah and his Descendants (Buffalo, NY: Breed, Butler & Co., 1860), 25. See also 90–91; 143; 147.

  51. “Ariel” [Buckner H. Payne], The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status: Is He the Progeny of Ham? Is He a Descendant of Adam and Eve? Has He a Soul? Or is He a Beast in God’s Nomenclature? What is His Status as Fixed by God in Creation? What is His Relation to the White Race?, 2nd ed. (Cincinnati: n.p., 1867), 32.

  52. Palmer, The Present Crisis and its Issues, 19.

  53. Thomas Carey Johnson, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1906), 472.

  54. Ibid., 472–473. Palmer’s reading of Genesis as a blueprint for “racial” separation can be traced to an 1856 article in The Southern Presbyterian Review, in which he introduced what would become distinctive elements in his perception of the providential ordering of societies. He wrote that following the flood “to prevent admixture of races, these are separated by the occupancy of distinct territory, by opposition of manners, employment and religion, and still more by the power of caste which, as now in India, clearly defined and rendered impassable the boundaries of social life.” See Palmer, “The Import of Hebrew History,” Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April, 1856): 582–610; 591. By the middle of 1861 Palmer was routinely linking Noah’s prophecy with physical separation, and he continued to strike this theme in addresses he gave during the Civil War. See Haynes, Noah’s Curse, ch. 7.

  55. J. W. Sandell, The United States in Scripture: The Union in against the States; God in Government (n.p., Tucker Printing House, 1907), 41, 44, 48. Sandell perceives a similar dynamic at work in America’s “tendency to the centralization of power even at the sacrifice of the rights of the States and the people.”

  56. See Haynes, Noah’s Curse, 114–15.

  57. Harry Lacey, God and the Nations (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1947), 23, 26.

  58. Jane Dailey reveals that during the 1950s court decisions in cases concerning segregation and miscegenation laws (one in the Florida Supreme Court and one in federal court in Virginia) resonated with both parts of what I am calling the “distinction and dispersion” tradition. See “Sex, Segregation and the Sacred after Brown,” Journal of American History 91:1 (June, 2004), 119–44l.

  59. Crespino, In Search of Another Country, 68.

  60. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 110, 112. Oddly, when scholars do acknowledge Gillespie’s reliance on Genesis, they focus on a part of his argument that is inconsequential for Gillespie himself. Chappell, for instance, mentions Gillespie’s mention of “the curse laid on Noah’s son Ham after the Flood,” commenting that he “could not do much with it” (A Stone of Hope, 113). Similarly, Randy J. Sparks expresses shock that Gillespie “returns to the curse of Ham, one of the most enduring misinterpretations of the Bible.” Noting that Mississippi’s defenders of slavery had employed this “mischievous alleged curse” in the antebellum period, Sparks complains that “seeing its reappearance so late in the twentieth century in defense of yet another form of racial discrimination is jarring (Religion in Mississippi [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001], 229). As we have seen, however, Gillespie conspicuously ignores Genesis 9:20–27 and avoids any mention of a curse, slavery or subordination. Apparently, these interpreters’ hyper sensitivity to Ham’s curse has caused them to miss what is really important in Gillespie’s reading of Genesis—his claim that the “general principle of segregation [is] an important feature of the Divine purpose and Providence throughout the ages.” In these scholars’ defense, it should be observed that even Christians who were fighting battles over the Bible at the time tended to misunderstand the way Genesis 9–11 functioned for segregationists. Arkansan Dale Cowling, for example, complained that segregationists were “greatly mistaken in their efforts to prove that God has marked the Negro race and relegated it to the role of servant.” Mississippian Clyde Gordon wrote in a similar vein, condemning the idea that “Noah placed a curse on Ham and he became black.” However, few if any of the segregationist Christians whose writings are extant, even among non-elite folk theologians, actually made such claims. Chappell acknowledges as much when he writes that “antisegregationists and moderates refer to Bible stories like the curse on Ham more often than prominent segregationists do” (See Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 116).

  61. Chappell, A Stone of Hope, 115, 117, 126, 250n20.