Thinking White: John E. White, the Social Gospel, and Southern Identity

C. Douglas Weaver

Professor, Baptist Studies
Baylor University

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C. Douglas Weaver, "Thinking White: John E. White, the Social Gospel, and Southern Identity," Journal of Southern Religion (23) (2021):

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In 1929, John Ellington White was elected president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and then the first Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) the following year. The prominent Georgia pastor had developed a strong reputation in Southern Baptist circles as one of the convention’s best preachers and chief critics opposing the use of creeds for doctrinal unity.[1] His death in 1931 precluded a likely future term as SBC president.[2] White was one of Southern Baptists’ most ecumenical ministers with friendships that crossed many denominational lines.[3] White’s time in Atlanta as pastor of Second Baptist Church (1901-1916) especially defined the public face of his career. Georgia’s wealthiest Baptist congregation, Second Baptist Church, was home to many of Atlanta’s civic leaders and Southern Baptist denominational executives, and it was second to none in influence and importance in Georgia Baptist life.[4]

As an advocate of the New South, White was the most prominent Baptist social gospel minister in Atlanta for the first two decades of the twentieth century. Academic debate about how to best define the social gospel is ongoing and reveals more than one way to understand it. The social gospel is a movement traditionally identified with liberal Christianity and the rampant economic issues that accompanied the rising industrialization and urbanization in the North in the late nineteenth century. Recent scholars have pointed out the working-class foundation of the social gospel, thus predating the work of familiar theologians like Walter Rauschenbusch.[5] Some scholars use the term social Christianity and apply it, especially in the South, where theological liberalism and the concept of social salvation were much less evident. Wayne Flynt has emphasized that the social gospel was present among Baptists in the South, even if it was not extensive, and rural manifestations were not excluded. Flynt’s research revealed that Southern social gospelers did not abandon their evangelical emphasis on individual conversion.[6] Recently, Carol Crawford Holcomb has spoken of a broad social Christianity, but she emphasized social gospel examples and influences among Southern Baptist female mission leaders.[7]

This essay views the advocacy of John White as a key Southern Baptist social gospel expression integral to the heyday of the Progressive[8] Movement—the socio-political reaction against the excesses of corporate capitalism.[9] Paul Harvey noted that Southern Baptist progressives personified the rise of middle class Protestants in the era of the New South.[10] Scholars of Progressivism like William Link briefly cited John White as one of Southern Baptists’ strongest voices for social reform during the Progressive movement in the early years of the twentieth century.[11] In his discussion of Southern Baptist social attitudes, John Lee Eighmy said that White was keenly interested in “social betterment” and “had earned a distinction as a dry crusader, an advocate of better race relations, and a promoter of mission work among the mountain people.”[12] Eighmy correctly identified the major planks of White’s social advocacy, but no analyst has given adequate attention to the Atlanta minister’s views of race as the fundamental core of his social gospel program. White provides a leading model of a racialized social gospel progressivism intended to perpetuate a distinctive southern (and Baptist) identity.[13]

At the turn of the twentieth century, Progressive era leaders inherited and perpetuated an American society in which beliefs in white supremacy/Anglo-Saxon superiority were normalized characteristics for the white majority. According to David Southern, the Progressive Era “has long been hailed for its democratic idealism, its governmental innovations, and its quest for social justice,” yet, “the progressive conscience never seriously challenged the color line.”[14] Southern and other recent scholars of race in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America concur with the blunt language of Rayford W. Logan’s earlier book title, The Betrayal of the Negro.[15] After the Radical Reconstruction, which featured black voting rights and some political participation from African Americans, a “nadir” in race relations occurred during the tenure of President William McKinley (1897-1901). In the words of African American leader W.E.B. Du Bois regarding the Reconstruction era, “the slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”[16] Politics beyond McKinley featured the Anglo-Saxon supremacist views of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. White churches were complicit in perpetuating white supremacy.[17]

“Racist firebrands,” or “race baiters,” which reflected the opinions of the majority of whites in the South, had five common values, according to David Southern. They were concerned about 1) the threat of the “New Negro,” one no longer satisfied with being insubordinate and deferential to whites; 2) the completion of disenfranchisement of Black people; 3) establishment of Jim Crow laws detailing a segregated society; 4) the role of education in the lives of African Americans (most whites were not in favor of Booker T. Washington’s promotion of industrial education, much less broader educational opportunities); and 5) maintaining a justice system that favored whites (and thus was not anti-lynching).[18]

Many Progressives on economic issues developed a defeatist attitude regarding racial issues. Moderate Progressives who addressed racial issues—not the more radical “race-baiters”—included journalists and ministers. They were steeped in beliefs of white supremacy, however. They affirmed with their more radical colleagues the need for disenfranchisement and Jim Crow segregation laws. At the same time, they supported the need for black education, especially the kind that Booker T. Washington promoted. These Progressives also spoke against lynching. The ministers usually affirmed the Social Gospel and at least grappled with the defeatist attitude found in some activists regarding race.[19]

John White was a moderate, Baptist adherent of Progressivism whose Social Gospel was rooted in a proud, distinctive Southern identity that foregrounded white supremacy as the key to progress for both Black and white people. His understanding of Anglo-Saxon supremacy was linked to Lost Cause orthodoxy.[20] His love for the antebellum South and the Confederate legacy of Robert E. Lee reflected the ethos of the Lost Cause, which mythologized southern honor in the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. His social reform desired better race relations but paradoxically only in the limited context of white supremacy. White was no doubt captive to southern culture; however, he viewed himself as a prophet of progressive change to improve and secure it. In 1915, after having been in Atlanta fifteen years, White coined the phrase “thinking white” to encapsulate his growing convictions about the southern social gospel program. The way to handle the “race problem” was to move beyond it, and cease obsessing about it as if whites were not innately superior. White Southerners must seize the moment and implement “thinking white”[21] as the best way of securing Anglo-Saxon supremacy permanently as the religious-social cornerstone of southern identity. Whites must put themselves first with a righteous sense of selfishness—this was thinking white—and when doing so, others, even African Americans, would benefit and find their own segregated southern identity. White supremacy—explicitly naming it thinking white—was not simply tangential or a byproduct of White’s vision. It was the sine qua non of southern progress and the southern social gospel.

John White as a Social Gospel Advocate

During his ministerial tenure in Atlanta, John White served in 1914 as the Vice-President of the socially progressive Southern Sociological Congress (SSC). Earlier in 1912, he had served on the Church and Social Service Committee of the SSC.[22] White also chaired the Committee on Social Service for the state convention of Georgia Baptists.[23] White’s leadership in the sociological congress and state denominational social concerns was not surprising, given that he was never hesitant to express his social views in public newspapers like the Atlanta Constitution, in Baptist news outlets, or in sermons delivered to his Atlanta congregation (summaries of which appeared in the public newspaper regularly).

White’s advocacy reflected the influence of various sources and facets of the Social Gospel.[24] He cited economist Richard Ely to affirm that the golden rule was “the economic interpretation of Christianity.”[25] Like Josiah Strong and other social gospelers, White argued that solving the problems of the city was the most difficult problem in the country.[26] He could praise John D. Rockefeller for “manhandling wealth”—triumphing over greed and exhibiting genuine charity—and thus unlike most wealthy industrialists. Perhaps White lauded (or excused) Rockefeller because he was a Northern Baptist philanthropist who generously supported Baptist causes,[27] but the Atlanta minister warned against business interests which surrendered to the “shrine of the almighty dollar” and “the antichrist of selfishness.”[28]As a good Progressive, White condemned child labor and supported the rights of workers. According to White, “If conditions of America are against the workingman, they are against good work and therefore against progress.”[29] He opposed an industrial war between white labor and capital and warned his congregants, Unless they (‘workingmen’) do organize, nothing is more certain than that they will be ground to powder.”[30]

White’s public advocacy addressed a wide array of social issues. In a letter to the Atlanta Constitution, he accused the electric-gas corporation monopoly in Atlanta for overcharging customers unable to fight back.[31] Rare among Southern Baptists he expressed ecological concerns. While focusing on the “conservation of moral resources” he noted that “corporation squatters” were damaging the environment, and because of their actions, “mountain slopes will be denuded of forests.”[32] White also argued for prison reform and his congregation had ministries at the city jail and with the homeless at a local Rescue Mission.[33]

The urban side of White’s social gospel extended to warnings about gambling and the theater. On one occasion, he was proud that Christians had attended and supported the state fair in Georgia and did so without caving in to gambling interests. He and other ministers railed against “pool selling” at the fair and he denounced betting at races.[34] In his view of the theater, White attempted to straddle the lines of purity and separation from anti-Christian cultural practices on the one hand, and the privilege of public entertainment for urbanites with economic means on the other hand. White said that he had been to the theater only once in his life and did not think an indiscriminate denunciation of theater entertainment was justified. In a 1907 letter to the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, White wrote that playwright and novelist Thomas Dixon Jr., who touted white supremacy in his works, had worshipped at Second Baptist Church and invited White to “occupy his box” to attend the play.[35] According to White, he declined the invitation because he believed his attendance would indicate general approval of the theater industry.[36] Unsurprisingly, no hint was given that the play, evidently The Clansman, later turned into the racist movie The Birth of a Nation (1921), was opposed because of any racial sensitivity.

White ultimately discouraged theater patronage because of the industry’s ties to sexual promiscuity. “The majority of plays that come to Atlanta do no good and suggest evil in a fascinating glamour,” White opined. In general, White exhibited the Baptist condemnation of sexual promiscuity and he feared its deleterious effect on the urge for business profit. For example, White was especially incensed that the majority of the owners of the “recognized disorderly houses in Atlanta (houses that had ‘265 girls’)” were members of Atlanta churches. He urged his fellow ministers to erase these owners from the rolls of church membership if they did not cease their immoral business practices.[37] His concern for “disorderly houses” paralleled his warnings about mulattoes and the sexual escapades tied to their births.[38]

White’s social reform language on economic issues reflected typical Social Gospel concerns for an emerging Atlanta urban life in the early twentieth century. His broad societal concerns, however, were seen most intensely in his race-based Social Gospel concerns and solutions. An early indicator was his approach to educational missions to Appalachia.[39]

John White, Anglo-Saxon Superiority, and Appalachian Mountaineers

One of the earliest concerns of John White’s race-based southern progressivism was his social gospel educational reform for “pure” Anglo-Saxon stock in the southern Appalachian region. During the 1870-1880s, the mythical lore of Anglo-Saxon supremacy had invaded reflections about the character of the Appalachian region. Amid rising concern about the rapid influx of immigrants to the United States and the racial tensions inherent in the postbellum era, white intellectuals popularized the concept of Appalachia as a region of Anglo-Saxon purity. Anglo-Saxon whiteness was a key to the survival and dominance of the nation, according to the script that Progressive leaders accepted and later promoted. This portrait emphasized unmixed, white racial purity forged by the physical isolation of the region, sexual purity or femininity, and cultural purity or seclusion from corrupting cultural influences.[40]

At the same time, white leaders, including Northern missionaries, spoke of the sin and moral turpitude they found in the region. The famous feud of the Hatfields and McCoys illustrated the unruly behavior and violence that complicated the portrait of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Mountain settlement schools ostensibly were built to provide social uplift for poor, isolated white Appalachians.[41] Scholars of the Appalachian region like David Whisnant, however, have criticized the development of schools for mountain children as modernizing efforts that revealed the drive for social control by outsiders. He and others, though not without significant revisionist objections, have written extensively about how the mountain schools were forms of cultural intervention and condescension often led by Northern social gospel-supporting missionaries.[42] Amid the debate regarding social control, the scholarly assessment of the role of race in the late nineteenth-century Appalachian story affirms the “centrality of racial conceptions as a motivating factor in public constructions and persona of the mountaineer.”[43] For example, Whisnant highlighted the career of the Hindman Settlement School’s first graduate and later university professor, Josiah Combs, who reflected the region’s belief that “‘Anglo-Saxon blood’ and ‘Teutonic instincts’ were (to him) not mere mental constructs but concrete characteristics that determined individual behavior and social structure and development.”[44]

The story of race in the Appalachian region (and beyond) at the turn of the century included beliefs—even among mainstream American commentators and anthropologists—in eugenics and scientific racism. Progressive era leaders warned that African Americans had “black hereditary inferiority”—they were “lazy, thriftless and unreliable” and would soon attain “utter worthlessness.” Black workers, then, would adversely affect white people’s (economic) progress.[45]White’s social gospel advocacy regarding Appalachia—the region was key to his understanding of southern identity—revealed his understanding of the broader racial dynamics in the population of the South. He never explicitly relied on the language of eugenics, but his views certainly were compatible with the desire to highlight and nurture absolute white racial purity.

White made use of a biblical analogy to divide the population into a progressive-era hierarchy: “The lame man lies at the gate called Beautiful—eighteen million lame men, at our beautiful gates are challenging twelve million as they go up to their temple to pray.”[46] He divided the southern population into two primary categories. Twelve million were strong and eighteen million were weak. The twelve million strong were the white elite—intelligent, educated, property owners, business entrepreneurs of the New South. “In culture and morals (they) are comparable with any phalanx of civilization,” White declared.[47] The eighteen million weak were divided into purgatorial rungs on a descending ladder. African Americans made up ten million, the largest number in the non-elites. They were the lowest rung of the ladder; “their regiments cover the rear of Southern progress.”[48] Eight million of the less civilized were white southerners. Five million of these were a clear notch above African Americans—they were white—but their lack of success bequeathed to them the designation “poor whites” or the tenant workers who did not own property. White noted that this group resented the term “poor whites,” a derogatory epitaph commonly used by Northerners. He suggested that he also disliked the term, yet acknowledged that the group most represented the problem of White illiteracy in the South.[49] White noted that while there were exceptions, this group consisted of under-achievers and was “anaemic” [sic], exhibiting a “general apathy and a contented indifference to opportunity, except in a mechanical response to necessity of labor.”[50] Their inadequacies certainly complicated the affirmation of Anglo-Saxon superiority although White never doubted foundational white supremacy. His hope for the eighteen million lie with the remaining three million—white citizens of the mountain regions. White advocated for these Southerners with unabashed enthusiasm but knew there were challenges to confront.[51] He gave some mountaineers a blunt negative assessment of their deficient status. They had “an undeveloped missionary conscience, indisposition to cooperate, appalling waste of intellectual capacity, an uneducated ministry, and churches largely untouched by the spirit of the daily Christian activity.”[52] The ministers in the mountains still had the “extreme Calvinism” of the “old time religion” and they exhibited envy toward one another.[53]

White’s assessment toward white mountaineers never caved to despair, however, as it did toward others—“poor whites” and African Americans. White believed mountaineers could rise far and quickly with Christian education—the method of the Appalachian race-based, progressive social gospel. “Their lawlessness is not depravity or moral degeneration,” White contended, “the people are not degraded; they have simply not been ‘graduate(d) up.’”[54] Their potential was endless: “a people of such infinite capacity to be made powerful by education and development.”[55] White was especially impressed with their “strong individuality,” “keen personal intelligence” and “dynamic quality.” He elaborated that the dynamism referred to “a stored up strength only awaiting opportunity.”[56] Further, he sympathized with the whites who lived a mostly backward material, social existence, respecting their desire not to be branded “mountain whites as if they were some particular and peculiar breed of cattle.” All people are backward in some sense, even the best in American society, White rationalized.[57] Isolation was the main cause for the people of the mountains’ current status, but was not insurmountable.[58]  “The Mountaineer is not a liability. He is an asset,” White asserted. “The mountain people are not a drag on anybody’s missionary pity, but an investment for anybody’s missionary dollar, who wants his dollar to last the longest and do the most for God and humanity.”[59]

White’s optimism was grounded in his racial understanding of the people of the southern mountains. His sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority was mythic in proportion. The mountaineers possessed a “quality of native stock”; they were ninety-eight percent “Caucasian,” mostly Scot-English and Scot-Irish.[60] “Their backwardness is not a taint of the blood. There is no ancestral degeneracy to be reckoned with, no harsh inward handicap of heredity… as in the stubborn racial background of the negro,” White opined in the language of scientific racism.[61] In a speech to the annual meeting of the SBC (1900), White told Southern Baptists that their mountain neighbors were “a rich treasury of red blood and new brain cells. It is a noble, generous people with a capacity for development almost infinite.”[62]

Given the pedigree of their white race, White refused to see limits to the potential of white mountaineers and their ability to contribute to a southern identity that found its ultimate expression in Anglo-Saxon supremacy. They were “hardy, vigorous, liberty-loving patriots”—“descendants of the best folks who came to America”—who were “fully imbued with the original ideals of the American republic.”[63] While White admitted that the isolation of the mountaineers resulted in their backwardness, and even if inbreeding was an issue, they still had “unspoiled souls” with no “degeneration of mountain stock.”[64] Mountaineer ignorance had “no dullness in it, and none of the features of imbecility. It is ignorance of an interesting, almost splendid, sort.”[65]

Given White’s optimism about the uneducated white people of Appalachia, he earned a reputation for being a pioneer in support of their basic education. He advocated for educational work to be sponsored by both state missions and home missions of the SBC. As the state secretary of North Carolina Baptists in the late 1890s, White wrote multiple pamphlets and articles exhorting Southern Baptists to meet their obligations to do Christian education to the mountaineers.[66]  In 1900, he presented a “general plan,” supported by other well-known Southern Baptist leaders, to increase Baptist education efforts at the high school level. The mountaineers were Baptists, but the primary work in the mountains was being done by the Presbyterians—a fact that a Baptist triumphalist (even with an ecumenical disposition) like White strongly lamented.[67] Evangelizing the mountaineers was not enough, White reminded fellow Baptists. In their current condition they are “dwarfed to a potato patch. And this from a mere lack of education.”[68] The people desperately needed education to secure their society and their place in it. Educational advocacy would allow white supremacy to flourish permanently. Assuming that the emerging industrialization and commercialization would encroach upon the mountains, White highlighted the balm of his socially transforming, religiously anchored southern white identity, “It is the highest patriotism and the best Christianity that today steps in to prepare the mountain man for the dangers and the duties that are soon to be his.”[69]

John White, Anglo-Saxon Superiority, and African Americans

John White’s social gospel advocacy was rooted in a self-perception of southern white supremacy. He exhibited a proud southern identity characterized by a robust sense of divinely-sourced exceptionalism. Southerners were a “peculiar people”—clearly a biblical reference applied to make white Southerners God’s chosen people—and especially different from Northerners.[70] White went beyond any simple dichotomy with the North, however. While affirming that Southerners were Americans, he cautioned against any kind of melting pot or unifying concept that erased sectional identity. White insisted, “We are Americans…. (but) our Americanism will never be of the kind that can say, without reservation, ‘No North, no South, No East, No West.’ There is for us a South. God created it. History has confirmed it. Experience has sanctified it.”[71] He stoutly affirmed Anglo-Saxon superiority, but White reminded southerners that just having white skin was not automatically special—Russians were white—and earlier Anglo-Saxons were simply pagan heathens drowning in false Druid worship before Jesus Christ redeemed the race and made Anglo-Saxonism a proud moniker of English history.[72]

          White’s Anglo-Saxon supremacy was a southern version tethered to the adulation of Jesus, George Washington, and especially Robert E. Lee. He drew on the typical imagery of Washington and Lee as genteel southerners to characterize and to laud southern honor and dignity. Southern whites embodied a unique glory, not just because they were white, but because they followed the examples of these two political, cultural southern heroes.[73] Delivering a eulogy for an Atlanta church member, White praised the deceased as a graduate of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He exhorted, “The young man who graduates in the college chapel at Lexington, Va., under the spirit that breathes out from the sarcophagus of Robert E. Lee carries a diploma richer than college senates can confer.”[74]         

At a speech White delivered at Trinity College (later Duke University), he discussed “the true and false in Southern life.” White admonished listeners to judge their lives by the “calm and steady face” of Washington and upon “the knightly figure of Lee.”[75] In contrast to a Spanish knight—whom he characterized as “waspish, vengeful, morbid”—Lee’s chivalry “was characterized by a fair and open give-and-take with something of a beautiful respect for opponents… He never cursed his antagonists, did not even speak of them as the ‘enemy,’ but always as ‘those people,’… He was Southern knighthood in flower.”[76]

In one of his most personal publications, White wrote about the legacy that his father, a Baptist pastor and “my old Confederate” soldier, bequeathed to him.  According to White, his father admonished him to emulate a yet unnamed mystery idol.

I bid you seek the sheltering manhood of a man who will never die in this land. I sometimes think he may yet mean more to the South than ever. Seek the counsel of his spirit, the sweet persuasion of his voice. He was copied after Jesus Christ the Son of God and he was a Southerner, tried and true, the best shape of mortal hero-man any people ever had to mark by. Follow him and you will not go wrong.[77]

He concluded with a final reverential reflection about his father and his hero—both figures embodying the noble white South.  White wrote, “My old Confederate had grown quite calm and there was worship in his voice. He had spoken no name. My own heart was still. It was the calmness of a great Presence he had summoned to stand beside me—the great white soul of the South—Robert E. Lee.”[78]

John White lived in the era of the rise of the Lost Cause—the explanation of the Civil War that refused to admit that support of slavery was immoral, coupled with an adulation of the southern way of life epitomized in the hallowing of the trinitarian constellation of Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. His father implored him not to rest in the language of Lost Cause—there was no lost cause in the South but rather “a heritage of valor and human glory.”[79] White was a supporter of the Lost Cause—he highlighted Lee no less than any Lost Cause advocate—but he also chose to focus his southern identity more in what he considered the glorious heritage of the American Revolution and subsequent antebellum days than in Civil War or postbellum heroics. He fused Washington and Lee so one should not be taken without the other. “There is no heroism of Confederate days not traceable to the older Southern life,” White declared.[80] He denied that slavery or the Civil War was the root cause of “arrested development” of moral and social leadership in the New South. In his romanticized retrospective view, slavery was “almost a philanthropy.”[81]

White concluded that the South had developed a misguided obsession with one issue at the turn of the twentieth century. His social reform was linked to race:  “the question of the negro.” When promoting progressive New South strategies, White admonished Southerners to look outward at broader concerns and new economic opportunities.[82] Self-absorption on the “negro problem” hindered the progress of a distinctive southern identity, which required Whites thinking more about themselves and putting more emphasis on their white supremacy. White concluded, “You shall not crucify Southern manhood upon this African cross.”[83]

White’s understanding of the “negro problem” demonstrated his racism. His language was harsh and condescending, a natural conclusion looking back at his writings. African Americans were “negro brutes,” “sluggish,” and the “racial pity of the world.”[84] A “dark distinctness” characterized their plight, according to White, “They are like the sands for multitude, a thick and sluggish mass! A heavy burden! A ten-million armed necessity! A net of Satan for our feet or a trial of God for our sincerity!”[85] White certainly found many fellow Baptists that did not even want to assist African American progress or even expend funds to evangelize them. On one occasion, when countering the resistance, he told Baptists in North Carolina that not all Black people were the same and that those in the Tar Heel state were not as “backward” as Black people in Louisiana.[86]

Like other moderate Progressives who affirmed white supremacy, White accepted that African Americans were part of southern society, even suggesting that the South was their special home. He claimed, “The negroes know every day and every night that they are at home and among the people who want them as none others could. Looking into the heart of the white people on this subject there is found a deep sense of the fitness of the providence that put the negro in the south.”[87] Of course, this acceptance was only on terms compatible with white supremacy and African Americans knowing their appropriate place of inequality in the hierarchical southern social order.

The southern identity of whites typically included strong and pervasive fears of miscegenation.[88] According to Jane Dailey, miscegenation was considered an attack on the concept of southern honor. White supremacists conflated masculinity, political and sexual identity. They feared that political equality would eventuate into calls for the sexual equality of black males. Because women were the bearers of the white race, they must be kept pure from African Americans.[89] Accordingly, White asserted, “as a Southern man I share in a deep-seated aversion to anything like social equality with the colored people.”[90] Echoing some of the scientific racism and racial stereotypes of his day, White argued that “deterioration inheres in all mongrelism.” The mixing of races did not help Black people—as an affirmation in white supremacy might logically deduce—because any gift of “mental superiority” from white blood was countered by a “reduction of physical virility.”[91]

White, like other white southerners, worried about sexual misconduct of Black men toward southern white women. When discussing miscegenation, however, his utter embarrassment and discomfort with the mere existence of “mulattos” was accompanied by sharp rebukes of white men’s promiscuity.  He declared, “The mulatto challenges the sincerity of the white man’s resolution against social equality. He is the living proof of equality on the level of vice. The mulatto is not, and cannot be, a happy human being in the South…. Every mulatto man is a tragedy.”[92] White concluded that white men who were responsible for mulatto children must receive society’s “severest punishment”—which quite likely was sterilization—until the racial problem of mulattos became extinct.[93] His attitude toward miscegenation revealed the paradoxes possible in his southern social gospel. Individual sexual sin, which necessitated personal repentance, affected the whole community’s racial identity. It was a communal problem and demanded societal punishment and rejection. In other words, miscegenation and the existence of mulattos were barriers to the preservation of the racial purity of southern identity.

Amid such strong reactions against social equality/interracial sexual relations—the intensity of which sounded more like the fears of race-baiters—White’s moderate progressive attitude revealed at least some conflicted reflections, almost including an admission of guilt that his strong opposition to social equality of the races had limits. “My own conviction is unalterably fixed in one thing,” he wrote, “that I will not further dechristianize my inborn, intrained, well enthroned prejudice against every phase of social equality by letting it shape my vote as a citizen, my duty as minister of Christ for all men or my respect for virtue and character wherever I may find it.”[94] White’s self-perception was that racial separation was biblical and thus white supremacy was certainly not racist. He knew, however, that many southerners extended their fear of social equality to a refusal to find anything positive in African American character, or to invest in the improvement of Black life in any manner, and White attempted to draw some boundary line. He sounded like an echo of antebellum southerner and Baptist leader Richard Furman who had called African Americans a child-race, but who argued that slaves were capable of being educated, evangelized, and treated kindly.[95] Of course, these capabilities were deeply truncated in White’s view of Black inferiority in comparison to the currently uncivilized but “pure stock” white mountaineers.

Southern society was hierarchical, even if White occasionally spoke a word of praise about African Americans. He acknowledged that there were a “large number of capable and honest (black) preachers.” At the same time, he lamented that Black churches were hard on their leaders because of the “almost total lack of financial responsibility among the masses of his people.”[96] The educational emphasis of White’s social gospel was evident in his view of the common-sense necessity of educating African Americans. He regretted that the North had done more for the education of Black people than the South. White further admitted that many southerners were indifferent and many were opposed to helping African Americans.[97]

Similar to his focus on education for white Appalachians, White’s social gospel approach for African Americans linked racial uplift to education. Education would not upset the segregated hierarchy of white supremacy. White had high praise for Booker T. Washington’s “Tuskegee idea” that focused on industrial education as the best way for African Americans to find their place and accept their subordinate identity in a segregated southern society. In White’s assessment, Washington “was a great man. I will be at pains not to say that he was a great negro or a great man among the negroes. He was a great man anyhow… And yet the fact that he was a negro is to be insisted on if he is properly admired. This was his fate, but it was also his fortune.”[98] He allowed for the exception of Washington while he criticized African Americans in general. “Patience also played a great part in his career,” White wrote, “Consider the sluggish, disappointing human mass he has engaged up. It was not the unusual negro he took for his main task, (but) the ‘the man farthest down.’”[99] For White, a social gospel of industrial education for racial uplift was part of the plan to sustain white supremacy.

Even though White put limits on his educational goals of racial uplift, he had to confront other Baptists who criticized support for Washington or any paternalistic efforts of racial uplift. White admitted to doubters that progress was slow but he urged patience. A firm belief in white supremacy and southern white religious exceptionalism did not mean that whites always demonstrated their superiority in their daily lives. If that was the case, then what could be expected of African Americans?

We are working at what we call the negro problem. It’s the problem of David and Absalom over again. The education of a race is a proposition on which God alone lives long enough to figure out. He who has been working on it for cycles must smile with our impatience at the negro. If after a thousand years of advantage we Caucasians are begetting Absaloms, rakes, spendthrifts, liars, drunkards, gamblers, cutthroats, thieves, murderers and moral and physical lepers, we ought at least be patient with the black Absaloms who are only two hundred and fifty years out of jungles and only a generation from slaves and whose immediate heredity and environment are, to say the least, low and ignoble.[100]


White argued that Black people—the new version of the rebellious Absalom against his elders—if treated with patience could “improve.” They did not possess “pioneering power” or “initiative ability” like white mountaineers but did have the “capacity of response.” Progressive southern identity secured and sustained by a race-based Social Gospel needed African Americans to reach their limited potential through education to contribute to the hierarchical, segregated southern society. Black people desperately could use even the passive uplift provided by “noble examples” of white character and leadership to find their own southern identity.[101]

John White, Anglo-Saxon Supremacy, African Americans, and Prohibition

One of the central themes of Progressive leaders at the outset of the twentieth century was the prohibition of alcohol as a common societal good. Evangelicals, including Baptists, in the late nineteenth century usually objected to the mixing of politics and religion. They referred to the “spirituality of the church” to insist that the church should not be involved in the political realm. They had attempted to use the argument in their defense of slavery during the slavery crisis—northern abolitionists were interjecting slavery, a civil issue, into the life of the church. In the postbellum period, evangelicals still spoke of the spirituality of the church, but they entered the political arena on the issue of alcohol and prohibition. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, they shifted from making moral arguments against alcohol consumption to legal remedies and generally highlighted the specter of social ills and alcohol-related crime rather than proof texting Scripture in their methods of attack.[102]

Joe Coker has noted that by the 1890s any original optimism among whites about Black uplift had essentially dissipated. The rhetoric and substance of the Lost Cause won; disenfranchisement of Black people became the goal to maintain and sustain a white-dominated social order. Prohibition became the rallying cry to cure black crime and keep the culture of the New South safe and secure. The early prohibition movement included Black leaders too, but they soon understood that cooperating with white prohibitionists would not improve their social condition. Postbellum white leaders were not averse to tying prohibition to immorality and character defect among African Americans.[103] In 1908, Georgia became the first state to affirm the full prohibition of alcohol. A trigger event had been the Atlanta Riot of 1906, an event that Whites blamed on the hated beverage. Prohibition, according to Coker, had become a symbol of the increasing political power of white evangelicals in the political realm.[104]

John White was at the forefront of progressive religious leaders who advocated for prohibition.[105] The Atlanta pastor did so in public newspapers and in public lectures. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union met at his church.[106] For Social Gospelers like White, advocacy for prohibition became key to the regulation of segregated society.[107]

The trigger event for White’s strong public involvement in the drive for Prohibition was the severe Atlanta race riot of 1906. The riot was one of around forty large-scale riots in the country between 1898 and 1908. Charles Crowe argued that the 10,000 white rioters were the by-product of the “vituperative” race-baiting gubernatorial campaign of populist, Progressive Hoke Smith. According to Crowe, throughout the summer of 1906, various whites publicly urged more repression of Black people and increased their accusations that Black men were raping white women. White leaders argued that “vagrancy” (the derogatory term for unemployed African Americans) and “dives” (especially saloons and poolrooms that catered to “vagrants”) were the sources of crime and sexual assault.[108] Recent analysts of the riot have suggested that leading progressive white Atlantans—the “commercial-civic elite”—feared “negro dominance,” which meant voting rights and ultimately social equality.[109] According to David Godshalk, “in white men’s minds, a black man’s assault on a white woman constituted a power grab for black political and social dominance.”[110] Leading progressive whites fretted not only about rising Black crime but about losing control of a developing urban Black culture amid the rising urbanization in Atlanta which had public spaces—especially sidewalks and streetcars—where segregation could not sustain white purity.[111]

By September 1906, according to Charles Crowe, the fears of unrest had placed Whites “in a state of siege” because they felt susceptible to a “torrid wave of black lust and fiendishness.”[112] When the riot erupted, many of these Black social establishments were destroyed. The white rioters were mostly from the poor, lower classes, those most threatened economically by the presence of Blacks in Atlanta’s economy.[113] After the violence subsided, one White person had died, whereas twenty-five African Americans were killed with 150 wounded and over 1000 evacuating Atlanta.[114] In the aftermath of the riot, tensions remained high. Civic leaders convinced the New York touring company doing Thomas Dixon’s racist play, The Clansman, to cancel a return visit to Atlanta with the hopes of assisting damage control to Atlanta’s image.[115] City officials appointed an investigative committee, which asserted that inflammatory journalism from Atlanta newspapers had contributed to the incendiary atmosphere during the days before the riot. Recent commentators contend that Atlanta’s white ministers had done little to discourage mob violence and that police did little to intervene and were generally sympathetic to the poor, white rioters.[116] Gregory Mixon even argued that that the white elite progressive reformers willingly used violence to keep their political power. According to Mixon, the riot “was part of a region wide effort to make blacks politically vulnerable and then to terminate their access to power.” He concluded, “The riot installed disfranchisement as the capstone to decades of political reform and institutionalized segregation as the dominant form of race relations.”[117]

In the aftermath of the Atlanta race riot, several solutions were offered regarding racial problems in Atlanta. Ex-governor William J. Northern, a prominent layperson in Baptist circles, developed a plan to have bi-racial committees/anti-lynching leagues in 100 locations across the state in an attempt to overcome racial antagonism. Northern’s approach was paternalistic and unsurprisingly based on white supremacy as Black people, in order to help solve the race problem, had to abandon their dreams of political activism and accept their dependent place in a white social order.[118]

John White became involved in the civic responses after the Atlanta race riot. He was part of the meetings held by civic leaders the day after the riot.[119] White made efforts to develop a Southern Commission on the Race Problem but it never moved beyond a planning stage. Silence for most business leaders was the preferred response.[120] According to White, the commission failed because of “a natural inertia of the public mind on the subject of the Negro.”[121]

          As part of the self-interest of the privileged progressive white elite of Atlanta, White took no direct blame for the Atlanta riot of 1906, but found guilt among the tense, tortured relations between African Americans and lower-class whites.[122] He noted that “anti-negro sentiment” “in the lower sections of southern white society, is in a great degree due to a hopelessness and inaction they see in the ranks above them.”[123] White himself accepted the common view that dives were “breeding places of lust and animal insanity” and the abuse of alcohol made Blacks “insanely reckless and devilish.”[124] He blamed alcohol and the dives for the riot and wanted saloons permanently closed. He condemned the riot “as the final stage in collapse of law and order.”[125] Crowe later commented that White (and Booker T. Washington) offered explanations of the riot that were “half-rationalizing.”[126]

In his subsequent push for segregation-anchored prohibition, White said that he was proud that in 1907, 825 of 994 counties in Georgia had adopted prohibition in their locales.[127] He took exception to newspaper editors who wanted to excuse seacoast areas like Savannah and Charleston from the move toward prohibition. Capable of voicing anti-immigrant views as needed to further authentic southern white supremacy, White declared, “These seacoast communities are unfortunate in their large non-American population, which has not yet been lifted to that safe level of civilization so peculiar and essential to a republic or a democratic state.”[128]

Unsurprisingly, White reserved most of his racial comments regarding prohibition for African Americans in the aftermath of the Atlanta riot. He took several occasions to comment on the riot in the context of his increasingly pressing goals for prohibition.  In an article in the Atlanta Constitution, White exhorted that the ten million Black people in the South were most dangerous to themselves and to southern civilization when they were exposed to and thus susceptible to the “liquor traffic.” Since African Americans were a permanent fixture in the South, prohibition had to be a permanent remedy to the likelihood of inebriated Black people.[129] The race riot of 1906 had made it clear that prohibition was necessary, and while a tragic event, had actually facilitated the passing of many prohibition statues in 1907. Charles Crowe noted that leaders like White admitted it was the riot and the alleged “epidemic of rapes” before the riot that made prohibition necessary.[130] Thomas R. Pegram added that churches provided a push for prohibition in light of alcohol-fueled racial violence like the 1906 Atlanta riot. Church leaders became convinced that that “liquor traffic” was a root cause of the violence.[131] It is not surprising that the Georgia WCTU was especially adamant that prohibition was necessary in light of the Atlanta riot since the organization’s leadership had been willing to allow for the lynching of “drunken raven human beasts.”[132]

The Atlanta riot of 1906 did lead John White to chastise fellow whites for their acceptance of lynching as a response to Black crime. White had addressed the volatile cultural issue of lynching even before the Atlanta race riot. In a 1904 speech to the Southern Baptist Convention, he made a plea for the education of “forgotten” Baptist women. According to news reports of the speech, White lamented that the South had 100,000 more illiterate white women than white men, but then made a turn in his remarks to address lynching. Unsurprisingly, White, who had long advocated for social gospel educational reform, declared that education was the answer to the problem of lynching since “education purifies the mind.” Instead of arguing in this case, as he did elsewhere, for education of African Americans, White’s focus was on the resistant, even miraculous protective power of education when embodied in the white woman. “There was not a black beast in the jungles of Africa or a black brute in the cane fields of Louisiana who would not flee before the white soul of an educated woman, if she flashed it upon him from her eyes,” White announced.[133]

Whites’ remarks about lynching after the Atlanta riot, however, tied lynching with southern identity, the “negro problem” and prohibition—the epitome of his social gospel vision for a society that prioritized white supremacy. He told church members that they had to cease being afraid of Black people—such a response revealed their singular obsession with their racial conundrum. They wanted a nostalgic return to what they considered the “affectionate” relations between antebellum slaves and their masters, but such idyllic patterns of behavior were no longer possible. White affirmed that there had to be a “new law of restraint”—legal segregation—to keep proper racial hierarchical boundaries, but it must be rooted in biblical justice (and without stating it, southern white biblical interpretation) and not in the mob violence of lynching.[134]

For most white southerners, lynching was essentially about perpetuating their power and social dominance. Lynching, even for the White elite, was normally considered acceptable for the rape of a white woman. Like many other Progressives, however, White willingly acknowledged that lynching was a communal stain on southern civilization. To a city where many whites were not against lynching,[135] White warned Baptists about the perils of lynching and regarded the Atlanta riot as an embarrassment to white supremacy and thus to Atlanta’s Christian leadership.

We have reaped a harvest of Anglo-Saxon shame. The other cities of the South have pointed the finger of reproach at us. Let them beware. Let every man who utters a sentiment in excuse of lynching take notice. He is sowing dragon’s teeth. Southern civilization is threatened wherever lynching has an advocacy or an extenuation. What good, what comfort now to us here to recall the horrible outrages of negro brutes—when we ourselves who proudly assert ours as the superior race have brought so near the surface that it shines through, a blood-lust and a savagery that can riot almost without restraint in the very center of the leading, most be-churched city of the South?[136]


White’s warning took a convoluted turn, however, when he noted that because of the mob action, “Not a single negro criminal has suffered. The rapist has gone free.”[137] Still, the problems of lower-class whites and African Americans, which led to mob violence and lynching, put a strain on southern identity and the southern economy that was anchored by an honorable white supremacy. According to White, his social gospel vision needed Prohibition to sustain White supremacy, which prioritized white concerns but provided a sober way forward for controlled racial uplift. 

         White’s social vision, “The Need of a Southern Program on the Negro Problem,” was made in a scholarly forum in a 1907 article for the South Atlantic Quarterly—the journal of Trinity College progressives.[138] In light of the Atlanta race riot the previous year, White asserted that something had to be done or tensions would continue to exacerbate. A program simply had to be implemented that would help both races, within acceptable segregated boundaries. According to White, the program must be anchored in the truth of white superiority as the stronger race (“Anglo-Saxon masterhood,” he called it) but provide protection, opportunity for progress and needed discipline for the weaker race of African Americans.[139]

Many of White’s ideas were simply repetitions of earlier pleas made in sermons and in articles in Baptist denominational papers and the Atlanta Constitution. Relying on the antebellum caricature of enslaved persons as simplistic and childlike, White said that African Americans were a “child race” and thus needed restricted social possibilities to guide them—it was the stronger race helping the weaker one. White reminded readers that racial sexual relations were horrific and white people were traitors for their illicit lusts. White’s driving theme was the assertion he had made earlier: southerners perpetuated an ill-advised obsession with the “negro problem.”  Southerners, White explained, had been shaken by the social disruptions of the Reconstruction era and had become insecure and fearful of Black people. “Negro domination is a millstone about the neck of the South,” White declared, “We are dominated by the Negro in our thoughts and in our feelings… We must shift the emphasis of our concern to ourselves.”[140] An authentic southern identity and secure social order meant a righteous self-interest that prioritized white matters. White southerners needed to recognize that they were in power and must cease their defensive stance in order to seize the opportunities that the New South could offer.[141]

The greater peril at this hour where outbreak and lawlessness are at the surface is not that the Negro will lose his skin, but that the Anglo–Saxon will lose his soul. I am not discounting the duty we owe the Negro people, but I am declaring that the way to the discharge of that obligation is through the realization of the duty we owe ourselves. In every way the interests of the Negro in the South depend upon the prosperity and progress of the white people… The only hope of the black man in this country is that the white man will move onward and upward. …the statistics of white illiteracy are our concern far more than the statistics of Negro education. How weak in us to fume about Negro colleges, how strong it is to be disturbed about the lack of our own! The time is on us in the South to shift the accent of our great concern to the white man.[142]

Using the biblical imagery of rock for strength and sand for weakness, White declared that white supremacy was the secure hope of the future. “To keep the Negro down is one thing, but to keep the white man up a nobler thing. To keep the Negros in his place is the ideal for those who build civilization on the sand, to keep the white man in his place, secure and strong, is the ideal of those who build it on the rock.”[143]  

In 1908, White again elaborated on this social connection between African American drunkenness and the need for prohibition with another formal essay in the South Atlantic Quarterly. Prohibition was the “new task and opportunity” for Southerners to make progress in the New South and solve the “Negro problem.” White again called Black people a child-race and asserted that whites were helping the weaker race achieve progress by restricting their access to the dangers of alcoholic beverages. “The great mass of the Negros are ignorant and weak and therefore are to be thought for in government and protected from the perils of liberty,” White chided. He added, “The saloon was the ravager of the negro people. It plundered them at all points, robbed them of their wages, fed their animalism… a debauching agent let loose by law upon them.”[144] White’s social gospel platform required the prohibition of alcohol because it served as the “moral base” for the recent disenfranchisement of African Americans.[145] Additionally, excluding African Americans from voting strengthened the legality of prohibition since, according to White, Black people were more likely to vote for the liquor industry.[146]

While mostly warning about the evils of saloons that catered to African Americans, White sounded like Progressive leaders who worried about the deficiencies they found in the so-called pure Anglo-Saxon stock of Appalachian mountaineers. He acknowledged that lower-class white citizens were irresponsible and contributed to the societal unrest that necessitated prohibition. Less antagonism between Blacks and lower-class whites and fewer lynchings were possible with support for prohibition, he asserted. Still, White concluded that the presence of millions of African Americans in the South sealed the case for the permanent necessity of Prohibition.[147] If there was any doubt, he reminded readers about the lethal effects of the combination of alcohol and African Americans that had produced a “feeling of insecurity” and a “contagion” among white women in the rural sections of the state who feared “vagrant and drunken negroes.”[148] Something had to be done to deal with the “cloud of fear and uneasiness” that had created a “morbid and threatening” crisis for these women.[149] White’s self-identified sense of benevolent paternalism and his hierarchical social gospel vision blamed some Whites for racial conflict, but in reality, he knew no bounds in connecting Black inferiority and White supremacy to the societal control of the “liquor traffic.”[150] If an identity of southern exceptionalism was to flourish, Prohibition secured the foundation and the priority of white supremacy.

            The push for prohibition led some ministers, especially White and Presbyterian Alexander J. McKelway, to expand the social gospel vision to address the immoral practice of convict leasing by the state of Georgia. Convict leasing had a long, dubious history in the postbellum era in Georgia. Convicts, usually Black people, were often arrested on trumped up charges. Convicts were leased to private individuals who essentially used them as a new form of slave labor or “involuntary servitude.” The Homiletic Review said that the “sweeping away of saloons” and White’s call for social reform of the convict lease system was a sign of moral revival in the state.[151]

White spoke against convict leasing at the Democratic state convention and at his church in June 1908—and his efforts were a notable part of the move to abolish the system.[152] The Atlanta Constitution printed the whole sermon the next day and noted that many legislators attended. White challenged his audience, in remarks that were more a political speech than a typical sermon, to change Georgia’s horrible reputation for leasing convicts for profit. Most criminals were African American and it would be “chimerical” to expect efforts at reforming them to be very effective, according to White. Still, their usefulness as laborers demanded reformation efforts rather than barbaric treatment and immoral greed based on a “vicious principle” that made them nothing more than “chattel” and “merchandise” for sale.[153] The hierarchical social order of southern identity could not be based on dishonorable economic principles or communal sins that smirched white supremacy.

In 1915 while still a leading pastor in Atlanta, White published his last major piece on the South and race. With a provocative title, “Thinking White,” he lectured at the University of Virginia on the “negro problem.” His arguments were again mostly the same as in previous public forums, but revealed the natural, explicit conclusion of his call to prioritize white people’s concerns as the core of a southern identity. This time he employed a play on words—a play on his last name and/or a play on the word which defined and trademarked authentic southern identity. White urged that the nation needed to see that the South could handle its own problem “progressively.” “Thinking white” was ‘thinking worthily, soundly, constructively … enlightened self-interest… necessary for progress of whites and blacks alike” which was a “genuine white supremacy” that “improves relations of both races.”[154] White asserted that the South was ready for a “race program.” Racial issues had reduced, he contended, with the advance of the prohibition against alcohol and the disenfranchisement of Black people. The South had finally accepted the permanent presence of Black people, according to White, and Black leaders had concurred that industrial education (the Tuskegee option) was best for their future. White had certainly not moved in his understanding of white superiority as the core of his social vision. An African American was “an inferior man, a terribly backward man.” Additionally, White felt the need to remind his audience that Black people were made in the image of God and were not “half a man, half beast”—an indication that he did not think that the general white population had changed its more extreme racist views. White’s progressive view attempted to address continued anxieties about a return of “Negro rule.” He included the Lost Cause orthodoxy of telling white southerners that they should remember that African Americans were faithful during the Civil War, that Reconstruction conflicts were not the result of Black initiative, and that the manual labor of African Americans had allowed whites a life of “chivalries and leisures [sic] and hospitalities… lovely women and knightly men.” Finding a way to maintain such social relations with “justice” was White’s self-proclaimed “thinking white.”[155] It was the essence and the trademark of his social gospel vision and authentic southern identity—focus on white people and their needs, allowing the benefits would trickle down to others who needed uplift but knew their subordinate place in the hierarchical social order.


John Ellington White has received scattered mention in analyses of Southern Progressivism and even less in works on Baptist life in the South during the early years of the twentieth century. A more in-depth look at his writings affirms that, in comparison to most Baptists, he sought to be a progressive reformer and was a leading voice in the small cadre of ministers interested in various aspects of a Social Gospel in the South. Henry Warnock admitted that White had a curious blend of both liberal and illiberal ideas and that White was unable to follow the logic of his better views. Still, Warnock judged that White demonstrated “moderate racial thought considerably farther than most other Southern Baptists did and at a time when it was not an especially rewarding venture. He was a true prophet of change.”[156]

Of course, being more progressive than most Southern Baptists of his day on race only indicates how racist Baptist views were during the era when Baptists touted themselves to be the most democratic of all religious Americans. Their democracy excluded African Americans with an acceptance of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and disenfranchisement. Baptists even had grades of purgatorial degradation for those on the outside of their self-defined boundaries of White supremacy—as White reminded North Carolina Baptists, the Black people in the Tar Heel state were better candidates for evangelism of the soul than the even less civilized Blacks in Louisiana. To define White as a prophet of change must include the caveat that the actual or even desired changes for African Americans were severely restricted in a southern culture that saw only one color of privilege.

White’s Baptist and Southern-styled racism was not surprising, but what is strikingly provocative is how White’s trademarking of “thinking white” embodied and fed the identity of southern exceptionalism. His multi-layered division of southern humanity into a hierarchically ordered progressive society was the basis of “thinking white.” He viewed educated White elites as societal leaders, created in the sacred image of Robert E. Lee; he considered the people of the southern mountains, while uneducated, to be beaming with potential for advance because of their pure Anglo-Saxon blood; he lamented the economic plight of poor whites but never despaired about them like he did those at the bottom of the social scale, African Americans. Nothing (white) was going to dismantle his racist hierarchical social vision. While White could appreciate Black leaders like Booker T. Washington, the disadvantaged, limited capacities of most African Americans was a danger to white civilization because of their intellectual and moral deficiencies, embodied in their predilection to the abuse of alcohol and sexual escapade. Black people needed the benefits of his social gospel vision—limited racial uplift through education—in order to find their own place, albeit a subordinate one—to help secure a permanent, progressive social order anchored in white supremacy.

“Thinking white” was the embodiment of authentic southern identity—it was a badge of honor and respect to be white, religious, southern, and thus the quintessential American. Explicitly “thinking white” was John White’s trademark contribution to reinventing “white” as the core of a broad southern social gospel program to establish a white supremacist society. When “thinking white,” racist southern identity had a method of perpetuating itself. Its flourishing was possible because the most progressive of Southerners fundamentally believed that they were a providential elite that could design a hierarchical social order to move past the “race problem.” White’s social concerns involved common economic issues affecting the New South, but he approached core issues from a race-based white Social Gospel, whether in dealing with the education of mountain people or the necessity of the prohibition of alcohol in black communities in Atlanta. His vision was a theologically based, trickle-down economy—self-righteously focus on white southerners and their needs, cease and desist with the obsession about Black people, yet the latter could benefit from the educational and vocational crumbs of White prosperity only possible in a world of white supremacy.

Historians who have studied Progressivism (or progressivisms) have rightly acknowledged that racial (racist) attitudes—a corporate racism—are a dismal underside of the Progressive story. The scholarly conclusions offer blunt clarity. As early as 1954, Rayford Logan’s book title, The Betrayal of the Negro, sounded the tocsin.[157] According to Thomas Leonard, Progressive economic reform succumbed to “nationalistic perversion.” Labor reformers supported Anglo-Saxon male superiority and were willing to exclude marginalized groups like immigrants, women, and the disabled as “low-standard threats to American wages and Anglo-Saxon race integrity.” The exclusion of classes of “inferior” people was central to the effort to regulate the economy and drive-up white wages. In the political arena, reformers had no difficulty excluding Black people—or by race those whom they considered unable to participate in self-government. Progressives—“illiberal reformers”—considered such exclusionary tactics necessary for progress.[158] Recent scholarship on the working class roots of the Social Gospel has pointed to the prevailing whiteness of the broader Progressive movement. According to Janine Giordano Drake, even the religious left-labor coalition depended on “historically white entitlements to self-ownership, property and suffrage.” As trade unions achieved some respectability, Black people were rendered “invisible to the religious left.”[159]

Maureen Flanagin spoke to the offenses toward African Americans in Progressivism: “Justice may be blind, but during the Progressive Era unfortunately, if social justice reformers were blind, it was to racial justice.”[160] She added that the Progressive period had racial justice reformers—and they were African American. “Theirs was a terrible uphill battle, however, as the simmering racial resentments of white southerners erupted into a full-blown racist assault under the guise of progressivism.”[161] Writing about Atlanta, Gregory Mixon lamented, “For African Americans, the “city of progress” and Progressivism meant the very opposite.”[162] David Southern aptly summarized, “If judged by race alone, the Progressive Era should be classed… the “Regressive Era.”[163]

Making society a safer place with legal restrictions and crusades like Prohibition was tied to fault-filled, racist explanations of African American behavior and character. These efforts were the building blocks for the maintenance of a society rooted in white supremacy—such is the lens through which to view racialized social gospel progressivism. In-depth examinations of white, southern religious leaders like John White of Atlanta reveal a paradoxical social gospel vision that desired an improved Christian society for some but not all of its citizens, and thus simply cannot escape the warped, sinking foundation of  “thinking white.” The Southern Baptist leader John White is similar to other southern moderate progressives in various ways, but his advocacy and trademarking of “thinking white” reveal how he and other Progressives should be known as “prophet(s) of change.” His “thinking white” was not simply being culturally captive but was intended to create a Social Gospel, visionary program for what it really meant to embody southern exceptionalism. White’s “thinking white” was the “best” that moderate progressive Baptists had to offer since it denied lynching and affirmed some reforms for limited racial uplift. In reality, “thinking white” was the unholy, underbelly of Progressive faith that flourished as an expression of a white-first, racist, religious southern identity and is simply a bald contradiction[164]of anything that dares to use the word progressive today. When the underside of Progressivism and its religious wing, the Social Gospel, is brought front and center, one can only hope that the movement might find another name in future historical analysis that reflects the reality, at least for its white versions, of a religious ethos steeped in white supremacy.

[1] In 1925, John White was practically alone among his Baptist peers in completely opposing the SBC’s adoption of its first official confession of faith in its eighty-year history (the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message). He opposed hardline doctrinal fundamentalists who contended for a belief statement that held the biblical account of creation to be incompatible with a belief in evolution. He also warned more moderately conservative colleagues about the dangers of adopting creeds as unifying statements when in actuality they would trump the sole authority of the Bible, freedom of conscience, and function as tools of coercion to exclude people with doctrinal differences. John E. White, “Dr. John E. White Objects to Baptist Confession of Faith,” Western Recorder (April 2, 1925): 8-9. John E. White, “The Baptist Bias on the Creed Question,” Western Recorder (April 16, 1925): 8. For the broader story of the acceptance of the 1925 confession, see SBC Annual, 1925, 75; Religious Herald 25 (June 1925): 11, 22-23; C. Douglas Weaver, “Baptists and Denominational Identity and the Turn toward Creedalism: 2000,” in Michael E. Williams, Sr. and Walter B. Shurden, Turning Points in Baptist History: A Festschrift in Honor of Harry Leon McBeth (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2008), 288-301.

[2] In 1930, speculation in state Baptist newspapers suggested that John White, then the pastor of First Baptist Church, Savannah, would be elected the next president of the SBC. George H. Shriver, Pilgrims through the Years: A Bicentennial History of First Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia (Franklin, TN: Providence House Publishers, 1999), 114-116.

[3] White’s interactions with Southerners beyond the Baptist fold were on display while he was a denominational executive, an influential pastor in growing southern cities and during his time as a college president. Prior to his tenure at First Baptist Church, Savannah (1927-1931), White had been a denominational executive in North Carolina (state secretary for missions, 1896-1900), pastor of a leading Georgia Baptist congregation (Second Baptist Church, Atlanta, 1901-1916), and a president of a Baptist-related college in South Carolina (Anderson College, 1916-1927). As the most prominent Baptist pastor in Atlanta, White helped inaugurate ecumenical union services of the Capitol Hill churches. For more on White’s ecumenism, see Second Baptist Church Minutes, 12/16/1908 and 10/15/1911. Memorial Service for John White, Second Baptist Church Special Bulletin (July 2, 1931). C. Douglas Weaver, Second to None: A History of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, 1854-2004 (Brentwood, TN: Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2004), 30-34, 61.

[4] Second Baptist Church, Atlanta, was located near the state capital. Its membership included city political leaders, educators from Georgia Tech, and Baptist leaders from the Atlanta-based, SBC Home Mission Board. Weaver, Second to None, 30-32.

[5] Debate about how to define the social gospel has resulted in a deep well of historiography. Some limit the social gospel, as it traditionally was defined by early writers (e.g., Ronald C. White, Jr. and C. Howard Hopkins, The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976; and Aaron I. Abell, The Urban Impact on American Protestantism, 1865-1900, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1943) as a response to urbanization and industrialization in the North at the end of the nineteenth century up through World War I. Recently, some historians like Heath Carter, Christopher Cantwell and Janine Giordono Drake have emphasized the working class roots of the social gospel rather than the typical emphasis on theologians like Walter Rauschenbusch. See Heath W. Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Christopher Cantwell, Heath W. Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake, eds., The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016). For a recent study of Rauschenbusch that notes how the leading Northern social gospeler affirmed both social salvation and individual conversion, see William L. Pitts, The Reception of Rauschenbusch: The Responses of His Earliest Followers (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2018).

[6] In terms of the South, the traditional response followed that of leading Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, who said the social gospel was not found in the South. Some, like John Lee Eighmy and Rufus Spain, found social gospel elements in the South but suggested that a social gospel movement was unsuccessful. Other writers have modified terms and found the social gospel, or versions of it, in the South. Some historians have chosen to use the term social Christianity rather than Social Gospel, or at times they have used both terms with the social gospel being used under the larger umbrella of social Christianity. In this scenario, there is often recognition of vibrant social gospel elements in the South. Regarding Southern Baptists, for example, John Storey and Keith Harper mostly used the term social Christianity yet both recognize social gospel figures. In this essay, I will use the term Social Gospel, following the lead of leading historian of religion in the South, Wayne Flynt. Flynt can use both terms but has found social gospel teachings in his studies of Alabama Baptists and other southerners. Flynt speaks of several versions of the Social Gospel and avoids monolithic definitions.

For Woodward’s original assessment, see C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951), 450. For Baptists in the South specifically, see John Lee Eighmy,Churches in Cultural Captivity; A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1972). John Lee Eighmy, “Religious Liberalism in the South during the Progressive Era,” Church History, 38 (1969), 359-372. Rufus Spain, At Ease in Zion: A Social History of Southern Baptists, 1865-1900 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1961). Wayne Flynt, “Dissent in Zion: Alabama Baptists and Social Issues, 1900-1914,” The Journal of Southern History 35 no. 4 (November 1969): 523-542. Wayne Flynt, “Not an Island Unto Itself: Southern Baptists and the New Theological Trends (Liberalism, Ecumenism, and the Social Gospel), 1890-1940,” American Baptist Quarterly 22 (June 2003): 158-179. Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998). See especially chapter seven, “Progressivism and Baptists, 1900-1920.” Paul Harvey, “Southern Baptists and the Social Gospel: White Religious Progressivism in the South, 1900-1925,” Fides et Historia 27, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 59-77. Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities Among Southern Baptists 1865–1925 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). Keith Harper, The Quality of Mercy: Southern Baptists and Social Christianity, 1890-1920 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996). John Storey, Texas Baptist Leadership and Social Christianity 1900-1980 (College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1986). Merrill Hawkins Jr., "The Ills of the South: Charles Otken and the Social Gospel in Mississippi," Journal of Southern Religion 18 (2016): Otken affirmed liberal arts education for African Americans and opposed lynching. He favored colonization as the best approach for assisting Blacks.

[7] Carol Crawford Holcomb, Home Without Walls: Southern Baptist Women and Social Reform in the Progressive Era(Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2020). Further repetition of all the particulars of the historiographical debate about defining the social gospel is not given here in light of the in-depth treatments available. For historiographical overviews that reveal the complexity of defining social Christianity and the social gospel, see the following. Stephen R. Prescott, Perspectives on the Social Gospel (Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellen Press, 1999). See especially chapter 3, “The Social Gospel and the American South: An Historiographic Appraisal,” 33-50. Susan Hill Lindley, “Deciding Who Counts: Towards a Revised Definition of the Social Gospel,” in Christopher H. Evans, The Social Gospel Today(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 17-27. Gary Scott Smith, The Search for Social Salvation: Social Christianity and America, 1880-1925 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000), especially the Introduction. Smith especially emphasizes caution about defining the social gospel too tightly. Elna Green, “The Master-Word: Lily Hardy Hammond and the Social Gospel in the South,” Journal of Southern Religion 15 (2013): http:/

[8] Numerous studies of the Progressive movement are available. For a sampling, see Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Stephen J. Diner, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era (New York, Hill and Wang, 1998). Maureen A. Flanagan, America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s-1920s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Louis Filler, Appointment at Armageddon: Muckraking and Progressivism in the American Tradition(Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976). John D. Buenker, John C. Burnham, and Robert M. Crunden, Progressivism(Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc., 1977). Christopher M. Nichols and Nancy C. Unger, eds., A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2017). Amy Louis Wood contributed an article on the South. See chapter four, pages 44-57. Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016). William A. Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992). Dewey W. Grantham, Southern Progressivism: The Reconciliation of Progress and Tradition (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983).

[9] David Southern defined the Progressive Movement as “a response to industrialization and its troublesome by-products: the immense increase in corporate power, the problems of rapid urban growth and large scale immigration, widening class conflict and labor violence, and wholesale political corruption.” See David W. Southern, The Progressive Era and Race: Reaction and Reform, 1900-1917 (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 2005), 44.

[10] Harvey, “Southern Baptists and the Social Gospel,” 75. Diner, A Very Different Age, 7.

[11] Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 59, 72, 106. See also Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 29-31, 130.

[12] Eighmy, Churches in Cultural Captivity, 66. Eighmy, “Religious Liberalism in the South during the Progressive Era,” 366.

[13] William Link noted, “Many white reformers saw the problem of race in Social Gospel terms.” Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 240.

[14] Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 42, 46.

[15] Rayford W. Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson (New York: Collier Books, 1954). Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 47.

[16] Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 20. Southern’s chapter 5 is entitled, “The Nadir Under McKinley.”

[17] Ibid., 63, 114-129.

[18] Ibid., 94-107. In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that required segregated railroad cars. Segregation laws were deemed acceptable as long as facilities were “separate but equal.”  See pp. 28-29.

[19] Ibid., 58, 92. David Southern mentioned Edgar Gardner Murphy as a model southern progressive. Michael McGerr has opined, “Firm believers in white superiority, most Progressives were nevertheless more interested in making the world middle-class than in making it Anglo-Saxon.” White’s focus on Anglo-Saxonism as the key to his social progressivism does not align with McGerr’s description. McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 192.

[20] For more on White’s interaction with Lost Cause themes, see footnotes 78-80. For the standard account of the Lost Cause, see Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, GA:  University of Georgia Press, 1980).

[21] John E. White, “Thinking White About the Negro in the South,” Lectures and Addresses on the Negro in the South, University of Virginia Phelps Stokes Fellowship Papers (Charlottesville, VA: 1915). For the question of creating and contributing to southern culture, see Harvey, Redeeming the South, 206-220. For the concept of being captive to southern culture, see Eighmy, Churches in Cultural Captivity.

[22] John E. White, “The Significance of the Southern Sociological Congress,” in James E. McCullough, ed., The South Mobilizing for Social Service, Addresses Delivered at the Southern Sociological Congress, Atlanta, Georgia, April 25-29, 1913 (Nashville: Southern Sociological Congress, 1913), 672. For the role of the Southern Sociological Congress in the Progressive movement, see Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 374-379. See also James Joseph Boshears, Jr., “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man”: The Social Gospel Interracialism of the Southern Sociological Congress,” PhD dissertation, Auburn University, 2012. Boshears did not mention John White.

[23] Wayne Flynt, “Not an Island Unto Itself,” 173.

[24] Harvey, “Southern Baptists and the Social Gospel,” 62. Flynt, “Not an Island Unto Itself,” 161.

[25] “Second Baptist,” Atlanta Constitution, October 13, 1902.

[26] John E. White, “The Modern City,” Baptist Argus (November 24, 1904): 2. White did not cite Josiah Strong but reflected his work on the social gospel and the city. See for example, Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis (New York: The American Home Missionary Society, 1885).

[27] John E. White, “Mr. Rockefeller,” Religious Herald (July 25, 1929): 8. “Dr. John White’s Sermon on Wealth,” Biblical Recorder (September 4, 1929): 4.

[28] “Our Southern Pulpit,” Atlanta Constitution, March 11, 1901.

[29] “Second Baptist,” Atlanta Constitution, September 22, 1902.

[30] “Second Baptist,” Atlanta Constitution, October 13, 1902.

[31] White related that at his house, half of the lights were out for two weeks, and then another fuse blew and he had no lights at all for another week. He then received a large bill from the electric company. It was money dishonestly earned, White concluded. “Letters From People: Excessive Charge for Lights,” Atlanta Constitution, March 1, 1906.

[32] John E. White, “The Conservation of our Moral Resources,” Baptist World (December 1, 1910): 9.

[33] Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 130. White hired Martha Culver Smith, the first woman staff member at Second Baptist Church, to do personal visitation and minister at the city jail and the homeless shelter. Cecil Virginia Kendrick, “The Angel of the Tower,” The Welder (November 1910): 3. The Welder was a newspaper produced by the young women of Second Baptist Church that revealed progressive views of women in Baptist life.

[34] John E. White, “John E. White Praises Fair,” Atlanta Constitution, October 24, 1905.

[35] Rebecca Burns, Rage in the City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 21.

[36] “Preachers and the Theater: Rev. J. E. White Outlines his Attitude on the Question,” Atlanta Constitution, February 3, 1907. White did not mention the name of the theatrical production. For more on the Clansman, see Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 70.

[37] “Church Members Share Profits of Social Evil---Dr. John E. White,” Atlanta Constitution, May 4, 1912. For information on prostitution in the Progressive era, see Barbara Antoniazzi, The Wayward Woman: Progressivism, Prostitution, and Performance in the United States, 1888-1917 (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 2014).

[38] For White’s intense dislike of mulattos, see below, footnotes 90-92.

[39] For a broader analysis of the social gospel and race, see Ralph E. Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) and Ronald C. White, Jr., Liberty and Justice for All: Racial Reform and the Social Gospel (1877-1925) (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990). Luker (p. 187) mentioned John White. Both of these books argued that some social gospelers were sensitive to issues of race.

[40] Ian C. Hartman, “Appalachian Anxiety: Race, Gender, and the Paradox of “Purity” in an Age of Empire, 1873-1901,” American Nineteenth Century History 13, no. 2 (June 2012): 230-231, 237. David Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer: People, Power and Planning in Appalachia (Boone, NC: Appalachian University Press, 2017), 8. Karen Aaron Stone, “Rescue the Perishing: The Southern Baptist Convention and the Rural Church Movement,” PhD Diss., Auburn University (1998), 1-22.

[41] Hartman, “Appalachian Anxiety: Race, Gender, and the Paradox of ‘Purity’ in an Age of Empire, 1873-1901,” 231-232, 243-245. See also Barbara Ellen Smith, “Degradations of Whiteness: Appalachia and the Complexities of Race,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 10, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Fall 2004): 38-57; and Larry J. Griffin, “Whiteness and Southern Identity in the Mountain and Lowland South,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 10 (Fall 2004): 7-37.

[42] David Whisnant, All That is Native & Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Religion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983, 2009). See also Whisnant, Modernizing the Mountaineer. Other analysts have questioned the Whisnant perspective and found more genuine expressions of social uplift and more diverse agendas in the educational endeavors among the mountaineers. Penny Messinger criticized Whisnant’s criticism of women social reformers as agents of social control. She said that women reformers’ efforts were a complicated mixture of social uplift and social control. Penny Messinger, “Restoring the Woman Reformer: Helen Hastie Dingman and ‘Mountain Work,’ 1916-1950,” Appalachian Journal, 37, nos. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 2010): 242-264. For the focus on gender in the study of Appalachia, see Penny Messinger, “Leading the Field of Mountain Work: The Conference of Southern Mountain Workers, 1913-1950,” PhD Diss., Ohio State University, 1998. Brooks Blevins noted that in addition to Whisnant, earlier analysts like Henry Shapiro and William Link did not distinguish between the schools but treated them all the same. According to Blevins, mountain schools were more diverse than Whisant presented. Blevins said that the mountain schools of the Ozarks supported by southern denominations were less likely than Northern supported schools to highlight “racialized rhetoric” and the language of exceptionalism. The more evangelistic, less social gospel approach of southern groups tended to “strip” the southern schools of the “cultural politics” of cultural intervention of the northern-supported schools. Brooks Blevins, “Region, Religion and Competing Visions of Mountain Mission Education in the Ozarks,” The Journal of Southern History 82, no. 1 (February 2016): 59-96. While Blevins presents evidence about schools in the Ozarks, Southern Baptists like John White articulated a strong version of Anglo-Saxon superiority and a sense that the Appalachian region needed cultural uplift.

[43] “Native and Fine and Enduring: A Roundtable on David Whisnant’s All That is Native and Fine,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 16, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Fall 2010): 112. Karen Stone downplayed but acknowledged the preservation of the Anglo-Saxon superiority theme among Southern Baptists. See Stone, “Rescue the Perishing.” For the fundamental role of Anglo-Saxon superiority in nineteenth century Southern Baptist foreign mission efforts, see Robert N. Nash, “Anglo-Saxon Supremacy and the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention,” in Distinctively Baptist: Essays on Baptist History, eds. Marc A. Jolley and John D. Pierce (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2005), 137-150.

[44] Whisnant, All That is Native & Fine, 92. For another illustration, see the story of John Powell, on racism and “Anglo-Saxon Culture,” see pp. 237-246.

[45] Progressive leaders also worried about immigrants (non-native born whites) and “race suicide,” the concept that good white workers chose to have fewer children—and thus committed suicide to the furtherance of the race—than accept the lower wages that immigrants accepted.  Leonard, Illiberal Reformers, 120, 133, 144. For more on race suicide, see Jonathan Peter Spiro, Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant(Burlington: University of Vermont Press, 2009), 96-99. Spiro’s account highlights the role of Madison Grant in the promotion of eugenics. Grant’s 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, played a key role in future programs of immigrant restriction, anti-miscegenation and sterilization in America (145-147, 153-155, 166). Grant asserted that American whites were Nordics and a superior race, but America’s working environment was producing the “survival of the unfit” (153-155). For more on scientific racism, see pp. 138-39. In the Appalachian region, one way of combating the complexities of the feared devolution of Anglo-Saxon superiority seen in “poor white trash” and their inability or unwillingness to adapt to an emerging industrial economy was the promotion of eugenic measures like sterilization. See Ian C. Hartman, In the Shadow of Boone and Crockett: Race, Culture, and the Politics of Representation in the Upland South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2015), 13-37, 47, 51.

[46] John E. White, “Backward People of the South,” Our Home Field 20 (May 1909): 17. In exhorting his readers about their task as the educated in society, White referenced a biblical story about a lame beggar who was healed by Jesus’ disciples, James and John (Acts 3).

[47] White, “Backward People of the South,” 16. John E. White, “The Southern Highlands,” in Victor Masters, ed., The Home Mission Task (Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the SBC, 1912), 211.

[48] White, “Backward People of the South,” 17.

[49] White, “Backward People of the South,” 14-17. John E. White, “The ‘Poor Whites’ (?) of the South,” Our Home Field 20 (July 1909): 3-5.

[50] White, “The ‘Poor Whites,’” 3. White, “Backward People of the South,” 16.

[51] White’s tripartite division of the non-elite Southerners led William Link to remark that White’s elitism was uneasy with majoritarian democracy. Link’s judgment was based on White’s elitist, urban concerns about poor whites who demonstrated rural ignorance and irresponsibility. Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 59. White’s willingness to segregate and disenfranchise African Americans was no less part of the story. White, of course, like his Baptist colleagues, never admitted that his tripartite division of non-elite Southerners was incongruous with his religious or political declarations. White and other Baptist leaders always cited how Baptists were the most natural supporters of democracy because of their non-hierarchical congregational polity. Like other Protestants, he warmed quickly to any criticism of Roman Catholicism because its desire to be a world “temporal political power” was “utterly repugnant to Democracy.” John E. White, “The President and the Pope,” Biblical Recorder (December 25, 1918): 5. Using the language of efficiency, a progressive favorite, White said, “that Baptists do not need any efficiency that must be purchased at the price of democracy. We unreservedly subscribe to this sentiment, as do Southern Baptists with almost absolute unanimity.” Victor I. Masters, “Efficiency and Democracy,” Baptist World (August 26, 1915): 9. Masters cited White. In his third year at Second Baptist Church, Atlanta, White abolished pew rents and adopted the voluntary envelope system of financial stewardship, which he believed best reflected the democratic nature of congregational polity. Second Baptist Church Minutes, 11/16/1904.

[52] John E. White, “The State Secretary and Mountain Work,” Baptist Argus (June 14, 1900): 2.

[53] John E. White, Our Southern Mountain Region and Southern Baptists (Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the SBC, ca. 1890s), 17-20. Quotation on p. 17. White used the phrases “undeveloped missionary conscience” and “extreme Calvinism,” most likely to refer to a system of double predestination and/or he is referring to non-missionary “Hardshell” or “Primitive” Baptists. For an older standard overview of the region, see Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978).

[54] White, Our Southern Mountain Region, 12-13.

[55] Ibid., 14.

[56] White, “The ‘Poor Whites’ (?) of the South,” 3-5.

[57] White illustrated by noting that American society was backward in terms of its crime rate and practice of law and order. White, Our Southern Mountain Region, 12-13. Quotation on p. 13. John E. White, “Backward People of the South,” 16.

[58] White, Our Southern Mountain Region, 15.

[59] John E. White, “The Southern Mountaineers,” Our Home Field (August 1909): 14.

[60] John E. White, “Work in the Mountain Region,” Southern Baptist Convention Annual (1900), 40-43. Quotation on p. 41. See also White, Our Southern Mountain Region, 10. White, “The Southern Highlands,” 217. White’s colleague, Albert E. Brown, who worked as a Baptist missionary to the mountaineers, said that the mission of mountain schools was directed toward a “population which is of all America of the most unmixed Anglo-Saxon stock.” See p. 210. For a discussion of the mountain schools as an expression of social Christianity among Southern Baptists, see Keith Harper, The Quality of Mercy, 76-83.  See also Stone, “Rescue the Perishing,” 140-145.

[61] White, “The Southern Mountaineers,” 15.

[62] White, “Work in the Mountain Region,” 41.

[63] White, “Southern Highlands,” 218-219. Quotation on p. 219. White, “The Southern Mountaineers,” 15.

[64] White, “Southern Highlands,” 213.

[65] Ibid., 213, 223-226. White suggested that the “extremely backward” were a minority class.

[66] White, Our Southern Mountain Region, 2-3, 22. White, “The State Secretary and Mountain Work,” 2.  John E. White, “Ten Years of Partnership,” Our Home Field 21 (October 1909): 9-12. Frederick A. Bode, Protestantism and the New South: North Carolina Baptists and Methodists in Political Crisis, 1984-1903 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975), 82-90. John M. Heffron, “’To Form a More Perfect Union’: The Moral Example of Southern Baptist Thought and Education, 1890-1920,” Religion and American Culture 8, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 179-204. M.A. Huggins, A History of North Carolina Baptists, 1727-1932 (Raleigh: The General Board Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, 1967), 298, 307.

[67] White was ecumenical toward Presbyterians, but their practice of infant baptism was a point of contention for him and other Baptists who believed that Baptists most fully embodied New Testament ecclesial practices. For Baptists and biblical restorationism, see C. Douglas Weaver, In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008). John E. White, A Solution of the Mountain Problem (Atlanta: Home Mission Board, ca. 1890s), 2, 7, 11. White, “Work in the Mountain Region,” 40-43.

[68] H. Page Lee, “A.E. Brown: Mountain Schools Superintendent,” Baptist History and Heritage 29.1 (January 1994): 15. See also White, “Work in the Mountain Region,” 40-43.

[69] White, “Work in the Mountain Region,” 41.

[70] I Peter 2:9 (King James Version) said, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” John E. White, “The True and the False in Southern Life,” South Atlantic Quarterly (April 1906): 3. For a discussion of white superiority in broader SBC life during the late nineteenth century, see Rufus B. Spain, At Ease in Zion, 71-126.

[71] John White, My Old Confederate (Atlanta: Atlanta Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy, n.d.) (1908), xi.

[72] “Second Baptist,” Atlanta Constitution, January 21, 1901.

[73] John E. White, “The Need of a Southern Program on the Negro Problem,” South Atlantic Quarterly (April 1907): 12.

[74] “Porter King is Laid to Rest,” Atlanta Constitution, October 27, 1901.

[75] White, “The True and the False in Southern Life,” 5. White gave his address at a celebration of George Washington’s birthday.

[76] Ibid., 8.

[77] White, “My Old Confederate,” xiv.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid., iv. For information on Baptists and the Lost Cause, see Christopher Moore, Apostle of the Lost Cause: J. William Jones, Baptists, and the Development of Confederate Memory (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2019).

[80] White, “The True and the False in Southern Life,” 10.

[81] White, “The Need of a Southern Program,” 9. For an analysis of how postbellum Southerners glorified the myth of the antebellum South but blamed Black people for the misery of Reconstruction, see Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1880-1940 (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1999), 44-83. Hale viewed segregation as the way to unite whites through establishing an ideological practice of whiteness. Presbyterian social gospeler, Alexander J. McKelway, like White, thought slavery helped enslaved persons. See Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 65.

[82] White, “True and the False in Southern Life,” 11-14. Dewey Grantham cited White as an example of a Progressive who did not want Southerners to be obsessed with the issue of race. Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 31.

[83] White, “True and the False in Southern Life,” 19. For broader Southern Baptist life and the “negro problem,” see Spain, At Ease in Zion, 103-109. Christopher Moore noted that the self-proclaimed originator of the Lost Cause, E.A. Pollard, in his book, The Lost Cause Regained, revealed that “race was the fulcrum of some of the earliest Lost Cause claims.” Pollard defended white superiority as the only hope for a downtrodden South during the Reconstruction era. See Moore, Apostle of the Lost Cause, 92.

[84] John E. White, “The Importance of a Man,” Biblical Recorder (August 19, 1909): 1.

[85] White, “Backward People of the South,” 17.

[86] John E. White, “The Appeal from Caesar,” Biblical Recorder (June 22, 1904): 1. Not all of White’s readers were impressed. One Chowan resident retorted: “some of us believe that we have been solving the negro problem to his hurt. The negro is the only man who can solve it, and solve it better without us than with us. We have been furnishing him crutches too long already. We believe it best to teach him to use his crutches before we furnish an extra pair.” White had criticized some North Carolina Baptists in Chowan about not supporting a resolution in favor of evangelizing Black people. Charles A.G. Thomas, “The Appeal to the People,” Biblical Recorder (June 29, 1904): 1.

[87] John E. White, “Booker T. Washington,” Watchman-Examiner 3, no. 47 (November 25, 1915): 1516. Michael McGerr said that moderate progressives pragmatically recognized the large number of Black people in the South meant they were there to stay. Moreover, their labor was vital to the southern economy. Progressives also knew that lynchings and race riots damaged the South’s reputation in the larger nation and endangered economic development in the New South. In light of these “basic realities,” a more “codified segregation” was needed to stabilize a white social order. McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 187-88.

[88] In 1869, J.B. Jeter, editor of the Religious Herald (Virginia) had warned that efforts toward facilitating black equality would result in “the mongrelization of our noble Anglo-Saxon race.” Cited in Mark Newman, Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001), 4. Northern Baptists like A.C. Dixon were also against miscegenation. See Mary Beth Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017), 16.

[89] Jane Dailey, Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 48, 86-95.

[90] John W. White, “The Attitudes of Christians in the South toward the Colored Race,” Biblical Recorder (November 1, 1901): 5.

[91] John E. White, “Thinking White About the Negro in the South,” 91.

[92] Ibid., 92.

[93] Ibid. For an analysis of race as color, see Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

[94] White, “The Attitudes of Christians in the South,” 5.

[95] Ibid.  See also “Rev. John E. White Writes in Regard to Negro Problem,” Atlanta Constitution, October 19, 1906.

[96] John E. White, “The Sorest Spot of Our Southern Christianity,” Atlanta Constitution, May 31, 1910.

[97] Ibid. See John E. White, “The Home Mission Board and the Negro,” Religious Herald (May 12, 1904): 5. Henry Morehouse, leading Northern Baptist, had the same sentiment but with a bit more punch. Morehouse concurred that the North did the main work of educating Black people in the South. He noted that before the Civil War, Southerners “did much for the religious welfare of the negroes” but not in the postbellum era. Some Southerners, according to Morehouse, believed education made it more difficult to “keep such a man under.” H.L. Morehouse, “The Negro Problem,” Home Mission Echo 7, no. 2 (February 1891): 9-10.

[98] White, “Booker T. Washington,” 1515-1516. Jack Abramowitz cited White as a Southerner who said vocational training for blacks was “common sense” for the South. See Jack Abramowitz, “John B. Rayner—A Grass Roots Leader,” The Journal of Negro History 36, no. 2 (April 1951): 169.  For general Southern Baptist support of Booker T. Washington, see Spain, At Ease in Zion, 91-93.

[99] White, “Booker T. Washington,” 1515. In praising Washington, some white Baptists explicitly criticized what they considered the radical perspective of W.E.B. Du Bois. Southern Baptist Home Missions executive Victor Masters commented that African Americans had some good qualities but “If the negro had been as resentful as the Indian, he would have been driven out or destroyed long before now.” Victor J. Masters, “Lynching and the Negro Problem,” Biblical Recorder (September 15, 1920): 5.

[100] “Second Baptist,” Atlanta Constitution, June 8, 1902. Absalom was the rebellious son of King David in the Hebrew Bible that attempted to usurp his father’s throne.

[101] White, “Thinking White,” 95. Keith Harper speaks of passive uplift as whites provided a high standard for others to learn from and follow. Harper, The Quality of Mercy.

[102] Joe Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement(Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 42-43, 51, 55, 60, 91, 95, 118. For more on prohibition, see Mathews, Doctrine and Race, 116-125. John Dittmer, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 1900-1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977), 112-113. In describing the southern liquor movement, Michael Lewis said the three primary planks were 1) concern for the safety of children 2) protection of the home and domestic womanhood (and this involved fear of black sexual assault) 3) the social disorder resulting from industrialization. See Michael Lewis, The Coming of Southern Prohibition: The Dispensary System and The Battle over Liquor in South Carolina, 1907-1915(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016), 1-3, 53.

[103] H. Paul Thompson, Jr., A Most Stirring and Significant Episode: Religion and the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Black Atlanta, 1865-1887 (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois Press, 2013), 240-248. Thompson noted that Black leaders voted dry in a local vote in 1885, but then voted wet two years later.

[104] Ibid., 71, 72, 123, 129, 136-137.

[105] Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 72. In 1910, Southern Baptist B.F. Riley of Alabama said to solve the problem of alcohol was to solve the problem of race. See Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause, 47.

[106] Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause, 210.

[107] John E. White, “Prohibition: The New Task and Opportunity of the South,” South Atlantic Quarterly (1908): 7-8. Thomas R. Pegram, “Temperance Politics and Regional Political Culture: The Anti-Saloon League in Maryland and the South, 1907-1915,” The Journal of Southern History 63, no. 1 (February 1997): 57-90. See also Carl N. Degler, “Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis: The South, the North, and the Nation,” The Journal of Southern History, 53, no. 1 (February 1987): 3-18.

[108] Charles Crowe, “Racial Violence and Social Reform-Origins of the Atlanta Riot of 1906,” The Journal of Negro History, 53, no. 3 (July 1968): 249.  For a study of the campaign of Hoke Smith (and the role of populist Tom Watson), see Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 281-298.

[109] Gregory Mixon, The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2005), 2, 11, 14.

[110] David Fort Godshalk, Veiled Visions: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the Reshaping of American Race Relations(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 40.

[111] Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 74, 128-130. Godshalk, Veiled Visions, 24.

[112] Crowe, “Racial Violence and Social Reform-Origins of the Atlanta Riot of 1906,” 249-250. Crowe said that white Atlantans classified all incidents, whatever the level of interaction as assaults, and as such could lead to lynchings.

[113] Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 32-33, 93. Mixon contended, “The mob was substantially young and lower class, but storeowners, businessmen, students, craftsmen, and white-collar workers helped to assault blacks.” This economic tension undergirded why many progressives wanted a state regulated force with restrictions on Black people.

[114] Charles Crowe, “Racial Massacre in Atlanta September 22, 1906,” The Journal of Negro History 54, no. 2 (April 1969): 150-173. Crowe referenced White’s “The Need of a Southern Program.” See also Crowe, “Racial Violence,” 234-256.

[115] Burns, Rage in the City, 147.

[116] Dittmer, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 125-131.  Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 116. Dittmer added, “Incendiary rhetoric had a profound effect on lower-class whites, many recently moved to Atlanta and competing with blacks for jobs. For them the black man was also an economic threat, and the Atlanta riot provided opportunity for poor whites to work out their frustrations” (131).

[117] Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 26, 86, 128-130. Quotations on pp. 128 and 130.

[118] William J. Northern, “The Negro Situation—One Way Out,” World Today 12 (September 1907): 893-896. Northern’s views sounded similar to White’s. Southern culture had to have the foundation of white supremacy. While there was a good class of Black people, some were “grossly immoral and unrestrained.” Northern said that he did not blame them for their condition but, “We must save the negro or it is plain his wickedness and his crimes will destroy the state” (896). Northern affirmed segregated schools and said that miscegenation could never be allowed. An article from an African American publication was appreciative of Northern’s efforts but critical of lack of support for Black voting rights. “Ex-Governor Northern’s Work in Georgia,” Independent 62 (June 13, 1907): 1423-1425. See also Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White, 188.  See also Godshalk, Veiled Visions, 163-170.

[119] Godshalk, Veiled Visions, 52.

[120] Godshalk, Veiled Visions, 136-137, 171, 177. According to Godshalk, John White wanted an elite controlled commission that would provide guidelines regarding publications and speeches for ministers and journalists. He wanted to stop the “lawlessness of irresponsible white people” and keep the federal government out of dictating racial policy for the South. At the same time, he wanted to limit black freedom and increase white control over independent black institutions.   See also Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 11, 35.

[121] John White to Ray Stannard Baker, October 7, 1907. Cited in Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 234.

[122] White, “Thinking White,” 94. See White, “The Need of a Southern Program,” 5. See also White, “The “Poor Whites” (?) of the South,” 3-5.

[123] White, “Thinking White,” 94.

[124] White’s views sound similar to those made by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. John E. White, cited in Charles Crowe, “Racial Violence and Social Reform-Origins of the Atlanta Riot of 1906,” 249.

[125] Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 109.

[126] Charles Crowe, “Racial Massacre in Atlanta September 22, 1906,” 171.

[127] John E. White, “Temperance Reform in the South,” in J.A.C. Chandler, ed., The South in the Building of the Nation, History of the Social Life of the Southern States, vol. 10 (Richmond: The Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909), 572. Most of this article is in the 1908 article in the South Atlantic Quarterly.

[128] John E. White, “Prohibition in Georgia: Where it Falls, Where it Wins,” Atlantic Constitution, February 21, 1909. See also “Dr. White Discusses Savannah Situation,” Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1909.

[129] “Evolution, Not Revolution, Says Rev. John E. White in Reference to the March of Prohibition,” Atlanta Constitution, October 31, 1907.

[130] Crowe, “Racial Violence,” 235.

[131] Pegram, “Temperance Politics and Regional Political Culture,” 71.

[132] Lewis, The Coming of Southern Prohibition, 142. Edward Blum provided examples of how Northerners and Southerners semi-reconciled based on a shared whiteness. In the end, northern Protestants opted to unite with southern whites instead of honoring commitments to African Americans and social justice issues. Blum dedicated a chapter to the ways in which the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union facilitated this reunion among whites and how they fed the race-baiting associated with lynching. See Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865–1898 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015).

[133] John E. White, “Address at SBC,” Atlanta Constitution, December 1904.

[134] “Rev. John E. White Writes in Regard to Negro Problem,” 8. The SBC passed a resolution against lynching in 1906 but condemned “with equal emphasis and in many cases with much greater emphasis” the crimes that triggered the lynchings. Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause, 151.

[135] Godshalk, Veiled Visions, 90-98. Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 30-31.

[136] “Current Topics: Lynching,” Baptist Argus (October 11, 1906): 12.

[137] William J. Northern, spoke harshly of lynching. He said, “I consider people who burn negroes as savages hot from hell.” “Ex-Governor Northern’s Work in Georgia,” Independent 62 (June 13, 1907): 1423-1425. Victor Masters spoke about lynching in similar terms. See Masters, “Lynching and the Negro Problem,” 5. Scholars who work on Edgar Gardner Murphy describe him in somewhat similar terms to John White. An Episcopalian, Murphy was a social gospeler, against lynching, advocated education for black uplift but was also for segregation. He disliked poor whites. Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 414-419. Williamson has an interesting introduction on the concept of the white soul. “A few whites built up a positive image for white southerners as Dubois had (for blacks)….they respected the souls of blacks and had a concept of white soul, a gospel of whiteness…emergence among whites in popular education, popular religion, a warming interest in Appalachian and swampland folklore… Anglo Saxon purity….” Williamson called it a Volksgeistian Conservatism… and saw it in career of Edgar Gardner Murphy. See also McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 192, 216. William Link noted that Murphy affirmed black inadequacy and white paternalism-white supremacy as bedrocks for his reform program. His paternalism reflected a top down approach to power. Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 69-78.

[138] Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 29. Two southern academics had earlier written controversial articles in theSouth Atlantic Quarterly that got them in trouble. For the stories of Southern Methodists, Andrew Sledd and Joseph Spencer Bassett, see Henry Y. Warnock, “Andrew Sledd, Southern Methodists, and the Negro: A Case History,” The Journal of Southern History 31, no. 3 (August 1965): 253-256. Coker, Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause, 152-154.Williamson, The Crucible of Race, 259-267.

[139] White, “The Need of a Southern Program,” 4-9.

[140] Ibid., 10.

[141] White, “The Need of a Southern Program,” 9-11.

[142] Ibid., 11.

[143] Ibid.

[144] John E. White, “Prohibition: The New Task and Opportunity of the South,” 9.

[145] For the story of disenfranchisement in Georgia, see Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery.

[146] Pegram, “Temperance Politics and Regional Political Culture,” 75. Crowe, “Racial Violence,” 234-256. Brendan Payne wrote about the role of race in anti-prohibition campaigns. He discussed anti-prohibition among African Americans. Brendan Payne, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and Anti-prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935,” PhD diss., Baylor University, 2017.

[147] White, “Prohibition: The New Task and Opportunity of the South,” 9-15.

[148] White, “Temperance Reform in the South,” 574.

[149] The full quotation reads, “The thinning of the cloud of fear and uneasiness over the lives of country women, which in the year 1907 had become a morbid and threatening statue in Georgia by reason of drunkenness among the negroes.” See John E. White, “Prohibition in Georgia: Where it Falls, Where it Wins,” Atlantic Constitution, February 21, 1909.

[150] For other articles on prohibition, see John E. White, “How to Get Rid of Prohibition,” Atlanta Constitution, October 11, 1908. John E. White, “How to Get Rid of Prohibition,” Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1918. John E. White, “How to Get Rid of Prohibition,” Atlanta Constitution, November 1, 1908.

[151] B.M. Blackburn, “The Georgia Convict Lease Law,” Outlook (October 10, 1908): 295. Civil War era Governor Joseph Brown had been a leading member of Second Baptist Church during the late nineteenth century—and was one of the major figures to make significant money by the convict leasing program. See also “Moral Reform in Georgia,” Homiletic Review 56 (September 1908):173. Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White, 233, 238. Luker said that social gospel advocates worked on three racial issues in the South: anti-lynching, abolishing the convict lease system and disenfranchising black voters. Whites cooperated with black leaders on the first two. Luker noted the work of John White and Presbyterian Alexander J. McKelway to reform the convict lease system and “involuntary servitude.” For McKelway’s views, see A.J. McKelway, “The Convict Lease System of Georgia,” Outlook 90, no. 2 (September 12, 1908): 67. “A Blow to Convict Camps,” Independent 57 (July 28, 1904): 227.  See also Pete Daniel, The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901-1969 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972). William Link highlighted the progressive reforms of McKelway. The Presbyterian minister believed that Black people must have the guidance of whites and white supremacy for any real black progress. Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 65, 68, 161.

[152] John Dittmer noted that in the summer of 1908, a committee of the Georgia legislature (spurred by a series of investigative articles in the Atlanta Georgian) investigated the convict lease system and the findings shocked Georgians and spurred them to action. That year, the state replaced the convict lease system with the practice of state-sponsored chain gangs. Dittmer, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 83-88.

[153] On June 28, 1908, White preached to his Atlanta congregation on the “Cross and the Convict.” Several members of the legislature were given special invitations to attend and were present. The sermon was unusual for White and had very little biblical content. White said the convict lease system was barbaric from 1865 to 1899, and while improved in the last decade, still was based on the “vicious principle” that convicts could be sold for a profit. The “criminal negro” should be punished for his crime, but should not be treated as “a chattel, a piece of merchandise.”  See “Dr. White Talks on the Convict,” Atlanta Constitution (June 29, 1908), 3.

[154] White, “Thinking White,” 86.

[155] Ibid., 88-91.

[156] Henry Y. Warnock, “Prophets of Change: Some Southern Baptist Leaders and the Problem of Race, 1900-1921,” Baptist History and Heritage 7, no. 3 (July 1972): 181.

[157] Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson.

[158] Leonard, Illiberal Reformers, xiii, 111, 113, 189. Quotation on p. 189. The concept of illiberal ideas can be adapted to the support of WWI and the government expansion of war powers. Progressives promoted the war as a “war of righteousness” to advance God’s (postmillennial) kingdom. See Richard M. Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003), 4.

[159] Janine Giordano Drake, “The Other Social Gospelers: The Working-Class Religious Left, 1877-1920,” in Leliah Danielson, Mariam Mollin and Doug Rossinow, eds., The Religious Left in Modern America (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), 25, 29-30. In the 1890s, the American Federation of Labor reflected a conservative shift and did not protest racism in its ranks. See Carter, Union Made: Working People, 152-153.

[160] Flanagan, America Reformed, 51. See also, Grantham, Southern Progressivism, 126-127. Michael McGerr added that Progressive support for segregation was “a moral blunder… it revealed a weakness that they couldn’t produce a harmonious nation…. By agreeing to segregation, they contradicted their belief in the necessity of association.” See McGerr, A Fierce Discontent, 215.

[161] Flanagan, America Reformed, 51. For a study of the African American social gospel, see Gary Dorrien, The New Abolition: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). Stephen Diner wrote, “In the years between 1890 and World War I, corporate managers violently suppressed strikes; millions of rural and urban Americans lived in poverty; lynching of African Americans soared while white Southerners completed the segregation and disenfranchisement of black citizens. These are… not ‘progressive’ by any modern definition.” He included a chapter on how African Americans coped (without acquiescing to white demands). Diner, A Very Different Age, 125-154. Quotation on p. 13.

[162] Mixon, The Atlanta Riot, 15. Some African American leaders were less “progressive” economically; rather, they preferred more classical liberal laissez faire approaches.

[163] Southern, The Progressive Era and Race, 47. Southern noted that the phrase “Regressive Era” came from Pete Daniel.

[164] William Link used the word paradox to describe these issues in progressivism. See Link, The Paradox of Southern Progressivism.