Written by Gaye Swan
In 1963, sparked by racial injustices of the day, four young white Methodist ministers met at a Mississippi fish camp to write a statement challenging the church for its failure to respond to ongoing destructive racism. The resulting Born of Conviction statement sounds mild by today’s standards – a stand for freedom of the pulpit, opposition to racial segregation and discrimination, support of the public school system, and opposition to communism. But it brought a hailstorm of criticism, ostracism, and even threats down upon the 28 ministers, including the four writers, who signed in agreement. Within a year of publication, 20 were forced to leave the state.
One of the authors was Maxie Dunnam, then the pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in Gulfport, MS.
In 2016, Dr. Joseph T. Reiff, a former Mississippi Methodist pastor and current Professor of Religion at Emory & Henry College, published Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society, detailing the story of “the 28” and the effect of the statement on Mississippi’s Civil Rights movement. Dr. Reiff describes the document as the second best known white clergy statement of the Civil Rights era, second only to the Good Friday Statement signed by eight white Alabama clergy – in response to which Dr. Martin Luther King penned his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, President Emeritus of Morehouse College, recommends that the book “be required reading for leaders and laypeople, who will learn much from our predecessors.”
Dr. Dunnam feels the book Born of Conviction is a valuable resource today for two reasons. First, the major issues facing the church in 1963 are still present, and we continue to address them. Second, in disappointment with the first point, people may tend to say that things have not changed at all. It is important to read this book to see that things have indeed changed, and that there is hope.
>> The book, which includes the Born of Conviction statement, is available on Amazon or can be ordered locally from Novel (for delivery or pick it up in the store in Laurelwood). In addition, there are other recommended resources for the Still A Man series available in the Lampost Library.