Houston Matters

Book Chronicles Unsung ‘Saints In The Struggle’ For Civil Rights

Dr. Jonathan Chism explains why many members of the Church of God in Christ chose to get involved in the Civil Rights movement, despite the stance of their denomination.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

Saints in the Struggle BookAfrican-American churches played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. But there are some members of one denomination that haven’t gotten their due.

The Church of God in Christ – or COGIC for short – is a predominantly African-American, Pentecostal denomination founded around the turn of the last century in Memphis by a man named Bishop Charles Mason.

The denomination’s contributions are often overlooked because of their theological stance on activism. They believed their role was to pray for social change instead of engaging in the direct activism of those like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

However, many COGIC members and leaders did join the movement, as University of Houston-Downtown assistant professor of history Jonathan Chism chronicles in his book, Saints in the Struggle: Church of God in Christ Activists in the Memphis Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968.

In the audio above, Chism explains who some of the key players were, their contributions, and why they chose to get involved.

Jonathan Chism - UHD
Jonathan Chism is an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown specializing in African American religious history.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the Senior Producer for Houston Matters. He has a degree in journalism from Abilene Christian University and has served as news director for NPR and PBS stations around Texas and The West, including: KUNR-FM in Reno, Nev.; KNPB-TV in Reno, Nev.; and KWBU-TV/FM in Waco, Texas. He...

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