Memphis Writer Spotlight: Stephen R. Haynes

Posted on January 23, 2014

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By Whitney Baskin

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In his book, Haynes, Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Midtown, looks at the Civil Rights Movement through a religious lens, focusing on the ways in which different churches in Memphis handled the process of integration. The Last Segregated Hour recalls a number of personal stories from the widely publicized church kneel-ins that took place in Memphis in the early 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The kneel-ins were peaceful demonstrations that illuminated the inherent hypocrisy of churchgoers who were hesitant to allow the integration of their churches. This hypocrisy was rooted in what can be characterized as a blatant ignorance of the basic Christian fundamentals that explain that all men are equal in the eyes of God.

In light of MLK Day this past Monday, it seems fitting to highlight the connections Haynes makes to King throughout his book. Another reviewer of the book, Charles Marsh, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, restates a question King once posed in response to church segregation, “Who is the God they worship?” Haynes’ book as a whole can be characterized as an attempt to answer this poignant question. In search of an answer to this question that King himself was never able to answer, Haynes conducted a series of face-to-face interviews with church leaders and members who were present during the demonstrations. Throughout the book, Haynes weaves personal stories with a slew of historical and theological research. Through the combination of historical accounts and personal Haynes paints a picture of a paralyzing fear of change that plagued the Memphis community and countless others during the early 60s.

Since the publication of his book in late 2012, Haynes has given a number of presentations across the country during which he discusses not only the Memphis kneel-ins, but also similar demonstrations that took place around the south. His book has received high critical praise for its unique topic and engaging methods of storytelling. The Last Segregated Hour offers a fresh vantage point from which to remember Memphis’s significance during the Civil Rights Movement.

Whitney Baskin is a senior English major at Rhodes College.

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