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Christian Citizens

Reading the Bible in Black and White in the Postemancipation South

By Elizabeth L. Jemison

242 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5969-5
    Published: November 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5968-8
    Published: November 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5970-1
    Published: October 2020

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With emancipation, a long battle for equal citizenship began. Bringing together the histories of religion, race, and the South, Elizabeth L. Jemison shows how southerners, black and white, drew on biblical narratives as the basis for very different political imaginaries during and after Reconstruction. Focusing on everyday Protestants in the Mississippi River Valley, Jemison scours their biblical thinking and religious attitudes toward race. She argues that the evangelical groups that dominated this portion of the South shaped contesting visions of black and white rights.

Black evangelicals saw the argument for their identities as Christians and as fully endowed citizens supported by their readings of both the Bible and U.S. law. The Bible, as they saw it, prohibited racial hierarchy, and Amendments 13, 14, and 15 advanced equal rights. Countering this, white evangelicals continued to emphasize a hierarchical paternalistic order that, shorn of earlier justifications for placing whites in charge of blacks, now fell into the defense of an increasingly violent white supremacist social order. They defined aspects of Christian identity so as to suppress black equality—even praying, as Jemison documents, for wisdom in how to deny voting rights to blacks. This religious culture has played into remarkably long-lasting patterns of inequality and segregation.

About the Author

Elizabeth L. Jemison is assistant professor of religion at Clemson University.
For more information about Elizabeth L. Jemison, visit the Author Page.


"A thorough exploration of how Black and white Christians drew on their faith in the aftermath of the Civil War to make radically divergent claims about an ideal political order. . . . [an] enlightening investigation."--Publishers Weekly

“Elizabeth Jemison artfully recreates the shifting rhetorical strategies white and black Protestants in the postemancipation South mobilized to contest access to ‘Christian citizenship.’ Her description of the disdain for black lives that accompanied the resurgence of white Protestants’ professions of paternalism is both convincing and haunting.”—Charles Irons, Elon University

“Considering white and black southerners together, Elizabeth Jemison makes a compelling argument about the ways in which theological concepts, religious practices, and racialized ideas influenced the arguments over equality and citizenship in the post–Civil War South. Extending her analysis to gender and family norms, Jemison reveals how much these ideas played into later constructions of fundamentalism and, much later, the religious right.”—Paul Harvey, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs