Historian David Chappell, however, offers an interesting nuance to the dominant narrative of a church-endorsed racism and the way many white Christians inhabited the middle ground: “The historically significant thing about white religion in the 1950s-1960s is not its failure to join the civil rights movement. The significant thing, given that the church was probably as racist as the rest of the South, is that it failed in any meaningful way to join the anti-civil rights movement.” White, southern churches , “failed to elevate their whiteness – the institutions and customs that oppressed black folk – above other concerns…..They loved other things – peace, social order – more. They could not make defense of segregation the unifying principle of their culture.” What remains clear is that the South worked in predictable fashion for white, southern Christians, and the default, autopilot setting of southern society created problems for people of color.
In other words, the social imagination of white moderates was being exploded by the prospect of losing what they believed they had earned. They had created the world they wanted for themselves. With World War II in the rearview mirror; the U.S. soon enjoyed a booming economy and a booming population. As James Hudnut-Beumler puts it, “Those who came to age as young adults in the 1950s were in no small measure the products of the fear and expectations of Depression-era parents.” The civil rights movement was an interruption to the placid life they had sought to create for themselves. Thus, the white moderate wanted all of the public discord to stop, without their interests being harmed. Preserving these everyday loves begins to explain the white moderates’ complicity to racism, all the while feeling they were not part of the problem simply because they never lit up a cross or struck someone at a lunch counter.
From “Know Your Place: Helping White, Southern Evangelicals Cope with the End of The(ir) World” by Justin R. Phillips