Title page for ETD etd-04292010-132837

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Renfro, Blake Barton
URN etd-04292010-132837
Title The Reunification of American Methodism, 1916-1939
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Foster, Gaines Committee Chair
Paskoff, Paul Committee Member
Pasquier, Michael Committee Member
  • Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Methodism
  • racial segregation
  • denominationalism
  • interracial Christianity
  • Reconstruction
  • southern progressivism
Date of Defense 2010-03-19
Availability unrestricted
In 1844 American Methodists split over the issue of slavery, and following the Civil War the regional churches took two paths toward accommodating African Americans. Northern whites put their faith in the ideology of racial uplift and believed freed persons could only rise through society through organic relations with their white brethren. Southern whites, however, contended that blacks should maintain their own racially segregated churches. Thus, by the 1870s, southern Methodism became an all white institution. Between 1916 and 1939 northern and southern Methodists debated a path to reunite American Methodism, and the role of African Americans in the church and the distribution of ecclesiastical authority became two primary obstacles.

When the churches agreed on a final plan in 1939, it appeared that southern whites’ segregationist attitudes had prevailed over the northern Methodists’ racial egalitarianism. Scholarly interpretations have confirmed this assumption, arguing that the final plan caste African Americans into a racially segregated “Central Jurisdiction” and only gave blacks representation in the quadrennial General Conference. However, a careful examination of the reunification debates reveals how white and black Methodist’s conceptions of race changed over the inter-war years. Where other interpretations have caste reunification as a regressive measure in race relations, this essay argues that at the time, many Methodists believed it was one step toward a more racially and ecclesiastically harmonious Methodism.

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