"Count on me": reverend M. L. Price of Texas, a case study in civil rights leadership

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Date: Fall 2005
From: Journal of American Ethnic History(Vol. 25, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Document Type: Biography
Length: 11,085 words
Lexile Measure: 1500L

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SCHOLARS STUDYING BLACK leaders prominent during the civil rights movement generally have focused on activists like Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, or Fred Shuttles worth, and to a lesser degree on conservatives like Joseph H. Jackson or J. L. Ware. (2) They have portrayed the activists as nonviolent warriors who battled not only the forces of white supremacy, but also the conservative black leaders who opposed the struggle. For example, in his fine history of the movement in Birmingham, Alabama, historian Glenn Eskew chronicled the tensions arising in the early 1960s after Rev. J. L. Ware refused to support protests begun by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and instead offered Birmingham's white leaders an accommodationist alternative to the radical preacher. Likewise, Taylor Branch described Dr. King's longstanding conflicts with the conservative Rev. J. H. Jackson, head of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), who refused to aid the civil rights movement. King hoped to use the NBC to mobilize "the power of the Negro church to break the hegemony of white segregationist voters," but Jackson rejected his efforts and later denounced the March on Washington as dangerous and unwarranted. (3)

Were there really only two types of black leaders during the struggle? Why have activist and conservative black leaders received so much scholarly attention? Was there no middle ground between the conservatives and radicals? There were, of course, those whose leadership style embodied neither the activism of King and Shuttlesworth nor the conservatism of Jackson and Ware. As leaders, these individuals followed a "middle course," acting as intermediaries between the forces of radicalism and conservatism. But despite their significance, such middle-course leaders have received little substantive scrutiny from scholars. Rev. Moses Leonard Price of Texas offers a good example of one of these middle-course leaders. Price pastored the 1,600 member Greater Zion Baptist Church in Houston, was president of the Missionary Baptist General Convention of Texas (MBGC), and participated in religious and civic activities throughout the United States. But he did not seek accolades or recognition, which perhaps explains why he and others like him have not received much scholarly attention. Price chose to lead from the shadows and conduct affairs away from the media spotlight. He worked behind the scenes with local white leaders to undo the Jim Crow system in Texas, particularly in Houston. And he refused to protest. His low profile might have placed Price into the conservative's camp, but he also encouraged civil rights activism, pushed blacks to protest nonviolently, donated bail money for jailed activists, and politically mobilized black Texans by urging them to vote and run for office. He conscientiously practiced a type of leadership that differed distinctly from activists who chose to protest and conservatives who did not. Neither an activist nor a conservative, Price's leadership floated somewhere in between.

Reverend Price's middle-course style might best be described as multifaceted. For example, he directly influenced the state by giving numerous sermons and speeches and by writing a voluminous number of letters. (4) In this way,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A406164906