The Rise to Respectability

Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ
Calvin White, Jr.
190 pages, 18 images

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A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The Rise to Respectability documents the history of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and examines its cultural and religious impact on African Americans and on the history of the South. It explores the ways in which Charles Harrison Mason, the son of slaves and founder of COGIC, embraced a Pentecostal faith that celebrated charismatic forms of religious expression that many blacks had come to view as outdated, unsophisticated, and embarrassing.

While examining the intersection of race, religion, and class, The Rise to Respectability details how the denomination dealt with the stringent standard of bourgeois behavior imposed on churchgoers as they moved from southern rural areas into the urban centers in both the South and North.

Rooted in the hardships of slavery and coming of age during Jim Crow, COGIC’s story is more than a religious debate. Rather, this book sees the history of the church as interwoven with the Great Migration, the struggle for modernity, class tension, and racial animosity—all representative parts of the African American experience.

The Church of God in Christ has nearly five million members in the United States. It is the largest Pentecostal church and the fifth largest Christian church in the country.

“In his prudently revisionist account of the early career of Charles H. Mason and the origins of the Church of God in Christ, Calvin White Jr. shows that the church has on several key occasions tentatively engaged worldly concerns, including opposition to World War I, social-uplift missionary efforts in Africa, and cautious cooperation with Dr. King in the Memphis garbage workers strike of 1968. A valuable addition to the historiography of COGIC.”
—John B. Boles, Rice University

“A timely and valuable contribution to the fields of African American history, religious studies, and southern history. White’s work sheds light on the dynamic interplay between religion, class dynamics, race, culture, and evolving notions of uplift and conformity. Will be enjoyed by readers of all levels and interests.”
—Charles W. McKinney Jr., author of Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina

“A complex, important, and amazing story of religion, race, class, civil rights, and history. Required reading for all serious students of the black church.”
—Reg Hildebrand, author of The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation

“Uncovers a great deal of valuable historical data and provides one of the very few full-length examinations of the most important group in black Pentecostalism.”
—Paul Harvey, author of Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity

Calvin White Jr. is assistant professor of history and director of the African and African American Studies Program at the University of Arkansas. He teaches African American and southern history.

“This is a fine, much-needed book based on impressive original research. White’s study should throw open debate on key questions in modern African American religious history.”
—Jarod Roll, American Historical Review

“White provides a thoughtful, well-researched, and engaging narrative that moves COGIC from the margins to the center of African American religious history.”
—Julius H. Bailey, The Journal of Southern History, February 2014

“A valuable history of the Church of God in Christ.”
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2013

“Calvin White Jr. provides an engaging treatment of COGIC’s development under Charles Harrison Mason and Charles Price Jones, and a superb review of the scholarship on Pentecostal studies …contributes significantly to American religious history and should be on undergraduate syllabi everywhere.”
—Jonathan L. Walton in the Journal of American History

“An indispensable work in African American religious history.”

Adopted at: Tougaloo College
Course: HIS 225, The Civil Rights Movement
Course Description: This course will examine the origins, philosophies, tactics, events, personalities, and consequences of the southern civil Rights Movement. This course will begin with the struggles of black veterans to register to vote after WWII and will conclude with the Meredith March Against Fear in 1966.
Professor: Michael Williams
Term: Spring 2015