"Loving all People Regardless of Race, Creed, or Color": James L. Delk and the Lost History of Pentecostal Interracialism
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Many historians of Pentecostalism have observed that following the initial potential for interracial religion among early Pentecostals following the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, most white Pentecostals progressively cut ties with their African American coreligionists until Pentecostal denominations were almost entirely segregated by the 1930s. To many, this trend towards racial segregation seemed an inevitable trend brought on by the underlying racism of American society during the Jim Crow segregationist era before the mid-1960s. The life of white evangelist James Delk causes us to rethink the narrative of inevitable segregation. An ally and eventual member of the African American Pentecostal Church of God in Christ who became a close associate of church leader Charles H. Mason, Delk’s life offers insight into why some white Pentecostals were able to pursue and maintain interracial religion when the majority of white Pentecostals were not. His life shows how these rare interracial white Pentecostals maintained interracial religious ties due to a combination of their willingness to be counter cultural and go against the standards of white middle class social respectability. While going against mainstream culture was not uncommon to early Pentecostals, the clear interracial theology Delk held was very rare among early white Pentecostals. Delk’s willingness to go against social norms combined with his theology empowered him not only to believe and espouse interracial religion, but also to actively work to build it up. Using local and regional newspapers, as well as personal letters, books, archival collections, interviews, and secondary sources, one is able to see how Delk’s path to interracial religion began not far from where many early white Pentecostals also started. In the end, the reason many white Pentecostals did not follow the interracial path of Delk was that they either rejected interracial religion, lacked a solid foundation for interracial theology, or pursued social respectability at the cost of potential interracialism. While Delk’s life exemplifies the potential for interracial religion among early Pentecostals, it also shows how the very countercultural personality which enabled him to act upon his interracial theology also held the potential to sabotage his activism.
Table of Contents
Abstract -- Acknowledgements -- Bibliography -- Vita