Writer seeks help with Born of Conviction project


Special to the Advocate

More than 40 years after a group of Mississippi Methodist pastors took a stand against racial discrimination, a book is being written about the event.

Joseph T. Reiff, a religion professor at Emory & Henry College and clergy member of the Holston Annual Conference, is working on a book on the “Born of Conviction” statement signed by 28 Mississippi Conference ministers and published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate on Jan. 2, 1963. The statement called for freedom of the pulpit, quoted the Book of Discipline to claim that racial discrimination went against the teachings of Jesus, expressed opposition to closing public schools in order to avoid desegregation, and asserted that the signers were not Communists. Most of the public response was negative, and 19 of the 28 left the Mississippi Conference, most within 18 months of the statement’s publication.

Reiff, who grew up in Mississippi and served as a pastor in the Mississippi Conference from 1980-85, has interviewed almost all of the 20 surviving signers, some family members of deceased signers and several other ministers and some lay persons. Plans are for the book to discuss the statement itself, its context (both in Mississippi and the Mississippi Conference) and the various responses to the statement and to those who signed it. Reiff plans to explore a number of larger issues, such as the complexities of church leadership in times of social upheaval, the tensions between the Christian faith and the surrounding culture and the conference’s struggle with race relations in the early 1960s. Reiff plans to submit a manuscript to a university press by the end of 2007.

Reiff seeks assistance from those who:

  • Have particular memories about the statement itself, the experiences of individual signers or of the experiences of any local church or other persons related to the publication of “Born of Conviction” and its aftermath
  • Have saved any correspondence or other documents (sermons, newsletters, etc.) that relate to “Born of Conviction.” One specific need is for issues of the “Information Bulletin” published by the Mississippi Association of Methodist Ministers and Laymen
  • Have contact information for family members of the Rev. Bufkin Oliver or the Rev. Harold Ryker.

Anyone with information may contact Joe Reiff at 196 Crestview Drive, Abingdon, VA 24210, by email at jreiff@ehc.edu or by phone at 276-628-3740.