The Missing Movement - A Black History Month Lecture

Dr. Tobin Miller Shearer

The history department welcomed Dr. Tobin Miller Shearer from the University of Montana on Monday, February 15, for the annual Black History Month Lecture.

Shearer presented “The Missing Movement: The Civil Rights Freedom Struggle Inside the Church.” His focus was on the civil rights movement that took place within the church, specifically within the Mennonite tradition. This is a “movement that has not been studied or given attention to,” said Shearer.

Opening with a story of two women in the Mennonite church, one African American and the other Caucasian, Shearer shared how the church was integrating with the African American population. For most church members, however, once inside the church, it resembled the rest of society–segregated.

“You remove yourself from the world, to a place that looks a lot like the world,” Shearer explained.

Giving the example of dress, Shearer explained how the coverings of the women functioned in different ways among races. The Caucasian women wore the coverings as a means to gain legitimacy, while the African American women wore the coverings as way to say “I, too, am a Mennonite.”

During the course of the century the women rose up and helped move the church out of segregation and toward integration.

Completing the chronology of the civil rights movement within the church, Shearer left the audience with one final question: Which better represents the civil rights movement? the actions taking place on the streets and sidewalks or the actions taking place within the sanctuaries and living rooms?