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G. C. Rankin (George C.), 1849-1915
The Story of My Life or More Than a Half Century As I Have Lived and Seen It Lived Written by Myself at My Own Suggestion and That of Many Others Who Have Known and Loved Me
Nashville, TN; Dallas, TX: Smith & Lamar, c1912.

Summary

George Clark Rankin, son of Creed W. Rankin and Martha Clark Rankin, was born November 19, 1849, in Jefferson County, Tennessee. He spent his early childhood in East Tennessee and later moved to northern Georgia. He was educated at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee, and became licensed to preach in the Southern Methodist Church in 1870. As a pastor, he served appointments in northern Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; Smyth County, Virginia; Abingdon, Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Houston, Texas; and Dallas, Texas. In 1875, he married Fannie L. Denton, with whom he had six children. In 1898, he became editor of the Texas Christian Advocate, a publication of the Methodist Church. Rankin used his position as editor to rail against dancing, gambling and prostitution, while urging Methodists to respect the Sabbath and support prohibition. He remained editor until his death on February 2, 1915, in Dallas.

Christianity suffuses Rankin's childhood; indeed, in his telling of it, religion is a part of his life before he was even born. This emphasis is largely due to Rankin's mother, a woman of deep and abiding faith who practices "not simply a Church religion," but "a uniform, ever-flowing, perennial religion" (p. 9). When Rankin's parents' first two children die in infancy, Rankin's mother turns even more deeply to her faith in order to find comfort. Rankin is his parents' third child, and their first to live to maturity. Thus he is born into their home at a time when his mother's "faith was keenest and when her reliance upon divine strength was greatest" (p. 12). Because of this history, Rankin writes that he "cannot remember when I was not religiously inclined. My nature was bent that way, and my earliest thought dwelt upon God instinctively" (p. 13).

The chapters in The Story of My Life that deal with Rankin's boyhood in Tennessee are dominated by discussion of his friendship with his "inseparable chum" Jack, an African American house slave owned by Rankin's grandmother (p. 15). Eventually, Rankin's grandmother gives Jack away to one of her children, and Rankin explains that he learned to hate slavery on the day when he saw Jack's mother, whom he calls Aunt Dinny, devastated by the news of Jack's imminent departure. The intensity of Aunt Dinny's grief makes Rankin realize that while he had thought of her as just "an old black woman, with no sort of education," she is actually a human being who "had a heart" that was "bleeding" (p. 26). Still, Rankin's overall reflections on the system of slavery remain contradictory. He says that he hopes to meet both Jack and Aunt Dinny in heaven, "where colors and distinctions are unknown and where God is the Father of us all," but he also describes Jack as "a grotesque speciment [sic] of humanity" (p. 28, p. 16). And later, he waxes nostalgic about slavery, lamenting that "the old-time Southern slave, the very best type of the negro race, is very nearly extinct" (p. 28).

Rankin also describes the turbulence of civilian life in the "disputed territory" of eastern Tennessee during the Civil War, noting that "when the Confederates were not occupying it, the Federals were in possession" (p. 55). Because soldiers from both sides often raid civilian homes for supplies, it becomes very difficult for Rankin and his family to remain in possession of the livestock that they need for food, milk and farm work. In fact, Rankin has to defend a cow, horse and mule that he has secreted away in the hills from a patrol of Union soldiers who try, ultimately without success, to steal them.

After the war ends, Rankin goes to northern Georgia, where he lives with and works for an uncle who takes him to his first revival meeting. Rankin cannot understand why some people at the meeting are so overcome with emotion that they shout and weep. He himself does not feel the urge to do so and worries that something might be wrong with his faith. But at later revival meeting, a preacher takes Rankin aside and tells him that "feeling is not religion," and that "To love God and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, turning away from all sin, and living a godly life, is the substance of true religion" (p. 90). After this revelation, Rankin joins the Southern Methodist Church.

As he continues to participate in church life, Rankin feels a calling to the ministry but worries that he is too poor and unlearned for the job. Many of the later chapters in The Story of My Life document Rankin's ultimately successful quest to educate himself so he can become a minister. He then details his various appointments around the country, emphasizing his efforts to close down bars and saloons wherever the Church stations him. During the winter of 1886-1887 for example, he preaches a series of sermons in Chattanooga, decrying what he sees in the city's saloons. Many of them are later reprinted in the local newspaper.

The Story of My Life concludes with Rankin being named editor of The Texas Christian Advocate. Although he promises to write "a subsequent volume" of his autobiography in which he will describe his "experiences as a journalist and a leader in the realm of moral and civic reform throughout this great empire of the Southwest" (p. 355), he never published the promised narrative.

Works Consulted: "George Clark Rankin, D.D.," Christian Advocate 76, no. 7 (February 12, 1915): 5; Vernon, Walter N. and Stone, William J. Jr., "United Methodist Reporter," in Handbook of Texas Online, online database (Texas State Historical Association in association with the College of Liberal Arts and the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin, June 6, 2001).

Harry Thomas

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