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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Hardin Jr., December 8, 1989. Interview C-0071. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integrating the Methodist Church despite opposition

As a Methodist bishop, Hardin worked against the influence of conservative ministers and his anonymous critics. He used humor and firm leadership to influence church members to accept black ministers and reject supremacist groups like the White Citizens' Council. Occasionally he used legal means to prevent churches from leaving the denomination over fear of integration.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Hardin Jr., December 8, 1989. Interview C-0071. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DONALD MATHEWS:
Well, I just wondered about your ministry in Birmingham.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
It was a delightful experience. I had anonymous letters by the dozen, but I never let them bother me. One fellow was a persistent writer, and I nicknamed him. I called him "Old Bashful." I started telling the congregation about him about two or three years after I got there. He, of course, thought I was awful. That I was a Yankee, and that I was trying to bring blacks into the church and so forth and so on. And I would tell the congregation, "Well, I had another letter from ‘old Bashful' this week." And I'd tell him what he was trying to tell me, you know. I remember once just before, well, I had a big preacher coming, Dr. E. Stanley Jones. I mentioned the fact that he was coming, and I said, "I hope we can have good attendance." I said, "We all need to come here."
DONALD MATHEWS:
E. Stanley Jones?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
E. Stanley Jones was coming to preach for me, and he did a good job. I said, "Stanley Jones is going to be here, and I want us all to come. We all need to come. You need to come. I need to come. ‘Old Bashful' needs to come." [Laughter] They all started laughing, you know. But I never did hear anymore from him after that. "That ‘Old Bashful' needs it." That killed him. There's more than one way to kill a cat.
DONALD MATHEWS:
You watched the civil rights conflict in Birmingham, right?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Yes, I did. Of course, as a bishop I took the Alabama-West Florida Conference for three and a half years when Bockman Hodge died. We had to divide Alabama. There were two conferences in Alabama, north Alabama and south Alabama. Nolan Harmon took north Alabama because I had just been in that conference for eleven years, and I took south Alabama. We were together, working our ways together. So it was a thing that had to be worked as best we could. I went to south Alabama and found a real, old Frazier. Do you know the preacher Frazier down in south Alabama?
DONALD MATHEWS:
No.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Frazier was the cock of the walk. He was the most conservative man in the conference, and he dominated the conservatives. So it made it very difficult down there but we finally whacked that down.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Can you talk about the nature of the conflict in south Alabama?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Well, there were a few men in south Alabama who were very liberal. Some of them had left during the days when Bishop Franklin was over there. Franklin was a sweet person, but Franklin was not a strong character. And we had an exodus from south Alabama of young preachers that ought not ever to have left Alabama. But Franklin was out of the country, for one thing, when they were taking the first black student into that University of Alabama. Franklin was overseas, and some of his crowd got away while he was gone. They just said, "I'm not going to put up with this kind of stuff," and went out. I remember when I went up to Drew University to preach up there, oh, some years ago now, maybe ten years ago or less, the pastor at the church there at the university was a Mississippi man who left Mississippi during that period.
DONALD MATHEWS:
There was an exodus from Mississippi.
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
They went from both, Mississippi and Alabama.
DONALD MATHEWS:
Did you have much problem with the White Citizens' Councils in South Alabama?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
I would say it seemed like a lot. As I look back on it now, it was not really a lot. They tried to get meeting space in my church in Birmingham, and I forbade it. Some of my lay people on the board felt like we ought to let them have it. That they had a right to their side. I just told them frankly, "If you need them in this church, you don't need me." Fortunately, they did not allow them to meet there. [When I became a bishop, they already knew my position.]
DONALD MATHEWS:
Were there any, I should know this but I don't, Methodist churches that simply split or left the denomination?
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
Yes, some. I went to court three times. [I went to court over Union Springs, Alabama. We won. I also went to court twice in South Carolina and won both suits.] [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
BISHOP PAUL HARDIN:
[I went to court] three times. Union Springs was the most notorious case. Union Springs tried to pull out lock, stock, and barrel, and I told them they couldn't do it. I sent the district superintendent. I had an engagement that morning. I think it was in Mobile. But I called the superintendent of that district and told him to go and be present at the church that Sunday morning that they were going to have it. "You tell them that they cannot do that. It's illegal, and it would normally necessitate an expensive court case." But anyway, two of the men escorted him out of the church. So then I got a lawyer to take our case, and we sued for the property. And in the long run-we could have gotten quick action in the federal court-but we wanted the local, the south Alabama court, to make the ruling. And they finally had to rule in our favor. Well, that put a hiatus to a lot of that stuff. In the meantime, I turned right around and moved the preacher.