From the Civil Rights Movement to today, faith leaders and faith-based organizations have played a role in lifting up universal human rights, while others have used religion as a cloak of oppression or inaction.  Many faith communities work hard to remain neutral; however, countless pastors, rabbis, imams, priests, and nontheist leaders have guided the movement for change. During the sit-in demonstrations and subsequent protests and boycotts in Jacksonville in the 1960s, churches from the iconic Bethel Baptist Institutional Church to St. Paul A.M.E. Church were home to many in the movement and have close associations with organizations like the NAACP.  Churches played host to the many mass meetings where “civil rights movement revivals” were in rich abundance. Churches provided a network to learn the latest news about the struggle. Churches were also a sanctuary during threats of violence. Today, a rich tapestry of faith communities are active in the movement for racial justice; however, Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated time in the faith community as the chasm of the spiritual divide holds true.

In the voice of Rodney L. Hurst Sr., from his book,  It was never about a hot dog and a Coke®!


The Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP mass meetings were a means to re-energize and motivate, and an effective communications network for the movement. Mass meetings were spiritually driven while providing updates on civil rights activities locally and nationally. The church was the optimal meeting place; however, some churches were not open to hosting mass meetings or would charge a fee to use the building.

“During the fifties and sixties, the Black Church represented our spiritual strength, our sanctuary, our refuge, our informational news network, and the major meeting location for NAACP meetings. We did not have large auditoriums and other venues where we could meet during these days of segregation.  Those Black ministers who were advocates of civil rights gave the movement a lot of its spiritual direction and energy by leading through example.”

– Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

Rutledge H. Pearson, center, standing with Black ministers who helped integrate Morrison’s Cafeteria in the early 1960s, on the steps of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Downtown Jacksonville.


“There is no work more sacred than establishing heaven on earth, which will require shattering every chain of oppression impeding God’s children from enjoying the full expression of their humanity. The courageous sojourners blazing a path toward our collective liberation today comprise a body larger and more diverse than ever, reflecting our growing recognition that God, faith, and the Beloved Community are bigger than we — or our ancestors — ever imagined. Yet, God’s call today is the same as it was a generation ago and beyond: Prepare the way; make clear the path — our redemption is nigh.”

– Pastor Phillip Baber, Humanitarian


This poetic cry for empathy considers the compassionate side of the movement not often seen. This is a warm reminder that the root of human connection is love.