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Rivers, Larry E. 1950- (Larry Eugene Rivers)

Rivers, Larry E. 1950- (Larry Eugene Rivers)

PERSONAL:

Born 1950. Education: Fort Valley State University, B.S.; Villanova University, M.A.; Carnegie-Mellon University, D.A.; Goldsmith College, University of London, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Fort Valley State University, 1005 State University Dr., Fort Valley, GA 31030.

CAREER:

Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, professor of history, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, 2002-06; Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, GA, president, 2006—. Member of the board of advisors of the Center for Florida History, Lakeland.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Arthur W. Thompson Award, Florida Historical Society, 1984; Carter G. Woodson Award, Association for the Study of African American Life, 1994; Rembert W. Patrick Book Award, Florida Historical Society, 2001; Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Book Award, Florida Historical Society, 2002; Certificate of Commendation, American Association for State and Local History, 2002; awards for research, publications, and community service.

WRITINGS:

Slavery in Florida: Territorial Days to Emancipation, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 2000.

(With Canter Brown, Jr.) Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895 ("History of African-American Religion" series), University Press of Florida (Gainesville), 2001.

(Editor, with Richard Mathews and Canter Brown, Jr.) Lays in Summer Lands, University of Tampa Press (Tampa, FL), 2002.

(With Canter Brown, Jr.) For a Great and Grand Purpose: The Beginnings of the AMEZ Church in Florida, 1864-1905 ("History of African-American Religion" series), University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 2004.

Contributor to books by others, including The African American Heritage of Florida, 1995; and Florida's Heritage of Diversity, 1997. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including the Journal of Negro History, Florida Historical Quarterly, Social Education, Georgia Historical Quarterly, Social Studies Journal, and Tequesta.

SIDELIGHTS:

Larry E. Rivers is a historian whose particular focus is the black history of Florida. Rivers taught for many years at Florida A&M University, and in 2006, he became the eighth president of Fort Valley State University, his alma mater.

Rivers collaborated with Canter Brown, Jr., a professor of history at Florida A&M, in the writing of volumes for the "History of African-American Religion" series of the University Press of Florida. The first is Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895, an examination of the history of the Florida African Methodist Episcopal Church from the beginning of Reconstruction to the time of Jim Crow segregation. During this period, the AME Church was a critical part of the cultural, religious, and political lives of the black citizens of Florida. The authors begin by providing an overview of the religion of slaves and the beginnings of African Methodism prior to 1865 and ends by describing the challenges faced by the church by 1895.

The AME Church was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but it expanded toward the end of the Civil War, which is where this study begins. Church leaders, including Robert Meacham and Charles H. Pearce, became involved in local politics and advocated for education and employment for blacks and poor whites. Others supported the temperance movement. Rivers and Brown draw on primary sources that include records and church newspapers in coming to their conclusions.

Charles Ferris reviewed Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord for H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, describing it as "a good reference source." Ferris felt, however, that "there is a need to place the state's story in the context of a larger narrative, either within a denominational, regional and/or national context. During much of the Reconstruction period the AME Church was undergoing expansion throughout the Southern states and becoming involved with Reconstruction efforts in all of them."

Rivers and Brown also wrote For a Great and Grand Purpose: The Beginnings of the AMEZ Church in Florida, 1864-1905 for the same series. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which was founded in New York City in the early 1800s, came to Florida during the last years of the Civil War, one year before the AME. During its early years, the AMEZ Church became one of the first to ordain women to full clerical status. Both ministers and laymen were involved with the Underground Railroad, and included members and supporters such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.

When Connecticut native Wilbur Garrison Strong arrived in Key West, Florida, in 1864, he became the first black ordained minister on the peninsula. He brought to Florida the traditions of northern Methodists, whose religion was based on joyful praise and preaching, and a simple form of gospel teaching that focused on "righteous living." Because Key West had been under Union control for most of the Civil War, slaves and free blacks were able to worship more independently than others in the state, and they embraced Strong's church.

Church ministers were leaders in several cities, and there were more urban and middle-class members than was usual for southern religious groups, which tended to be rural. It grew to be one of the largest black churches in Florida, but its growth was not without difficulty. There were disputes between local ministers and Episcopal authorities, leadership issues, and political division when the church addressed social issues. Church coffers were depleted because of citrus crop failures, hurricanes, and yellow fever. The AMEZ decline was in progress by 1905, when the governor of Florida ordered that all blacks be expelled and segregation on public transportation became law. It was the beginning of the era of discrimination and violence against blacks.

This book was also reviewed by an H-Net contributor. Neil J. Young wrote that in addition to providing a history of the AMEZ, it also "opens up a wider history of late-nineteenth-century Florida to the reader. Most compelling is the exploration of the state's economic transformation in the decades following the Civil War. Though the state remained overwhelmingly agricultural, burgeoning industries in timber and cigars concentrated around the urban areas of Pensacola and Key West, respectively. Brown and Rivers show how these industries made an impact on the Reconstructionera economy of Florida and how they permitted rare economic opportunities for the new freedmen." Young concluded by writing: "Brown and Rivers have provided an invaluable foundation upon which new works of the AMEZ Church, in particular, but also African-American and southern religion, in general, will be built."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, April, 2002, William E. Montgomery, review of Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895, p. 554.

Civil War History, March, 2002, Anthony E. Kaye, review of Slavery in Florida: Territorial Days to Emancipation, p. 89.

ONLINE

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (April 24, 2008), Charles Ferris, review of Laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord, and Neil J. Young, review of For a Great and Grand Purpose: The Beginnings of the AMEZ Church in Florida, 1864-1905.

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