Roberson, Houston Bryan (Houston B. Roberson)
Roberson, Houston Bryan (Houston B. Roberson)
Education: Mars Hill College, B.A. (magna cum laude); Wake Forest University, M.A.; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ph.D.
Writer, educator. Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN, professor.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant, 1998.
Fighting the Good Fight: The Story of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 1865-1977, Routledge (New York, NY), 2005.
A professor of history at Sewanee: The University of the South, Houston Bryan Roberson focuses his research on religion, race, and culture in the twentieth-century American South and the civil rights movement. He teaches courses in African American, intellectual, religious, and social history. These interests intersect in his 2005 nonfiction work, Fighting the Good Fight: The Story of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 1865-1977. Located in Montgomery, Alabama, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church is now a national historic landmark, once the center of the growing civil rights movement in Alabama and the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the pastor at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church for more than a decade, and it was from its pulpit and from that office that King initiated many of the initiatives and crusades in the U.S. civil rights movement. Among these was the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, which made King a national figure in the movement.
The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church has a long and intriguing history. Founded in the nineteenth century on what was the original location of a slave trader's pen, the church was initially called the Second Colored Baptist Church before changing its name to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and finally the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, in honor of its most illustrious pastor. Throughout its history and regardless of its name, the church was a "bulwark to the black community in Montgomery, a free space that at once allowed for self-expression and empowerment in an otherwise hostile social milieu," contributor Julia Brock noted in a Journal of Southern Religion review of Fighting the Good Fight. In his book, Roberson guides the reader through the history of the church, showing how, since its inception, it was "an elite institution oriented to black self-help and to the advancement of black citizenship rights," stated Dennis C. Dickerson in a review for Church History. Roberson employs interviews and church records and documents to trace the development of this religious institution through five generations. The inception of the church was the result of a black congregation that split off from a biracial church, disagreeing with its policy of segregated services. At first, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church promoted middle-class values and a program of black advancement; by the 1950s, however, under King's leadership, it became the very epicenter of the civil rights movement in the United States. Roberson explains, though, that other pastors also contributed to this evolutionary development, including the Reverend Vernon Johns, who took over the pastorate in 1948 and worked tirelessly to free the black community of Montgomery from social and racial oppression. Thus, Roberson shows that King's accomplishment was partly the result of a long line of reforming pastors at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Roberson's book was hailed as "a richly detailed portrait that demonstrates how the church became the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954" by Journal of African American History contributor Walter Greason. Greason further noted that Roberson "successfully navigates the analytical terrain between general overviews of black churches and detailed discussions of the larger social contexts for these institutions. He provides a good model for future studies of the black religious institutions that emerged after the Civil War and multiplied through the first half of the 20th century." Greason added: "Roberson's main theme is the evolution of the commitment to social justice in Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church between 1865 and 1977." Brock also praised Roberson's study, concluding: "The book will be of interest to students of African American history and religion, gender and religion (women parishioners played a crucial role at Dexter Avenue), and public historians interested in local history and the importance of place." Similarly, Dickerson noted: "The Roberson study weaves the history of Dexter Avenue Church into the fabric of the broader African American religious experience. Hence, he deepens our understanding of this crucial aspect of Christianity and culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, October 1, 2007, Larry G. Murphy, review of Fighting the Good Fight: The Story of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, 1865-1977, p. 1225.
Booklist, May 15, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of Fighting the Good Fight, p. 1616.
Church History, March 1, 2007, Dennis C. Dickerson, review of Fighting the Good Fight, p. 215.
Journal of African American History, September 22, 2006, Walter Greason, review of Fighting the Good Fight, p. 482.
Journal of American History, September 1, 2006, David L. Chappell, review of Fighting the Good Fight, p. 598.
Journal of Southern Religion Online,http://jsr.fsu.edu/ (June 30, 2008), Julia Brock, review of Fighting the Good Fight.
Sewanee: The University of the South, History Department Web site,http://www.sewanee.edu/ (June 30, 2008), author faculty profile.