Integrated Pre-Civil War Church in Mississippi
Image by J. Stephen Conn
On the south side of Rt. 370, across the highway from Brice’s Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, is the Bethany Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. During the battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, Bethany Church was across the street from its present location. The church served as a field hospital following the June 10, 1864, battle.
The Bethany A.R.P. Church Cemetery, in use for more than 150 years, is also the burial site for 96 Confederates that fought and died as a result of the battle. Union dead from the battle have been re-interred to the National Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.
A historic marker at the church states that it was organized in 1852 with 25 charter members, including 4 African-Americans. The fact is, integrated churches were not unusual in the antebellum South. Even with the deplorable institution of slavery, the pre-Civil War South was more racially integrated than much of the North, which had very restrictive anti-black laws.
After his visit to America in the 1850s, Alex De Tocqueville, the French historian observed that "Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known."
Had there been on War, slavery would have soon ended peacefully in the South, just as it did in the North, and many more Southern churches and other institutions would have remained integrated.
Northern atrocities of the War Between the States, followed by 12 years of Federal occupation and abuse during the disgraceful period called "Reconstruction," exacerbated a racial divide that would not be overcome in America for 100 years.