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History Review    



Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi
By Mark Newman
University of Georgia Press, 2003
Paperback, $22.95 (352 pages)
ISBN: 0-8203-2532-5

Mark Newman unearths of a wealth of information from archives, newspapers, oral histories, and interviews about the Delta Ministry project established by the National Council of Churches in 1964 that should appeal to educated and academic audiences interested in Mississippi history and politics, the history of the Civil Rights movement, and religious history of the United States.  Newman fills a gap in these histories by writing the first scholarly monograph on the Delta Ministry, which he evenly discusses from its inception to its collapse in the 1980s.   

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Divine Agitators is Newman's treatment of the effects of Civil Rights movement within the ranks of Christian denominations, detailing the politics and machinations involved with funding and staffing the Delta Ministry.  Not without national and local dissent, the Delta Ministry began to work in Mississippi placing their "emphasis on action over theology."  The Ministry, like many Civil Rights organizations of the times, began with intention to do good work in Mississippi, but like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee the Delta Ministry was torn by internal politics and external attacks; and by the end of its tenure "[m]any board members regarded the Delta Ministry simply as a source of funds for their favored projects."   

The Delta Ministry concentrated on some the poorest counties in the Mississippi Delta, confronting economic poverty compounded by political oppression.  Newman cites several statistics to illustrate the real needs that the Delta Ministry faced, including Tunica County where of 5,130 homes 4,005 were without flush toilets and Bolivar County where only 612 of the 20,600 eligible black voters were registered.  However, these statistics serve to create a background for the qualitative stories of Delta citizens like Hodding Carter III who vacillated in his support of the Delta Ministry.  Divine Agitators succeeds in collecting personal stories, newspaper editorials, and rare documents to present full portraits of the major personalities both in the Delta Ministry and in the Mississippi Delta.   

Since the Delta Ministry was part of and in dialog with many significant Civil Rights organizations (SNCC, CORE, SCLC, etc.) and religious organizations (NCC, PCUS), Newman provides readers with a table of frequently used abbreviations.  Scholars and readers interested in delving deeper into Newman's subject will find a wealth of detailed notes, a well-organized bibliography, and a helpful index.   

Mark Newman is a senior lecturer at the University of Derby.  He has also published Getting Right with God


Sean Wells
Southern Scribe Reviews


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