From October 1954 through June 1958, the radio show “Religion in the News” was broadcast by WJHL radio (910 AM, now WJCW; and FM 101.5, now WQUT)) in Johnson City, Tennessee. The weekly 15-minute broadcast was written and narrated by my father, George E. Fox, professor of sociology and political science at East Tennessee State College (now East Tennessee State University). In going through his papers, it became clear that the transcripts from these shows could be of value both to scholars and to a broader audience. It was to serve such interests that this website was created.
When he was growing up, my father attended Pleasant View Church of the Brethren near Jonesboro (now Jonesborough), Tennessee, where my grandfather was an elder. From family stories it appears that my grandmother was quite a strict Brethren woman. I’m not sure when his political awareness began, but believe it must have been in college, where he was a star on the debate team at East Tennessee State College. He became an admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and was a lifelong proponent of the social gospel. The belief that education is a prerequisite to a robust democracy and that a robust democracy is a prerequisite to the freedom of religion is evident throughout these radio transcripts.
Washington County, Tennessee, during this time, was overwhelmingly white and Protestant. [In fact, the 1st Congressional District in Tennessee was (and still is) one of the most conservative districts in the nation.] The 1950s were pivotal in American social and political life: Brown vs. Board of Education, the Cold War and the growth of the military-industrial complex, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Argentine revolution, the rising strength of labor unions, the growth of the United Nations, and Sputnik, to mention some defining issues. My father’s radio show touched on all these matters – and many more – as they related to religion, because he believed that social justice was a primary goal of Christianity.
In the 1950s, my father took my brother Thomas and me to Sunday school at Jonesboro Methodist Church. He taught the adult Sunday school class there, but we seldom stayed for church. The highlight of Sunday mornings for us was the trip down to the corner drugstore after Sunday school, where I would get a Cherry Smash and Thomas would get an Orange Crush. This was our Sunday ritual with our father. Over the years, many church members told me how much they had appreciated being in my father’s Sunday school class, how much he had meant to them, and how much they had learned from him. I wish I had asked them more.
Although I remember many conversations with my father about politics, literature, and history, I don’t recall any conversation with him about religion. I remember going with him to political barbecues and breakfast rallies from early in my childhood. There was an incident in the fourth grade when my teacher created a poster with each student’s name listed. We received stars for every church session we had attended that week (Sunday school, Sunday morning church, Sunday evening church, choir, prayer meeting, etc.). After I mentioned this at home, my father appeared in the principal’s office for a discussion about the separation of church and state, and the practice was discontinued.
I still have a strong recollection of my father sitting in his overstuffed chair, smoking his pipe, reading the Congressional Record, highlighting passages and writing notes to himself in the margins, and arguing out loud with various senators and representatives as he read the speeches they had made that week on the floors of their chambers. And I have a file drawer full of his correspondence supporting legislation that reflects his devotion to social justice. I found no correspondence relating to this radio show – an odd omission. However, WJHL Radio and East Tennessee State College clearly were supportive of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and academic freedom on behalf of this firebrand liberal broadcaster and teacher.
I want to thank those who have helped me with this project. The Rev. Dr. Steve J. Crump and the Rev. Nathan A. Ryan, ministers at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, took time to discuss the project with me and gave valuable direction and insight. Jonathan G. (Gabe) Harrell, analyst at Louisiana State University Libraries, offered suggestions regarding the archival nature of the transcripts and the issues around typing vs. scanning the original manuscript. Mikaela Allen, a recent graduate of LSU -– now at Harvard Divinity School – typed many of the manuscripts for presentation and searchability on this website, as did my neighbor and friend, Tammy Kazmierczak. Bill Myers, a high school classmate and librarian, suggested that I contact the Archives of Appalachia – a suggestion I greatly appreciate. Amy Collins, Jennifer Bingham, and Jean Rushing were all helpful, interested, and responsive, and the original transcripts are now housed there.
Finally, my son Nathaniel gave me the idea of creating a website (rather than writing a book) so as to make the information more immediately accessible to scholars and readers through HTML searches. He also has provided technical assistance and has discussed many aspects of the project with me.
Susan Fox Beversluis, Baton Rouge, April 2017