Paved with Good Intentions: The Road to Racial Unity in the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia

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Virginia Tech


The Right Reverend William Henry Marmion was consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia on May 13, 1954, days prior to the Brown v. Board of Education decision and just over a decade after the Episcopal Church's General Convention formally opposed racial discrimination. A diocesan conference center in Hungry Mother State Park, purchased soon after his consecration, sparked a controversy that was to smolder and flame for the first decade of Marmion's 25 years as bishop. Marmion led the move to desegregate the diocesan conference center, Hemlock Haven, in 1958 and subsequently effected integration by closing three of the four black churches in the diocese and inviting members to choose a neighboring church to join. The initial integration of the diocese was a turbulent process that centered around Hemlock Haven. The diocese moved with some difficulty towards racial integration in a microcosm of what was happening in the wider Church and in the United States. Historical documents, secondary sources, interviews, and theoretical understanding of minority responses to oppression help me to describe this time of racial desegregation of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia and its implications. Critical theory gleaned from W. E. B. Du Bois and from Homi Bhabha informs my understanding of some of the implications as well as many of the actions and outcomes. Du Bois's notion of double consciousness and Bhbaba's similar term hybridity, both of which acknowledge a dual locus of identity and of power, are relevant to understanding some of the interactions revealed by primary source correspondence. I will focus on Hemlock Haven as the entry point into desegregation and on the black churches in the diocese, both before and after that critical point, adding the witness of black voices to the white narrative of this history. A historical look at the trajectory of race and race relations in the Episcopal Church informs the moment of the caesura--an interruption--the desegregation of Hemlock Haven, and the fate of the four black churches in the diocese. From the point of the rupture comes identification, the emergence of a new space, a cultural reboot.



race, integration, desegregation, double consciousness, hybridity, Episcopal Church, Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, bishop, Marmion