Mississippi History Now – The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi

Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, has just published its newest article.  “The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi,” was written by Alison Collis Greene, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.  Dr. Greene is the author of No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta (Oxford University Press, 2015), which was recently awarded the prestigious Charles S. Sydnor Award by the Southern Historical Association.  The accompanying lesson plan was written by Karla Smith, the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.

The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi

The widespread suffering caused by the Great Depression rendered religious agencies in Mississippi unable to help those in need.  As the income of workers fell by 40 to 60 percent, donations traditionally used to fund religious aid for those trapped at the bottom of society also plummeted.  Most religious leaders and agencies in Mississippi called for and subsequently welcomed the various social aid programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  As the New Deal took effect, however, state religious leaders were of mixed emotions and opinions concerning the program’s success in the state.  Most white religious leaders in Mississippi continued to support the federal relief and recovery programs of the New Deal, although many were disappointed that they were not asked to play a role in distributing relief within their particular communities.  Black ministers in Mississippi were more guarded with their praise of the New Deal as many program benefits were denied to black southerners, particularly sharecroppers and tenant farmers.  Still, a minority of white ministers feared that the implementation of the New Deal meant that local churches had permanently given up their social and moral authority to an expanded federal government, a fear that would continue to grow among white southern ministers in the coming decades.

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Established in 2000, Mississippi History Now produces articles on various topics concerning Mississippi history, along with corresponding lesson plans. The publication is funded by donations from individuals and businesses, as well as grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), and the Mississippi Historical Society.  MDAH also provides the server and the webmaster for the site.