In the 1960s, Alabama was the epicenter of the civil rights movement. A new book written by John Archibald, Pulitzer Prize winner and brother of CAMP Rehoboth co-founder Murray Archibald, explores that movement through the voice of their Methodist preacher father, the Rev. Robert L. Archibald Jr.
The recently published “Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution” takes the church to task for muzzling preachers who believed in equal rights at a time when those clergy members were looked to as a community’s moral authority. Using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a reference point, the book explores how the letter wasn’t a call to action for Black people, but instead to white people, who were too careful and cautious during the movement.
Browseabout Book and Lewes Public Library will host a conversation with the two brothers at 5 p.m., Thursday, April 15.
During a recent interview, Murray said he thought his brother did a beautiful job weaving the history of the civil rights movement into the history of his family.
“He’s got a great way with words,” said Murray, describing his brother as “the editorial voice of Alabama for years.”
Murray described the book as a loving portrait of a man who had to walk a fine line between what the church wanted him to do and what he might have thought was morally right. It was the Deep South, and a preacher could lose his congregation if he said the wrong thing, he said.
As part of the research for the book, John read all the sermons from his father’s archives and included passages from those sermons at the beginning of each chapter. Murray said he was shocked to discover what his father had not said about equal rights. However, he said, there’s also an evolution of his thoughts and his desire to speak publicly on the subject.
Murray said he believes his father tried to speak around the issues of equality without angering the powers that be in the church. It’s difficult to take someone out of the time in which they were working, he said.
Murray said he and his siblings have always thought of their father as a remarkable man who taught them about equality. He always preached about love, said Murray.
The book calls the church to task for failing in its mission, said Murray. It’s something the church is struggling with right now regarding LBGTQ rights, he said.
The book isn’t specifically about Murray, but he and his partner Steve Elkins, who died in March 2018, are mentioned throughout the book. John wrote the obituary for Elkins, and at one point in the book, he said Steve would have loved knowing his obituary was written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. With a quick laugh, Murray confirmed that statement to be true.
“Steve was John’s biggest fan, and he would have loved all of it,” said Murray.
Murray said he and his siblings are still close.
“When John won the Pulitzer, it was like we had won,” said Murray. “We take a lot of pride in each other’s successes, and that comes from our parents.”
The conversation with the Archibald brothers will take place at 5 p.m., Thursday, April 15. The online event is free, but registration is required. To register, go to browseaboutbooks.com and find the event on the site calendar or go to lewes.lib.de.us and visit the Virtual Programs for Adults page.
For more information on “Shaking the Gates of Hell,” go to penguinrandomhouse.com. For more information on the event, go to browseaboutbooks.com.