“An engagingly written and impressively researched book.”
—American Historical Review
Samuel Porter Jones (1847–1906)—“or just plain Sam Jones,” as he preferred to be called—was the foremost southern evangelist of the nineteenth century. With his high-spirited, often coarse, humor and his hyperbolic style, he excited audiences around the country and became a key influence on Billy Sunday, “Gypsy” Smith, and scores of lesser known evangelists. A leading political activist, he played an important role in the selling of a new industrialized South and was thus a clerical counterpart to his friend Henry Grady.
In Laughter in the Amen Corner, the first scholarly biography of Jones, Kathleen Minnix reveals a figure of fascinating contradictions. Jones was an alcoholic who became a pivotal supporter of the prohibition movement. He advocated women’s rights when most men preferred to keep women on pedestals, yet he followed the South in its drift towards malignant racism. He praised Catholics in an age that feared the “Romish heresy,” and he embraced Jews as fellow children of God when many saw them as Christ-killers. Even so, he was shrill in his insistence that Americans worship a Protestant God, and like many nativists, he called for the deportation of the “trash” who had landed at Ellis Island. Progressive in some respects and reactionary in others, he was, in the words of one contemporary, “a sanctified circus in full swing.”
Deftly written and exhaustively researched, Laughter in the Amen Corner offers the first in-depth assessment of Sam Jones’s impact on revivalism, the progressive movement, and the history of the South.
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