Feast of Randolph Royall Claiborne, Jr. (June 28)   Leave a comment

Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta (1953-1972); died in 1986

Randolph Royall Claiborne, Jr., was born to an Episcopal priest and his wife in Farmville, Virginia, on November 7, 1906.  His father served as Rector of St. James’ Church, Marietta, Georgia, in the Diocese of Atlanta.

Claiborne graduated from the University of the South in 1928 then attended Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia, from which he graduated in 1931.  Afterward he served as Rector of St. James’ Church, Macon, Georgia, from 1932 to 1938, Rector of the Church of the Nativity, Huntsville, Alabama, from 1938 to 1949, and Suffragan Bishop of Atlanta from 1949 to 1953.

The brief history of the Bishops of Atlanta to 1952 was as follows:

  1. Cleland Kinloch Nelson (1907-1917); he had been Bishop of Georgia before that diocese divided; died in office
  2. Henry Judah Mikell (1917-1942); died in office
  3. John Moore Walker (1942-1951); died in office
  4. John Buckman Walthour (1952); died in office, in his late 40s

As Bishop of Atlanta Claiborne (consecrated on June 29, 1953) founded 32 congregations, 28 of which remain in 2010.

Another Claiborne legacy is his commitment to racial equality and civil rights.  In 1963, when the Lovett School, a private, church-related institution in Atlanta, refused to integrate, Claiborne cut diocesan ties to the school.

From TIME Magazine, November 15, 1963:

Episcopalians: Faith & Prejudice in Georgia

What role should the church play in the bitter fight for Negro equality in schools? In Atlanta last week, the question was very much in the public eye as pickets bearing anti-segregation placards marched outside the fashionable, privately run Lovett School. It was a kind of civil rights protest that the South has grown used to — except that this time the pickets included Episcopal priests, and their protests were aimed at a school with Episcopal ties.

The pickets were objecting to Lovett’s whites-only admission policy, which pits the practice of some wealthy supporters of the church squarely against the desegregationist preaching of their bishops. Atlanta’s crusading Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist, raised the issue last February, when he asked the school to admit his son. The school said no to him, and later to two Negro children from Episcopal families. The ground for rejection was purely racial, and the arguments have been echoing across Atlanta ever since.

Communion Every Wednesday. Lovett’s trustees obviously felt that their church connection was not involved, since the school is, technically, an autonomous corporation without church affiliation. But in fact, 14 of Lovett’s 21 trustees are required to be Episcopal communicants; their chairman is the dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral; and, in keeping with the school’s chartered purpose of furthering religion in accordance with “the Episcopal faith as contained in the Book of Common Prayer,” Holy Communion is celebrated by the dean each Wednesday morning for the student body.

This was connection enough for Lovett’s headmaster, the Rev. James McDowell. He promptly resigned, saying, “The church has spoken on the matter of segregation, and it is my duty, so long as I am a priest, to adhere to its teachings.” At the same time, the Rt. Rev. Randolph Claiborne, Jr., Bishop of Atlanta, declared that the trustees’ actions “have forfeited the right of implied or official support for the Lovett School by the Episcopal Church.” But to many, the bishop’s words seemed hollow, since he had hardly exhausted opportunities for bringing pressure on the school. He presumably could ask St. Philip’s dean to resign as head of the trustees, or even forbid the holding of Episcopal services at Lovett.

He did none of these things, causing the Atlanta Constitution’s Publisher Ralph McGill, himself an Episcopalian, to resign from the cathedral, snorting “Utter hypocrisy” to an interviewer from the Atlanta church’s monthly newspaper The Diocese. McGill’s words never got into print, for a right-hand man of the bishop rushed to The Diocese’s print shop after the press run was over, gave orders that the entire issue be destroyed and a new one distributed without the interview.

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