A Handbook of Texas Baptist Biography.
From their early days, beginning about 1820, as an illegal group in Stephen Austin's colony in Mexican Texas to the present, Baptists in Texas have had a rich and varied history, liberally sprinkled with fascinating, controversial, colorful, and never dull characters. In this delightful biographical encyclopedia or as the author chooses to title it, "handbook," Joseph Early, Jr. documents biographical sketches of the 250 most important Texas Baptists from David Abner to Jesse Yelvington. To qualify for this volume, individuals either to be born in Texas or to have spent a significant portion of their life and ministry there and made major contributions to Baptist life.
Organized alphabetically as expected, the handbook includes controversial figures like J. Frank Norris and Samuel A. Hayden as well as beloved figures like Baker James Cauthen and George Truett. Each biographical sketch includes birth and death dates, if available, basic biographical information, some fascinating anecdotal material, and bibliographic references. While the majority of the biographies deal with prominent Anglo pastors, Early gives a fair share of information on lesser-known pastors, leading Baptist women, lay leaders, and African-American pastors. Included here are brief biographies of female leaders Cricket Keys Copass, Anne Luther Bagby, Fannie Davis, Mina Everett, and Lucinda Williams; crucial laymen like Howard E. Butt of HEB Groceries, rancher and oil man John G. Hardin, cattleman C. C. Slaughter, and Baylor presidents, Pat Neff and Abner McCall. Some key African Americans described are Israel Campbell, William Ball, and Allen Griggs. Conspicuous by their absence are Hispanic leaders, such as Adelina and Matias Garcia or Emetrio Rodriguez. This oversight is critical when one regards the prominent role that Hispanics will play in Texas Baptists' future.
Some of the anecdotal material is downright entertaining. At times, however, Early records controversial stories and leaves them unchallenged or implies scandal without following through on the story. Examples might be the infamous story about the young woman living in Rufus Burleson's home or that of the unusual demise of J. Frank Norris's father-in-law. Some will argue with Early's interpretations; few will fail to be informed and intrigued. One example is that of the tragic outcome of an attempted baptism by pioneer pastor, Henry Hurley.
The book contains a few typographical, stylistic, and form errors. Also problematic is the lack of consistency with regard to some of the information that is included. The volume seems to be more heavily weighted toward nineteenth-century Baptists as opposed to twentieth-century Baptists, although the reader should understand that Early includes no living Baptists in his handbook.
There are a few places where Early neglects important detail. For example, in the discussion of philanthropist John G. Hardin, Early fails to mention that Hardin appears in the names of Baptist institutions such as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons University. The naming of these institutions reflected the significant contributions that Hardin and his wife made to those institutions. Early does mention to endowments of Baptist institutions but disregards these lasting tributes relating to institutional names. Such oversights are rare, however.
Early is a good storyteller. This handbook is an excellent starting place for those who seek to find more on the great stories that make up Texas Baptist history.--Reviewed by Michael E. (Mike) Williams, St, dean of humanities and social sciences and professor of history, Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas.