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The Shooting Salvationist : J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America
The Shooting Salvationistchronicles what may be the most famous story you have never heard. In the 1920's, the Reverend J. Frank Norris railed against vice and conspiracies he saw everywhere to a congregation of more than 10,000 at First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, the largest congregation in America, the first ""megachurch."" Norris controlled a radio station, a tabloid newspaper and a valuable tract of land in downtown Fort Worth. Constantly at odds with the oil boomtown's civic leaders, he aggressively defended his activism, observing, ""John the Baptist was into politics."" Following the death of William Jennings Bryan, Norris was a national figure poised to become the leading fundamentalist in America. This changed, however, in a moment of violence one sweltering Saturday in July when he shot and killed an unarmed man in his church office. Norris was indicted for murder and, if convicted, would be executed in the state of Texas' electric chair. At a time when newspaper wire services and national retailers were unifying American popular culture as never before, Norris' murder trial was front page news from coast to coast.
A leading fundamentalist figure in America in the 1920s, J. Frank Norris preached to an audience of nearly 6,000 in his First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tex. But his evangelical empire began to crumble when he shot a man and was tried for murder, a saga that minister and broadcaster Stokes unevenly cobbles together with a patchy history of the fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century. Positioning himself as the heir apparent to populist politician William Jennings Bryan, Norris favored showmanship and aggressively championed his causes, from alleging a Catholic conspiracy to a county wide ban on liquor. He was soon one of the most visible-and polarizing-public figures in Fort Worth and had no qualms about butting heads with city officials. He became even more infamous on July 17, 1926, when he shot D.E. Chipps three times in his church office. The ensuing murder trial-Norris claimed self-defense (though unarmed, Chipps had threatened to kill Norris)-became a media circus, with Norris's eventual acquittal. But Stokes leaves the roots and consequences of religious zealotry as well as the questions posed by the intersection of law and religion largely unexplored. 16 pages of illus. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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July 11, 2011
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