This weekend C-SPAN2 is airing a speech delivered by David R. Stokes, the author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America (©2011 Steerforth Press) at a recent book signing in Austin, TX. It played last night at 9pm (Eastern), it has replayed once this morning, but you can still catch it one final time this afternoon at 3pm (Eastern).
The program has already been added to the BookTV online archive, so it may be accessed there if you miss this afternoon’s showing.
“J. Frank Norris Week” continues! Last night I joined David R. Stokes, author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America at the Fort Worth Sundance Square Barnes & Noble Bookstore, where he spoke for a few minutes before sitting down to sign books. The pictures in this post are from last night’s signing. The text is my semi-formal, though concise, review of the book, which has also been posted at the book’s Amazon.com page. As emotionally dependent as I have become on this book, it was hard for me to step back and write an objective review that is comparable to a professional, or at least experienced, reviewer’s work until I decided to recommend the book in an email to another writer, who shall remain nameless. I gave him the following summary, and decided that this is about as good a review as anyone’s ever going to get out of me. Hope you find it helpful, and feel free to help us spread the word about this story that has been gratefully recovered from historical obscurity.
David R. Stokes is a columnist for Townhall.com. He is also a pastor of a non-denominational church in Fairfax, VA. He studied for the ministry at the same Missouri Bible College from which the late Jerry Falwell got his Bachelors degree before he moved on to bigger and better things. This Bible College, Baptist Bible College, to be precise, has its roots in the ministry of the man who is the subject of the book he is now promoting, The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America (2011 Steerforth Press).
Norris was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth Texas between the years 1909 and 1952 (the year of his death). In the early years of his ministry, he ditched the tame, sane, responsible approach to ministry in which one makes an effort to get along with everyone, for an approach that would generate so much heat it would draw huge crowds to him so he could introduce them to the Light, if you know what I mean. In the process, he was a self-appointed thorn in the side of the underground liquor and gambling interests in Texas, the budding theological liberalism in his alma mater, Baylor, the mayor of Ft. Worth and Star-Telegram founder and all-around entrepreneur Amon G. Carter. This got Norris in hot water with one of the mayor’s friends, another Ft. Worth business leader, Dexter Elliot Chipps, who stormed into Norris’ office one day, threatened to kill him, then walked out. Chipps’ mistake was that he didn’t keep going. He turned for some unknown reason and attempted to reenter the pastor’s office and was met with three or four bullets in the chest. The resulting 1926 murder trial was as big of a media circus as Norris’ hero, William Jennings Bryan’s, recent Skopes Monkey Trial had been, or for those of us in the 21st century, Casey Anthony’s.
The book is a narrative non-fiction work. It reads somewhat like a novel, but all the dialogue, and much of the narration, even, is directly lifted from his sources which include not only older bios of Norris (pro and con), but much of the most prominent journalistic accounts, legal transcripts and records, as well as personal archives of Norris, Meacham and Carter. The outrageous tactics of Norris in his early ministry make for quite a train wreck, and the history is fascinating, but for folks like myself who grew up in Fort Worth, it gives a lot of new information to an old legend that has lingered in the background of all of our lives, and provides quite a bit of closure as well. I’d like to share with you this fascinating tale that we could only wish were nothing more than a “Texas Tall Tale.”
David Stokes’ interview with 90.1FM KERA host Krys Boyd on her D/FW local NPR talk show, Think with Krys Boyd, has been uploaded. You can listen to it here.
And so, J. Frank Norris week continues at The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge! Just wait until tomorrow…
Fairfax, Virginia Baptist Bible Fellowship local church pastor David Stokes grew up as a member of Detroit’s Temple Baptist Church, not twenty years after J. Frank Norris pastored that church at the same time that he pastored First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. In his day, Norris was known as the “Texas Tornado,” and the “Pistol-Packing Parson.” The memory of J. Frank Norris casts a long shadow for those whose lives were touched by his sensationalistic and controversial ministry. It must be as true for those like Stokes who grew up in the decades following Norris’ death, as it is for us down here in Fort Worth, who boast of relatives with stories of personal connections to the famous fundamentalist firebrand. For example, my own mother grew up playing with Norris’ grandson, George. He was my mother’s best friend’s boyfriend. My great-grandmother hosted the visiting preacher at her house, where lively discussions are said to have ensued between Norris and my great-great grandmother, charming them with the admission that “the only person who could ever change his mind was Mrs. Freeman.” Not only that, J. Frank Norris even performed the wedding ceremony for my son’s great-grandparents on his mother’s side. For better or worse, J. Frank Norris is one of the more colorful cast members in the dramatic history of Fort Worth, Texas. Featuring his battle with the Southern Baptist Convention over Baylor University’s teaching evolution and his own personal war against corruption in local politics as well as the Prohibition-era liquor trade itself, I’ve always said, even as a one-time devoted follower, that the life story of J. Frank Norris would make a great gangster movie!
It looks like the novel on which that movie could be based has just been written by David Stokes. The book is called The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America (©2011 Steerforth Press). The only difference is, Stokes’ story is more of a courtroom drama. But that’s alright with me. At 1pm Central time today, Stokes will be interviewed on the local NPR station, 90.1FM KERA on “Think with Krys Boyd.” (you can sign up for the podcast here if you miss it live). Tomorrow night, from 7:00 to 9:00pm Central time, Stokes will hold a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square just a few blocks away from the site of FBCFW during Norris’ ministry (see my previous post). On his Facebook page, Stokes reports “apparently there will be some “protesters” on Tuesday night when I speak at the Barnes and Noble in Fort Worth — should be interesting.” You can get familiar with one of those potential protesters at The J. Frank Norris Historical Society, started a year ago by a former associate of Norris’, Roy Emerson Falls.
If you’ve never heard of J. Frank Norris, or if you’ve always known about him–love him or hate him, you’ll be both shocked and in awe of the story of J. Frank Norris and the trial that failed to sentence Norris the electric chair for the death of Dexter Elliott Chipps.