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.
Join me next Wednesday night, July 20 at the Barnes and Noble in Sundance Square in Fort Worth to meet the author of The Shooting Salvationist, David R. Stokes, get his autograph and/or a pic. I’m planning to post a review of the book just as soon as I finish my Advance Reading Copy. Probably next week.
PS–As an added bonus, you’ll probably also get to meet Rev. Roy E. Falls of The J. Frank Norris Historical Society protesting out front. When Stokes met him last year, he said he was sweet. A good time should be had by all (with the possible exception of Rev. Falls)!
Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Start Time: 6:00 pm End Time: 8:00 pm
(Time Zone: US/Central)
Location: Barnes and Noble – Sundance Square
Category: The Shooting Salvationist Book Tour
Phone: (817) 332-7178
Contact: Debby White
Barnes and Noble – Sundance Square
401 Commerce Street
Fort Worth TX 76102
You’ll see in my blogroll a link to The Shooting Salvationist Blog. In case you missed my post a few weeks ago, there’s a book on the verge of being released focusing on the murder trial of Texas Independent Fundamental Baptist leader and former pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, J. Frank Norris. My faith in Christ began and was early nurtured in a church founded by a pastor who studied under Norris, and so did David Stokes, the author of the upcoming The Shooting Salvationist–I here in Ft. Worth, and Stokes up in Detroit, Michigan, where Norris would eventually co-pastor Temple Baptist Church with Baptist Bible College founder G. Beauchamp Vick.
Anyway, I just noticed at The Shooting Salvationist site that author David Stokes has posted a video interview about his book. This post is primarily to share the link to this interview which may be watched here. Stokes also just posted today that on July 18, just a few days after the book is released on July 12, 2011, he will be at Book People in Austin for a speaking/signing event which will be broadcast on C-SPAN Book TV (I’ll update this post when I get a date for the broadcast).
This book had been previously released under a different title, which is no longer available. But if you’d like to see what I wrote about Norris and the story of his notorious public ministry (celebrated by many “Old Fashioned Fundamental Baptists”) and murder trial, click on the category “J. Frank Norris” in my sidebar or here.
The following is best read aloud in a booming announcer voice 😉
Allow me to introduce you to the book I’ve been anticipating most for the past year–The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America (2011, Steerforth Press–Distributed by Random House. Foreword by Ft. Worth native Bob Schieffer of CBS News). Perhaps you’ll recall how last year I went on and on about a book about J. Frank Norris‘ murder trial. Well, that caterpillar quickly entered its cocoon and the butterfly is soon to be released! July 12 is the scheduled date for Pastor David Stokes’ thorough narrative non-fiction work on one of the most colorful fundamentalists of the early 20th century.
A rising star in the Southern Baptist Convention, J. Frank Norris resolved to spread God’s Word in a populist and sensationalist manner–taking on every villain, real or perceived, that crossed his path–doing battle royal in the most public manner as he could to make a big name, not only for himself, but also for the Savior whose cause he strove to promote. Norris’ tactics however, epitomized the very definition of “misadventure.” A burr in the saddle of local Fort Worth, Texas powerful elites, a sworn enemy of the “liquor interests” and self-appointed defender of the faith against the liberalizing tendencies at his alma mater, Baylor University, almost all agree that J. Frank Norris generated more heat than light. The growing crescendo of sensational exploits on these and other fronts would culminate in devastating tragedy and make headlines across the country when Norris shot an infuriated opponent to his death.
The murder trial of J. Frank Norris in the 1920’s was literally the “OJ Trial” of that generation. A relentless media circus hung on every detail of the trial as they kept the country buying paper after paper to learn the fate of this ambitious religious ringleader. You’ll never believe that a story like this is true. You simply have to read it for yourself!
The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial That Captivated America is available for pre-order at the book’s new website. I’ll also be adding The Shooting Salvationist Blog to my blogroll so we may all keep up with it.
Apparent Danger author, David Stokes, has posted that his great new book about J. Frank Norris is now being picked up by Random House Publishers to be released next year, possibly under a different title. Now it’s time for him to move some merchandise. These original editions may just be collectibles some day. They certainly are for some of us here in Fort Worth, Texas. Read all about it over at his blog.
. . . this is the kind of sentiment that a character like J. Frank Norris draws. For those whose lives were changed for the better, it seems the man can do no wrong, and watch out if you try to accurately paint a picture of such a saint–the way the Bible portrays it’s saints–warts and all. With Norris, most of those folks have gone on to their reward, as has their hero. But there of course remains a faithful remnant.
The segment of the fundamentalist independent Baptist movement that Norris spearheaded remains more or less the home of the majority of Norris’ faithful followers, but there are exceptions. There remain a few who are and have always been, members of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, who, in the light of the publication of David Stokes’ work of narrative non-fiction on the life and ministry of J. Frank Norris and especially his murder trial, Apparent Danger, are unhappy that Norris’ warts are portrayed as prominently as they are. Back in June, one such member wrote on “J. Frank Norris’ lasting influence.” To Melissa Easter, Norris has had a lasting influence on several generations of her family. Without challenging Stokes’ facts or his documentation thereof, Easter was compelled to remind her Fort Worth neighbors there was lasting spiritual fruit that was borne through the ministry of J. Frank Norris, her family among them. Concluding her defense, Easter writes:
I do not know everything. But what I do know and what I believe is that J. Frank Norris had a good heart and a passion for God. Otherwise my great-grandparents would not have named my grandfather after him. Otherwise my family would not have attended that church after moving from Oklahoma. Otherwise my grandfather would not have asked J. Frank Norris to officiate his marriage to my grandmother.
It is unfortunate that Norris was involved in such an incident as that of July 1926, but that event should not overshadow the fact that he helped lead many people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I’m sure he asked the Lord for forgiveness, and, in my opinion, judgment was God’s alone to make.
Why is it that after so many years someone has seen fit to stir the pot once again? It is a futile matter; it brings up hurt to those who view J. Frank Norris in a positive light and potentially turns others away from the church.
Perhaps then we should all spend more time trying to bring people to the kingdom of heaven rather than shine light on an 84-year-old blemish.
Can you write a book that tells the whole truth about a man while there are still people alive who don’t want the whole truth to get out and complicate their fond memories? Not without criticism. But I believe it’s safe to say that David Stokes was aware of this fact and was thoroughly prepared to deal with it. Evangelism notwithstanding.
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 first wife’s grandparents. 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 Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920’s. Just a couple of weeks ago, Stokes held a book signing at Barnes and Noble just a few blocks away from the site of FBCFW during Norris’ ministry. On his Facebook page, Stokes reports that about a hundred people turned out for a book and an autograph, and even an unnamed “very nice” 91 year-old former associate of Norris protested his book by passing out a pamphlet with the title “The Real J. Frank Norris.”
My only regret is that I first heard about the book the day after the signing. But now I have my copy, and I’m currently reading it aloud to my wife so that we might enjoy it together. Enjoying it, we are. I let Bob Hayton of the blog Fundamentally Reformed know about it, and he said he plans to review the book on his blog after he reads it, to which I will dutifully link you when it’s posted. But in the meantime, allow me to whet your appetite for the book with the following trailer. If you’ve never heard of him, 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 to “Sparky,” the state of Texas’ newly acquired electric chair for the death of D.E. Chipps.