‘A Powerful Blessing’

The Life of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr., 1899-1969, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, 1938-1968

“A Powerful Blessing: The Life of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr., 1899-1969, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, 1938-1968.” Douglas M Carpenter. Birmingham, Ala.: TransAmerica Printing, 1912. 335 pp.

“A Powerful Blessing: The Life of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr., 1899-1969, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, 1938-1968.” Douglas M Carpenter.
Birmingham, Ala.: TransAmerica Printing, 2012. 335 pp.

Douglas M. Carpenter’s “A Powerful Blessing” (TransAmerica Printing, 2012) is the first biography of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr., Alabama’s sixth bishop, and is also the first biography of any of the eight clergy whom Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Because of the magnificence of King’s letter, some have wondered how one that he criticized could also be “a powerful blessing.”

This book, written by Bishop Carpenter’s son, Douglas Carpenter, a retired Episcopal priest in Birmingham, Ala., speaks to that apparent paradox by providing a full biography of the bishop.

Bishop Carpenter was born in Augusta, Ga., only 34 years after the Civil War. On his mother’s side he was one generation removed from plantations and slavery, but his father, an Episcopal priest, was from industrial Detroit. He graduated from Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey and then from Princeton University, where he was prominent in religious activities and also the Eastern Intercollegiate Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.

Three years after graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary he was rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, Ga., one of the largest Episcopal churches in Georgia. At age 35 he missed by a single vote being elected bishop coadjutor of that diocese.

A year later, he accepted the call to the Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala., where he would be elected bishop of the Diocese of Alabama two years later. From 1938 to 1968 he traveled the entire state, and in his later years was the Episcopal Church’s senior bishop.

In Birmingham, when homes of blacks began to be dynamited after World War II by the Ku Klux Klan, Bishop Carpenter took a leading and dangerous role in opposing the Klan. In regard to integration, like most of his contemporaries, he moved slowly. This was partly because he was pulling an entire diocese along with him, but following the accord between blacks and whites in Birmingham in 1963, he was approved by both races to head up the integrated committee charged with keeping civil rights moving forward. Recently, civil rights leader Andy Young praised him for being able to lead and still stay with his people.

“A Powerful Blessing” may be purchased here.

“An absorbing, affectionate, and scholarly biographical narrative … the Reverend Douglas M. Carpenter has done a remarkable job of consolidating and presenting this ecclesiastical history. Every page includes quotable content.” — Julia Oliver, Alabama Writers’ Forum

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