Shaking the Gates of Hell Autographed|John Archibald
Shaking the Gates of Hell Autographed
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"A sincere, poignant synthesis of memoir and social history of a troubled time." - Kirkus Review

"A powerful reflection on the influences of family and community and the ability to act justly in tumultuous times." --Anitra Gates, The Library Journal

On growing up in the American South of the 1960s--an all-American white boy--son of a long line of Methodist preachers, in the midst of the civil rights revolution, and discovering the culpability of silence within the church. By the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, columnist for the Birmingham News.

"My dad was a Methodist preacher and his dad was a Methodist preacher," writes John Archibald. "It goes all the way back on both sides of my family. When I am at my best, I think it comes from that sermon place."

Everything Archibald knows and believes about life is "refracted through the stained glass of the Southern church. It had everything to do with people. And fairness. And compassion."

In Shaking the Gates of Hell, Archibald asks, can a good person remain silent in the face of discrimination and horror, and still be a good person?

Archibald had seen his father, the Rev. Robert L. Archibald, the son and grandson of Methodist preachers, as a moral authority, a moderate and a moderating force during the racial turbulence of the '60s, a loving and dependable parent, a forgiving and attentive minister, a man many Alabamians came to see as a saint. But was that enough? Even though Archibald grew up in Alabama in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, he could recall few words about racial rights or wrongs from his father's pulpit at a time the South seethed and this began to haunt him.

In this moving and powerful book, Archibald writes of his complex search, and of the conspiracy of silence his father faced in the South, in the Methodist Church and in the greater Christian church. Those who spoke too loudly were punished, or banished, or worse. Archibald's father was warned to guard his words on issues of race to protect his family, and he did. He spoke to his flock in the safety of parable, and trusted in the goodness of others, even when they earned none of it, rising through the ranks of the Methodist church, and teaching his family lessons in kindness and humanity, and devotion to nature and the earth.

Archibald writes of this difficult, at times uncomfortable, reckoning with his past in this unadorned, affecting book of growth and evolution.

About the Author: John Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2018. He has been a reporter for The Birmingham News since 1986 and columnist since 2004. His columns appear on and in The Birmingham News, The Mobile Press-Register and The Huntsville Times. He was most recently awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University for the academic year beginning in fall 2020. Each year, the Nieman Foundation awards fellowships to as many as 24 journalists working in print, broadcast, digital and audiovisual media. During their nine months at Harvard, Nieman Fellows attend seminars, journalism “shop” talks, master classes and journalism conferences. They audit at least one class per semester.

Kirkus Review

Evocative family history set against the brutality and transformation of the Jim Crow South.

In his debut, Pulitzer Prize–winning Birmingham News journalist Archibald delivers a complex, fraught exploration of “the complicit and conspiratorial south I never came to see until I was fully grown.” Descended from multiple generations of Methodist preachers, the author focuses on his father, Rev. Robert—as represented by family memories and his archived sermons—with a mixture of pride and exasperation, recalling his wisdom and kindness and lamenting his glacial approach to acknowledging the moral wrongs of segregation. Robert’s genteel struggle with the horrific racial violence of 1960s Alabama seems emblematic of both a generational moment and transformations in public spiritual narrative. Archibald tracks how his father’s sermons at first reluctantly broached the moral evils embodied by the Birmingham church bombing, the violence of Bull Connor, and the callousness of George Wallace. “It was clear he was not the only preacher struggling to find his voice,” writes the author, “stuck between the Bible and a hot place.” Archibald demonstrates how Robert’s struggles reflected the larger landscape, how “the church was in conflict nationally....Alabama Methodists also condemned preachers who dared to participate in civil rights demonstrations, saying it wasn’t their place.” The author recalls fascinating anecdotes of ordinary people taking risky stands against the status quo. When his father finally advocated for civil rights from the pulpit, “he was finding a voice, even if it was as halting and hesitant as racial progress in the South.” Archibald grapples further with this challenging legacy, including the history of his slave-owning ancestors and his beloved grandfather’s predilection for blackface performance. Ultimately, the author ruefully concludes, “I guess evil is hardest to see when it’s all you know in your time, whatever time that might be.” He also gratefully notes that a Black preacher recalled that Robert “was on the right side of history."

A sincere, poignant synthesis of memoir and social history of a troubled time.


  • ISBN-13: 9780593320075
  • ISBN-10: 0593320077
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: March 2021