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Liturgy of Change

Rhetorics of the Civil Rights Mass Meeting

Elizabeth Ellis Miller

Published: May 11 2023


Published: May 11 2023


Published: May 11 2023

OA Ebook
Published: May 11 2023


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

Original archival research invites new ways of understanding the rhetorics of the civil rights movement

In Liturgy of Change, Elizabeth Ellis Miller examines civil rights mass meetings as a transformative rhetorical, and religious, experience. Scholars of rhetoric have analyzed components of the civil rights movement, including sit ins, marches, and voter registration campaigns, as well as meeting speeches delivered by well-known figures. The mass meeting itself still is also a significant site in rhetorical studies. Miller's "liturgy of change" framework brings attention to the pattern of religious genres—song, prayer, and testimony—that structured the events, and the ways these genres created rhetorical opportunities for ordinary people to speak up and develop their activism. To recover and reconstruct these patterns, Miller analyzes archival audio recordings of mass meetings held in Greenville and Hattisburg, Mississippi; Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama; Savannah, Sumter, and Albany, Georgia; St. Augustine, Florida; and Danville, Virginia.

Elizabeth Miller is assistant professor of English at Mississippi State University. Her work appears in College English, College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Review, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs.

"Liturgy of Change shows how civil rights mass meetings imbued traditional religious genres (liturgy, sacred song, prayer, testimony) from the Black church with new meanings that emboldened and unified groups into courageous collectives. Going beyond well-known civil rights individuals and places, Miller's careful analysis provides valuable insight into the actions and reactions of little-known mass-meeting participants across the South."—Lisa J. Shaver, Baylor University

"Like its subject—the mass meetings that were so important to the civil rights movement during the 1960s—Liturgy of Change is transformational: read it, and you'll never think of mass meetings in the same way ever again."—John L. Selzer, Paterno Family Liberal Arts Professor Emeritus, Penn State

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