In July of 1926, the pastor of America’s first megachurch shot an unarmed man to death in his church office. The preacher, who already had a well-deserved notorious reputation, was indicted for murder and faced death in the Texas electric chair.
It may be the most famous story you have never heard.
Using more than 6,000 pages of newspaper articles, court records, and a variety of other published works, author, minister, and Townhall columnist David Stokes vividly recounts the story of the fundamentalist movement’s most colorful and controversial figure—J. Frank Norris.
The book is called, “Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s.”
From his pulpit at First Baptist Church in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, Norris waged war against a culture that was changing dramatically, while demonstrating remarkable skills as a showman, promoter, organizer, and orator. He became a composite personality, blending some Billy Sunday with a touch of P. T. Barnum, and a little William Randolph Hearst thrown in. He also had a Napoleon complex.
Not your typical man of the cloth!
Thousands flocked to his church. Multiplied thousands more listened to him on the radio (he was one of the first preachers to effectively build a large following via new medium). He even published his own tabloid newspaper distributed weekly around the country. When the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Sinclair Lewis was doing the research for his character Elmer Gantry, he visited Norris’ church. Having for years kept a big file of news clippings about the preacher, Lewis was amazed at how many people went to hear Norris every Sunday.
A lot of people were.
They came in droves. In fact, by the summer of 1926, J. Frank Norris was poised to become America’s premier Protestant leader following the death of William Jennings Bryan. All of it, though, changed in a moment of violence one sweltering hot Saturday afternoon, when Dexter Elliot “D.E.” Chipps walked into J. Frank Norris’ office for the first and last time.
In Apparent Danger, we meet the Mayor of Fort Worth at the time, H. C. Meacham (the city’s municipal airport bears his name to this day), a wealthy department story owner. He had secrets the preacher learned about and exploited. And many other leading citizens of the day in the city on the Trinity River figure prominently in the story, including Amon Carter, the owner/publisher of the American south’s largest newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Carter also owned radio station WBAP. Carter and Meacham were friends of the slain man—even pallbearers at Mr. Chipps’ funeral.
The story of the killing of a Fort Worth business leader by one of its most famous citizens plays out against the backdrop of the 1920s; a turbulent time in the country. It was the age of flappers, Model Ts, Cal Coolidge, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, new movie theaters, and A & P stores popping up everywhere, like Starbucks shops 75 years later.
Apparent Danger is a story that weaves in the thrills and agonies of the great post-World War I oil boom in Texas—with Fort Worth as a center of activity. And the story explores how seemingly mundane city politics became a prescription for murder.
This book will be widely released in bookstores by June, but is now being made available to Townhall readers at www.apparentdanger.com. Order your copy today—and use the promo code: TOWNHALL for a special 20% discount.
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