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Collection 112 Papers of J. Frank Norris

Identifier: CN 112

Scope and Contents

Microfilm edition of about 29,000 items relating to the career of pastor, editor, and controversialist John Franklyn Norris. Major topics include: evolution, 1928 presidential election, radio evangelism, communist infiltration of the churches, and internal disruption at Baylor University. Originals (and copyright) is retained by the Dargan-Carver Library, Baptist Sunday School Board, Nashville, TN. Documents record the 1928 presidential election, radio evangelism, communist infiltration of U.S. churches, and internal disruption at Baylor University over the evolution issue, and his leadership among Baptist Fundamentalists in the South.  Also included is correspondence between Norris and U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Truman, and with John Birch, with the U.S. army in China at the time and serving as a missionary with the support of Norris's church. Numerous other religious, political, and social figures are correspondents or subjects in the collection.


  • Created: 1928-1952

Conditions Governing Access

Literary Rights to this collection are held by the:

Dargan-Carver Library

127 9th Avenue, North

Nashville, Tennessee

Biographical Information

John Franklyn Norris was known as a pastor, editor, and controversialist. Following is a chronology of important events in his life, taken directly from a finding aid that came with the microfilm from the Dargan-Carver Library.

1877, Sept. 18 Born in Dadeville, Alabama.

1888 The Norris family moves to a farm near Hubbard City, Texas.

1899 Ordained to the ministry.

1899-1903 Pastor of Baptist Church in Mt. Calm, Texas.

1902 Married to Lillian Gaddy, while a student at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

1903 Graduates from Baylor with A.B. Resigns a four-year pastorate at Mt. Calm, Texas, and enters Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

1905 Awarded the Th.M. from Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

1905-1908 Pastor, Mc Kinney Avenue Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas.

1907-1909 Editor and owner (1908-1909) of Baptist Standard, Dallas Texas.

1909-1952 Pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.

1911 A schism costs the First Baptist Church 1,000 members.

1912 Fire destroys church and parsonage; Norris is indicted for arson and after protracted trial acquited. He is then indicted for perjury in connection with the arson, tried and acquitted.

1914 Opposes mission plan of Texas Baptists.

1919 Becomes a leader of the World's Christian Fundamentals Conference.

1920 First Baptist Church discontinues use of Sunday School Board literature, adopting the Bible as their only textbook.

1923 Helps to form the Babptist Bible Union of America. Baptist General Convention of Texas refuses to seat Norris.

1922 Local association withdraws fellowship from First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.

1924 Baptist General Convention of Texas permanently excludes Norris.

1926 Norris is indicted for murder in the pistol shooting of D.E. Chipps, Fort Worth lumber executive, in the church office. Norris is acquitted on a plea of self-defense.

1928 Active in the presidential campaign, opposing Al Smith for his Catholicism and anti-prohibitionist sympathies.

1935 (-1951) Becomes pastor of Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, in addition to his Fort Worth responsibilities. Pastors two large churches simultaneously.

1947 Norris' accusations of Communist sympathy on Louie Newton come to a climax at the Pastor's Conference preceding the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

1950 Spectacular schism in Fundamentalist ranks as G. Beauchamp Vick and others separate from Norris to form a separate organization and seminary.

1952, Aug. 20 Dies at Fundamentalist meeting, Keystone Heights, Florida, of heart attack.

Norris, beginning in 1917, published the newspaper The Searchlight, which later became The Fundamentalist.

For more information see the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists and Who Was Who In America 1951-1960. Also, Time Magazine of May 19, 1947, p. 70, and September 1, 1952.


27.00 Reels of microfilm

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

[The following description is taken word-for-word from a finding aid received with the microfilm from the Dargan-Carver Library.]

These papers consist of the personal correspondence, clippings, records, etc., collected in the personal files of Dr. Norris from 1928 until his death in 1952. Earlier files were destroyed in a fire at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. There are 28,315 numbered items, which exclude duplicates (carbons, photostats, duplicate clippings). The files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, chronologically under each correspondent, with miscellaneous letters grouped at the beginning of each letter of the alphabet, and a sizeable collection of various miscellanea and ephemera following the alphabet.

The collection is of primary importance for the study of the Fundamentalist movement among Baptists from the 1920s into the post-World War II years, especially relative to the methodology and psychology of this particular type of radical dissent.

Dr. Norris was known as a controversialist, and his concerns in these years, 1928-1952, will be seen to group themselves around shifting centers of controversy. These are, principally, (1) the Al Smith-Herbert Hoover presidential campaign of 1928; (2) the evolution issue, especially as it pertained to Baylor University; (3) his charges of Communist sympathies on [the part of] noted American churchmen, especially Louie Newton, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1947-1948; and (4) a rupture in the ranks of his own organization, dating from June, 1950. A standing controversy with the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas plays counterpoint to the these major foci. A great deal of Dr. Norris' energies in this period was devoted to the development of the Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. The growth and trials of this institution are reflected in much of this correspondence. Dr. Norris was active in politics, and his sympathies will be found expressed not only in his correspondence with prominent politicians, but with various industrial executives of Detroit. Dr. Norris was a constant commentator on national and international affairs, from Al Smith to the Korean War, but there is an amazing absence of mention in these papers of World War II.

Dr. Norris' principal correspondents were leaders in the Fundamental movement. The most important of all the files are those of his correspondence with his two colleagues Louis Entzminger amd G. Beauchamp Vick. The index to these papers will reveal numerous references to leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, but these are predominantly instances in which the person is mentioned in other correspondence. Dr. Norris' letters addressed to these men generally went unanswered. It will be discovered that personalitites are the predominant subject matter in these papers.

Care must be exercised in studying these papers lest some letters be overlooked, which are apparently by Dr. Norris, although written anonymously (very seldom) or over another signature (more often). It appears that he would occasionally write letters to Baptist leaders or other of his sympathizers, using their names. At other times he would desire certain information in which he felt his name should not be mentioned. Such correspondence can be recognized by several criteria: (1) it appears on standard 8-1/2 x 11 paper rather than on the smaller letterhead of the church, (2) it can be distinguished from carbons sent to him by others in that the paper has never been folded, (3) where a return address is needed, the street address of the church, 408-1/2 Throckmorton, is given rather than the name of the church, (4) it is composed in short staccato paragraphs characteristic of Norris or his secretary, and (5) Dr. Norris' language has its own flavor which one familiar with his writings will recognize. Probable examples of this are items 16,941; 17,071; 17,441; 22,550-22,553.

Under an item number there will be indicated whether duplicates of the item are to be found in the duplicate files. If there is one duplicate, the notation "1 copy" will appear. In the case of some items, it may be of interest what the purpose of duplication was, e.g., for distribution in mass or to friends, for inclusion in the Fundamentalist.

Among the most revealing correspondence are the files of E.P. Alldreige, The Atlanta Constitution, Dallas Billington, Clinton S. Carman, The Columbus Ladger-Inquirer, A. Reilly Copeland, Fred Donnelson, W.E. Dowell, Louis Entzminger, B.H. Hilliard, P.E. Hutchinson, R.T. Ketcham, Louis Newton, L.R. Scarborough, Art Wilson, Wendell Zimmerman, and above all, G. Beauchamp Vick.

Among the figures of national significance with whom Dr. Norris had exchanges of letters, there will be found correspondence over the signatures of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Sam Rayburn, and Harry S. Truman. Dr. Norris was especially fond of duplicating such autographs.

A file of special interest is a brief exchange of letters with Captain John Birch, then with the U.S. Army in China, and serving as a missionary under the auspices of Dr. Norris and the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were received (purchased?) from the Dargan-Carver Library in Nashville, Tennessee. No Accession number. No date.

Collection 112 Papers of John F. Norris
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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