In 1960 a recently converted black man moved his family from California back to Mendenhall, Mississippi, to which he had sworn never to return. He had left years before after his brother was shot by a policeman and killed outside the Negro entrance to a movie theater. The killing was never reported, then a frequent practice in Mississippi when black people were murdered. But John Perkins heard and answered God’s call to return to a society that still oppressed the black community. During the years since he returned Perkins has planned and built a pilot community called Voice of Calvary, which includes a health center, a gym, a library, and a Bible institute. He was persecuted during the civil-rights era. He was arrested while trying to post bail for a friend and colleague and nearly died from a police beating; he spent six months in a hospital recuperating from his night in jail. “Even then,” says Perkins, “when my circumstances shouted defeat, I felt undefeated.” God gave this man a resilient spirit and a broad vision of helping his black brothers and of healing the wounds of white-black tensions. An able administrator, Perkins says that he takes a positive outlook. And anyone who spends even a short time with him cannot long remain pessimistic about race problems.

Perkins spoke at last year’s Evangelicals for Social Action workshop, where tensions between black and white participants dominated much of the meeting. Our interview, an edited version of which follows, was conducted at that workshop. Perkins, his large hands extended in front of him and his glasses resting on the end of his nose, explained what he and his black and white staff members were doing in Mississippi to bring the ...

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