Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

Books for Sale

Books for Sale

Friday, August 29, 2014

Setting The Record Straight

The latest from

 The mystique of the legendary J. Frank Norris continues to baffle the critics and remains a hero to countless unknowns who relish the stories of this dynamic preacher.  To label Norris as a 'sensationalist' is at best a half-truth.  In this regard, he takes a back seat to the likes of Billy Sunday.  While it is true he was no staid-laid-back orator, to be labeld a "sensationalist" is a stretch.  His phenomenal success must surely go much deeper.

However, one may describe success, a turing point in Norris' ministry has to raise significant questions.  In this age of turmoil, who could find fault with opening doors for the down and outters.  Yet in the days of clerical stiff-necks, this very thought was anathema in many circles.  Think of this.  Hundreds of poor individual hoodlums joining the church weekly was just too much for the 'ups' and 'havers'.

To some, he was an uncouth sensationalist, but to others he was an eloquent but earthy communicator.  Let it be said, that sermons were delivered with tears and laughter, but both brought joy.  To the dismay of the 'ladies aid society', their demise was soon in the making.

The super critics have made much of the brazen  antics in which Norris engaged, for the purpose of illustrations, but none of which were as far out as critics would have us believe.

Locking the door until the money is raised is a prime example.  Considered only as a "tongue-in-cheek remark" who could be so narrow-minded to forbid a little humor now and then.  (Having been present, this is what I observed).  Now that liberal theology has snuffed out hard facts, is it any wonder that we now have a make-believe religion hovering all around?

There was no greater admirer of J. Frank Norris than the Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Brooks Morris, truly a gentleman of the first order, admired and respected by Fort Worth's elitists.  His testimony to me. ("Norris was the truest man of real character of my entire acquaintance.")

Much ado has been made of anti-Catholic rhetoric during the 1920's, while disregarding the tenor of the times so prevalent in that time period, when most all of the Protestants engaged in anti-Catholic rhetoric.  Apologists are fond of explaining the epoch period as a "product of the times".  All but Norris are given a 'free pass'.  Past religious preachers should never be given a 'free pass'...... including Norris, Baptists, Protestants and Catholics alike.  As a side note of interest, some significance bears mentioning.  Even as extreme religious rhetoric has lessoned in the U.S., it is noteworthy to mention the transition taking place in Mexico.  Little notice has been given the impact of Baptist missionaries in Mexico.  While not a haven for liberty, Baptist missionaries are given a much greater degree of freedom than in years past.  J. Frank Norris was a prime mover of mission efforts and the full story is yet to be told.

Norris, noted for his vigilant lashing of "corrupt" politicians, was a man ahead of his time.  What politician has ever escaped the same accusations?  For muckrakers, politicians are fair game.  Why does it become off limits when uttered from the pulpit?

According to Jerry Flemons, a deceased journalist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram and biographer of the late Amon G. Carter, J. Frank Norris paid a visit to the office of Mr. Carter.  In 1920, Carter had always considered Norris as a nuisance to the reputation of Fort Worth's image.  Norris called on Carter, suggesting the two agree to a truce.  According to Flemons, Carter ordered Norris out of his office uttering unwelcomed expletives.  To his credit, as times changed, the Fort Worth Star Telegram issued a glowing tribute upon the death of J. Frank Norris in 1952.

The most devastating blow to the J. Frank Norris legacy is the report he "killed an unarmed man."  The court transcripts show that no such "conclusive proof" ever surfaced that such was the case.  In fact, we will never know if such was the case.  Due to conflicting testimony, the question of Norris' guilt or  innocence was never based upon whether or not Chipps was "unarmed".  It all becames a 'moot' question and remains so until this day.  To assert "he killed" an unarmed man was not a court question.
Norris' enemies hoped this brazen event would forever blot out the memory of J. Frank Norris.  But instead, his horizons had not yet peeked.  His adventure into the 'north land' was yet to come.  In the late 1930's, he took the city of Detroit by storm, followed by the legacy of the mammoth Temple Baptist Church.  There are many versions of the 'Chipps' affair.  Among the most bizarre, is that Chipps was in Norris' office asking for a donation, which accounts for the so-called 'hip pocket move'.  Fiction is stranger than 'facts'.  The J. Frank Norris Historical Society is committed to factual findings of this remarkable career.
~ Roy Falls