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Robert W. Spike

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Title: Robert W. Spike  
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Subject: Movements for civil rights, American clergy
Collection: 1923 Births, 1966 Deaths, American Clergy, History of African-American Civil Rights, Movements for Civil Rights
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Robert W. Spike

Rev. Robert W. Spike

Robert Warren Spike (born November 13, 1923 in Buffalo, NY), was an American clergyman, theologian, and civil rights leader.

Educated at Denison University, Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, and Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, Spike began his career as pastor at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwich Village in the late 1940s, reviving the social activism of this famous urban church.[1] “The church became a place you could get help, whether you were from McDougal Street or the Bowery.”[2] Neighborhood kids played basketball in the church’s ramshackle gym. Around 1958, the basement rooms of Judson House, a student residence on Thompson Street, was turned into a gallery where local artists like Claes Oldenburg and Jim Dine had their first one-man shows.[3]

In 1958 Spike left his parish ministry to take on a national role as General Secretary of the United Church Board For Homeland Ministries. In 1963 he was appointed the Executive Director of the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race, which became an important arm of the civil rights movement. Anna Arnold Hedgeman joined his staff as a Coordinator of Special Events. Through Spike’s efforts Protestant churches significantly participated in the March on Washington in August 1963. Spike wrote about his experiences in The Freedom Revolution and the Churches (1965). In January 1966 Spike took a position as Professor of Ministry and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. Less than a year after assuming his post in Chicago, Spike was murdered on October 17, 1966, in Columbus, OH. No one was ever tried for his murder.

Upon learning of Rev. Spike's death, Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as stating, "He was one of those rare individuals who sought at every point to make religion relevant to the social issues of our time. He lifted religion from the stagnant arena of pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. His brilliant and dedicated work will be an inspiration to generals yet unborn. We will always remember his unswerving devotion to the legitimate aspirations of oppressed people for freedom and human dignity. It was my personal pleasure and sacred privilege to work closely with him in various undertakings."[4]


  • Spike, Robert W. (1957) In But Not Of The World: A Notebook Of Theology And Practice In The Local Church
  • Spike, Robert W. (1957) Tests of a Living Church
  • Spike, Robert W. (1960) Safe in Bondage: An Appraisal of the Church’s Mission to America
  • Spike, Robert W. (1961) To be a Man A Notebook of Theology and Practice in the Local Church
  • Spike, Robert W. (1965) Civil Rights Involvement Model For Mission : A Message To Churchmen (Originally presented as a series of lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 1964)
  • Spike, Robert W. (1965) The Freedom Revolution and the Churches
  • Hedgeman, Anna Arnold (1977) The Gift of Chaos
  • Young, Andrew (1996) An Easy Burden The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America
  • Branch, Taylor (1998) Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963–65
  • Branch, Taylor (2006) At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68
  • Houck, Davis W.; Dixon, David E., eds. (2006) Rhetoric, Religion And the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965 (Publishes three speeches and sermons)


  1. ^ Houck, Davis W.; Dixon, David E. (Baylor Univ Press, 2006): Rhetoric, religion and the civil rights movement, 1954-1965, p. 667
  2. ^ Robert Newman quoted in Remembering Judson, Judson Memorial Church, New York, 2000, p. 257.
  3. ^ Bud Scott quoted in Remembering Judson, Judson Memorial Church, New York, 2000, p. 279-280.
  4. ^ Full text of telegram published: Houck, Davis W.; Dixon, David E. (Baylor Univ Press, 2006): Rhetoric, religion and the civil rights movement, 1954-1965, p. 668.
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