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Religion of Fear: The True Story of the Church of God of the Union Assembly by David Cady

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I first heard about the Church of God of the Union Assembly and it’s founder C. T. Pratt in conversations with Don West (1906-1992) the charismatic preacher, union organizer, historian of protest, mountain music promoter, and co-founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1932 and the Appalachian South Folklife Center in West Virginia in 1967. Pratt, who was illiterate, hired Don West in 1954 to publish a pro-union newspaper, The Southerner, for the church at its headquarters in Dalton, Georgia. In 1956, community pressure by anti-union forces that accused Don West of being a Communist, finally forced Pratt to turn on West. More than once, Don West, related to me the story of his shooting out the tires of a car that followed him menacingly as he crossed Fort Mountain on his way driving out of town to his mother’s home in Blairsville. Pratt founded the church in 1917, and this book starts there, and follows the church after his death as his fourth son, Jesse, took it over, and the church grew by 1995 to include fifty-four churches in nineteen states. When he mysteriously died, his wife appointed their son, Jesse Junior, to be its leader, but he subsequently squandered the church’s fortune, and his younger brother, Charlie T. Pratt III took over and ushered in a new anti-authoritarian era. “The story of the Church of God of Union Assembly—the so-called Pratt Church—is truly a fascinating one. Not only is Cady’s narrative supported by actual interviews with former members, it also draws on numerous original sources, including church assembly minutes. Religion of Fear fills an important vacuum in our understanding of Holiness-Pentecostal sects in the American South, as well as their spread into other regions of the United States.” —Donald E. Davis. The author, David Cady, is a retired science teacher at Dalton High School, who previously published three novels.

Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019. 282 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, a Foreword by Ralph W Hood, Jr., and photos. Hardback with pictorial cover.