David P. Cline is an historian specializing in 20th century U.S. social movements, oral history, and digital and public history. He is Associate Professor of History and the Digital Humanities at San Diego State University and is Core Faculty in SDSU’s Area of Excellence in the Digital Humanities. He is also a Faculty Advisor to the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences (MALAS) program and Affiliated Faculty in LGBT Studies at SDSU. He teaches classes in public history, digital history, digital humanities, the civil rights movement, history through biography, oral history, the 1960s, and sports history. From 2011-2017 he was Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Tech, where he co-directed the Graduate Certificate in Public History and was core faculty with Virginia Tech’s Master’s Program in Material Culture and Public Humanities. From 2008-2011, he was the Associate Director of the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dedicated to exploring the many potentials of the digital humanities, he has worked on a number of interdisciplinary projects incorporating history and technology, especially the use of augmented and virtual reality in the teaching of public history. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an M.A. in U.S. History with a certificate in Public History from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a BA in African Studies from Macalester College,
Before turning to U.S. history full-time, David worked as a journalist, arts administrator, and publicist for a dozen years, and formerly lived in Western Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia before returning to his native California. His public history projects have included serving as a Research Scholar and Lead Interviewer for the Civil Rights History Project of the Library of Congress and the National Museum of African and American History and Culture, helping to develop an iPad application that uses augmented reality to teach historical methods and African American history to fifth graders, contributing to a virtual and augmented reality-enhanced history project on World War I, and co-founding the VT Stories university oral history project and a number of other major oral history research projects, including the VT LGBTQ Oral History Project. Other work includes editorial projects for National Geographic, a National Public Radio documentary on the Korean War in 2002-2003 ,and a 2005 project to document the Cherokee Trail of Tears. He is also interested in African culture and history and has lived and worked several times in Kenya.
Check out David’s newest book
“Terrific … richly detailed and beautifully textured.”
—American Historical Review, February 2018
“Meticulous … timely … thoughtful….Every academic and church library should acquire this timely, important book.”
—CHOICE, April 2017
“This book is a gem whose glittering facets illuminate a critical episode in the historic efforts to engage the church in the battle for human dignity.”
–Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till
“Cline’s writing is at once moving and clear-eyed, recognizing the depth of religious commitments and framing them within a larger historical context. [It is] compelling…, an astute meditation, …[and] a must-read.”
–Church History, June 2018
During Easter Weekend of 1960, when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, began to be formed, another nascent organization was also coming to life at the same exact time and place. But unlike its famous cousin SNCC, the Student Interracial Ministry (SIM), composed entirely of seminary students and always student-led, was focused not just on dismantling Jim Crow but on changing the churches on issues of race. From 1960 to 1968, SIM would reach many thousands of people, would follow a journey from pastoral exchange to direct action to urban ministry and educational reform, would play important but often hidden roles behind the scenes with every major civil rights organization and leader, and overall would exemplify in myriad ways the religious principles of reconciliation underpinning much of the movement even as it found itself in the throes of revolution.
“Careful and thorough … an important book for scholars of the 1960s and those who study American Christianity.”
—The Journal of American History, December 2017
—The Journal of Southern Religion, February 17, 2017
—Reading Religion, American Academy of Religion, June 12, 2018
“A fascinating story, impressively researched and well told. [The Student Interracial Ministry’s] flair for boundary crossing and networking captures some of the most enduring legacies of a central moment in public religious activism. … Cline not only fills a gap in scholarship but also harvests from the [Student Interracial Ministry]’s history broader insights about religion and race in 1960s America. Well written, carefully researched, and crisply organized, Cline’s book is a fine addition to civil rights scholarship.
–North Carolina Historical Review, August, 2017
“Cline’s narrative is always well contextualized [and] meticulously researched … [an] admirable achievement.”
–The Journal of Southern History, November 2017
“A well-written history of the Student Interracial Ministry [that] addresses a gap in the literature on civil rights and religious history.”
–Journal of Religion, 2018
“A must-read book for historians of both the black freedom struggle and of modern American religious history.”
–Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty
“Well-researched and illuminating…offers a wealth of new insights into the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and to the theological debates within seminaries and the American Christian church at large. … Makes a welcome and important contribution to civil rights history and modern American religious history.”
–The Sixties, April 2017
[A] compelling history of midcentury liberal American Christianity, … [and] an astute meditation of the capacity of theological education to address social change…, Cline’s book is a must-read for those who teach at American seminaries, as we now confront a changing religious landscape and endeavor to meet our students’ needs in our own times of crisis.”
–Church History, June 2018
“Historians of American religion, the Christian Left, and the Civil Rights movement will find [it] both fascinating and useful.”
–Alabama Review, July 2017
“Pulls SIM from the shadows … [and] add[s] new perspectives to the literature on the fight for equality … [by using] the avenue of religion to further scholars understanding of these struggles, the approaches to achieving change, and the work still left to do.”
–The Oral History Review, Spring 2018
Order From Reconciliation to Revolution at Amazon.com
David’s new book, From Reconciliation to Revolution: The Student Interracial Ministry, Liberal Christianity, and the Civil Rights Movement, was published by UNC Press in October 2016. It is the first history of the Student Interracial Ministry, a progressive Christian civil rights organization that operated out of a number of seminaries from 1960 to 1968 and had profound influence on both the civil rights movement and on the mainline churches in the midst of catastrophic change.
More praise for From Reconciliation to Revolution: The Student Interracial Ministry, Liberal Christianity, and the Civil Rights Movement:
“David P. Cline’s terrific book restores to us the experience of young liberal Protestants who tried, in their completely earnest way, to confront some of America’s demons in the 1960s. Richly detailed and beautifully textured, both in its primary focus and in the context it provides, this book gives us the story of the Student Interracial Ministry. … Cline has retrieved this group ‘from the dustbin of history’ and we can be thankful. Wonderful chapter length studies. The recent historiographic trend in studies of antiracist work, which has emphasized tendencies toward economic struggle,revolutionary politics, and armed self-defense, has marginalized people of faith committed to social reconciliation and has made them seem naıve and ideologically inadequate. There are reasons for this, some of them good. However, at a time when calls to “check your privilege” echo rapidly in American culture, the stories of individuals who went farther than most in confronting social hierarchies in both structural and highly personal forms command respectful attention.”
– Doug Rossinow, American Historical Review, February 2018
“From Reconciliation to Revolution is an important addition to our understanding of the civil rights movement and the connections between it and liberal Christianity. This book also moves beyond an emphasis on the South, which characterizes many works on the civil rights movement. … Also, notably, Cline renders SIM in very personal terms. Indeed, he successfully incorporates a wide variety of voices, including whites and African Americans, from both male and female participants. This study, in fact, depends heavily on oral histories as a source base, and the author completed dozens of these in his research and consulted others to tell this story. These, along with the records of SIM at Union’s Burke Library, help him to create a lively and interesting read.”
– The Journal of Southern Religion, February 2017
“Cline’s study of the Student Interracial Ministry (SIM) is both a meticulous institutional history of a lesser-known civil rights organization and a timely and thoughtful examination of the church’s role in confronting injustice. The first half of the book traces SIM’s founding, a product of the same 1960 Shaw University gathering that birthed the far more famous Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The seminarians who made up SIM’s founders and first members promoted racial reconciliation in the churches as a vehicle for religious revolution. They sent young white clergy into black churches in the South, and even some black clergy into white southern churches in an effort to change racial attitudes at the congregational and community levels. But both their work to build religious community and their ongoing engagement with the broader civil rights movement prompted SIM members to push beyond interracialism, first through the work of Southwest Georgia Project activist Charles Sherrod, and then through ongoing debates about urban ministry and the need for activism that both disrupted the church and pushed beyond it. Every academic and church library should acquire this timely, important book.”
– A. C. Greene, CHOICE, April 2017
“Drawing from archival sources, interviews, and meeting minutes, Cline’s skillful theological analysis illuminates how seminarians were making sense of their engagement in the church at a time of great political and religious change. Cline’s writing is at once moving and clear-eyed, recognizing the depth of religious commitments and framing them within a larger historical context. Ostensibly a history of a small, student-run summer field education project, From Reconciliation to Revolution is also compelling history of midcentury liberal American Christianity. The book is an astute meditation of the capacity of theological education to address social change, depicting how SIM students pushed to discover whether American churches could live out the Christian Gospel. Cline’s book is a must-read for those of us who teach at American seminaries, as we now confront a changing religious landscape and endeavor to meet our students’ needs in our own times of crisis. Many of us will identify with Cline’s description of the challenges faced by seminaries in the 1960s: ‘There was not one but a series of crises— pedagogical, theological, spiritual, financial, and organizational.’”
–Sarah Azaransky, Church History, June, 2018
“SIM consistently strove to realize a new ecumenism through its networking, boundary crossing, institution building, and organization. Members believed that new thinking and acting were necessary to realizing the beloved community and racial justice. With deft organization and excellent use of scholarly literature, Cline documents these impulses and stages them elegantly in ways that parallel the broader fortunes of the American religious Left. … …[Cline’s] estimable book brings the group’s accomplishments the attention they deserve.”
– Jason C. Bivins, North Carolina Historical Review, August, 2017
“In this well-researched and illuminating book, David Cline traces the rise and fall of [the Student Interracial Ministry,] in the process casting new light on the poignant and powerful ties created across the color line as a result of religious activism, significant theological debates within and outside of seminaries, and the ever-changing connections between Christian churches, the civil rights movement, and community activism. From Reconciliation to Revolution offers a wealth of new insights into the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and to the theological debates within seminaries and the American Christian church at large. In doing so, it provides new depth and insights to the movement, revealing the American religious left, often forgotten in contemporary society, as an importance source of social change. Indeed, one of the real joys in this text is seeing the ways in which key figures in the movement – from [Ella] Baker to Bob Moses to [Charles] Sherrod to Stokely Carmichael to Jane Stembridge – intersected with SIM and its dedicated cohort of seminarians. Far from ancillary, SIM workers were on the ground doing work in some of the most important sites of activism, from Albany to Chicago and everywhere in between. By recalling their efforts, highlighting the hard struggles they encountered, and unpacking the religious meanings they attached to their work, Cline reinserts SIM workers into their rightful place in a pivotal decade in American history.”
– Gregory Kaliss, The Sixties, April 2017
“Cline’s narrative provides great insight into both the civil rights movement and the student movement as a whole. Cline has done the academy a great favor with this book, not only for his insight into SIM, but also in dealing with the role of both the National Council of Churches and Federal Council of Churches [FCC] in the civil rights movement. The best treatment of this broader subject is James Findlay’s Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970 (Oxford University Press, 1993); however, in this volume, SIM is given only a one-page treatment. Cline’s work offers another piece of the FCC/NCC puzzle that Findlay describes. Furthermore, Cline’s attention to theological education is helpful in understanding not only the role of seminaries and divinity schools in the 1960s, but also how the events of the civil rights movement and the efforts of student groups like SIM changed the face of those institutions to the present day. This book is a must-read for graduate students and professors interested in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, student movements, and theological education.”
– Taylor W. Dean, Reading Religion, American Academy of Religion, June 2018
“SIM’s eight years of activism come alive in From Reconciliation to Revolution, which uses rich primary source research to reveal a new dimension of liberal Christianity’s presence in the mid-twentieth-century crusade against Jim Crow. Cline brings SIM’s work in these … efforts to light through the use of numerous manuscript collections, periodicals, and more than thirty original interviews. … A valuable addition to civil rights movement scholarship.”
– Larry Omar Rivers, Louisiana History, Spring 2018
“Layer[s] and reimagine[s] the civil rights movement beyond the glow of Martin Luther King Jr. and organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee (SNCC). From Reconciliation to Revolution explores how white Christians, working in relationship with black Christians, tried to bring the church more in line with the vision of a desegregated order. On almost every page, Cline highlights how SIM workers—first students from Union and then students from other seminaries across the country—participated in the formative moments of the era, whether at Shaw for the beginning of SNCC or in Albany, Georgia, working on the Albany Campaign. SIM students were in Chicago before King and SCLC arrived and, in almost every case, worked behind the scenes and without much fanfare. [Cline’s handling of their “under the radar” story helps shine a light on the less sensational moments that changed the decade. In the civil rights narrative, [the Albany, Georgia,] campaign registers as one of SCLC’s failures. Cline alters the focus and stays on [SNCC volunteer Charles] Sherrod, who by this time had moved to Union to pursue a master of sacred theology. While there, he tapped into SIM and recruited students to Albany and what he called the Southwest Georgia Project. For more than a decade, SIM workers lived and breathed the air of Albany and the surrounding counties, putting their lives and those of their host families at risk. At a moment when SNCC leaders removed white students from leadership, Sherrod remained committed to biracial work. By 1967, the Southwest Georgia Project helped put seven black farmers on the ballot for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (p. 109). It would take several more years to get someone elected, but change was coming. “The story of the perseverance of the Albany movement after King,” Cline writes, “directly challenges the assessment that the movement there collapsed after 1962.” His work on SIM students helps show why spotlighting these lesser-known stories reveals a great deal about what happened on the ground.”
– Douglas E. Thompson, History of Education Quarterly, July 2017
“How did liberal Christians committed to integration adapt to the changing politics of civil rights and black power? In this enlightening history, David Cline follows seminarians and civil rights activists on the journey from Social Gospel Christianity to Black Liberation Theology. This is a must-read book for historians of both the black freedom struggle and of modern American religious history.”
– Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
“The Student Interracial Ministry met Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for ‘creative extremists’ even before he uttered it. With impeccable research and compelling storytelling, David Cline traces the organization from its liberal origins in the sit-ins of 1960 through its persistent and ultimately radical efforts to transform the church toward mending the broken world. This book is a gem whose glittering facets illuminate a critical episode in the historic efforts to engage the church in the battle for human dignity.”
– Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till
“A worthy read … of particular significance for those studying the role of young adults in the Civil Rights Movement [and] religion in the Civil Rights Movement. [As] a work of historical recovery aimed at unearthing SIM’s hidden history, Cline’s research often reminds us about the important contributions of overlooked individuals … [and as] the first scholar to fully mine the Student Interracial Ministry Papers and to tell the story of this under-appreciated group, is a reminder that there is always work to be done for historians who are willing to go into the archives the old-fashioned way. Moreover, Cline is accomplished in oral history, and his expertise in this methodology adds greatly to the book’s scholarly significance. ”
– Journal of African American History, Winter 2019
“David Cline offers a powerful insight into how students of the ministry were drawn into civil rights activism as a testimony to their faith in Jesus. His story illuminates both the complexity and the conflicts of the 1960s freedom struggle.”
– William H. Chafe, Duke University
David is also the author of Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961-1973 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) and was a recipient of the Margaret Sanger Award for Work on Reproductive Health in 2006. He was also the recipient of the National Council on Public History’s New Professional Award in 2004. He is currently working on a book of oral histories exploring African American participation in the Korean War and its relationship to the Civil Rights Movement, tentatively scheduled for release by UNC Press in 2017.
Some information about Creating Choice:
Focusing on Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley during the 1960s and early 1970s, Creating Choice uses the personal stories of those who sought illegal birth control and abortions — and the health care professionals, clergy members, and feminist activists who helped them — to reexamine the contentious history of reproductive rights in America in the last fifty years. Creating Choice brings together interviews with a variety of individuals– a college chaplain moved to activism after one of his students died from a botched back alley abortion and another hung herself because of an unwanted pregnancy; members of women’s collectives who ferried women to abortion clinics across state lines in a kind of modern Underground Railroad; a waitress who performed over 1,500 illegal abortions in her bathtub; and the women themselves who risked their lives. By exploring the networks of health care providers, clergy members, feminist activists, and community organizers who helped provide access to services denied under state and federal laws, this work demonstrates the complexity and nuance of the history of reproductive politics in America.
Public History Projects:
Current & Recent
Co-PI, CI Spy Project, an innovative iPad application that uses virtual and augmented reality and 3D modeling to teach historical exploration and historical skills. Based on the history of Christiansburg Institute, a segregated African American school in Southwest Virginia that operated from 1867-199. Funded by the National Science Foundation.
For a nice short news story, click here.
Lead Interviewer, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture and Library of Congress, Civil Rights History Project, 2013-present, Nationwide
Co-Founder and Co-PI, VT Stories Project, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
PI, VT LGBTQ Oral History Project, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Series Co-Editor, Palgrave Studies in Oral History, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY. 2014-
PI, Blacksburg Oral History Project, Ongoing, Southwest Virginia
Twice Forgotten: Oral Histories of African American Veterans of the Korean War (book in progress)
Co-Leader, UNC Burch Seminar: Studies in Oral History Research and Performance, Mombasa, Kenya, May-July 2011
Principal Investigator, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture and Library of Congress, Civil Rights History Project, Phase I, 2010-2012, Nationwide
Acting Principal Investigator, Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement Web-Based Publishing Project, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2007-2013
Co-Founder, Supervisor, and Oral Historian, Long Women’s Movement Oral History Project, Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Research in: North Carolina and Tennessee, 2009-2011
Oral Historian, Long Civil Rights Movement Oral History Project, Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Research in: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, 2004-2011
Co-writer, Cherokee Trail of Tears Signage, North Carolina, 2006
Director and Producer, “A Place of Their Own,” documentary film featured in Skinner Coffee House Exhibit, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA, 2002
Co-creator and Tour Guide, Native American History Walking Tours, Historic Deerfield, Inc., Deerfield, MA, 2002
Oral History Associate, American RadioWorks, “Korea: The Unfinished War,” 2001-2002
Oral Historian, Valley Women’s History Collaborative, Western Massachusetts Womens History, 2001-2005
Praise for Creating Choice:
“Impressive … a benchmark work of cooperative oral history based in a communities studies model.”
– Jennifer L. Ball, Clarkson University, Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 21 No. 4, 213-221.
“An important collection … powerful. By recovering the participation of clergy and medical practitioners in the reproductive choice struggle, Cline reminds readers of the many kinds of people, organizations, and activities that combine to make a social movement. In addition, Cline makes an important contribution to contemporary political debates. The book challenges the political formulation that pits abortion as a path for women’s liberation against the life of an unborn child. Treading delicately through this contentious issue, Cline effectively uses first person accounts, with minimal political commentary from his narrators, to establish the dangerous conditions that many women faced, along with the moral choices made by allies and activists.”
– Anne M. Valk, Brown University, Oral History Review, Winter/Spring 2008, Vol. 35 Issue 1, 110-112.
“The relationship of the reproductive rights movement to religion remains sadly understudied. Highly suggestive of the kind of research needed is David P. Cline’s Creating Choice, which presented the crucial role of clerical proponents of women’s reproductive rights as part of various grassroots individuals and organizations’ efforts in western Massachusetts. Through extensive interviews, Cline revealed the efforts of Protestant and Jewish clergy as well as doctors and nurses, feminist lay abortion counselors and numerous other activists to provide contraceptives and enable abortion. Strikingly, Cline’s inclusion of the role of pro‐abortion clergy subverted the widespread assumption that pro‐choice activists rooted their arguments solely in secular concepts and language.”
– Joyce Berkman, History Compass, Vol. 9, Issue 5, 2011
“Cline’s choice of location and subject matter, as well as his careful editorial process, offers readers a snapshot of how America dealt with issues of birth control and abortion during a time when access was almost universally denied to women. Each story is unique and carries with it great weight. Of particular interest is Cline’s inclusion of clerical involvement with women seeking abortion. These oral histories from various members of the clergy shed new light on the fight for women’s legal and safe access to reproductive health care. Creating Choice is a fast, but by no means an insignificant, read. Cline’s work certainly makes the decades before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal come alive. This is particularly important since our new generation of American women has never known a life where abortion or access to birth control was illegal.
— Grace Tulare, Women’s Studies, Volume 36, Issue 2 (March 2007), 129 – 135.
“[A] rich array of voices … allows us rich insights into the individuals involved, compelling. Creating Choice is a highly readable and thought-provoking book for those interested in the history of reproductive choice and provision.”
– Gayle Davis, University of Edinburgh, Medical History, April 2009, Vol. 53 No. 2, 303-304.
“David Cline has assembled an amazingly rich repository of testimonies. This work is a major contribution to the project of preserving and disseminating the histories of activism, feminism, and reproductive politics in the United States.” – Rickie Solinger, author of Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America (New York University Press, 2005) and other books
“In this rich collection of interviews, David Cline illuminates the courage, pain and determination of those who dared to break laws that banned abortions and chose instead to create communities that embraced choice.”
– William H. Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, Duke University
“David Cline has written an extremely moving and fascinating account of one community’s response to the reproductive health care needs of women in the era before Roe v Wade. Cline’s book is most timely, as the hard won victories of the past-for access to birth control as well as to abortion care-are once again in jeopardy.”
– Carole Joffe, author of Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v Wade (Beacon Press, 1995)
“A powerful document of the history of abortion, Creating Choice is wonderfully accessible, an important collection for anybody trying to understand the history of women and sexuality.”
– Johanna Schoen, University of Iowa, author of Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare (University of North Carolina Press, 2005)
“An urgent and moving account of the multiple sources of change that brought about the spectacular-and now imperiled-expansion of women’s reproductive rights. Through an exemplary use of oral history interviews, David Cline has uncovered the “amazing web” of ministers, doctors, and feminists who provided support for women seeking access to birth control and abortion in the years before Roe v Wade. Until now, such local stories have been repressed and forgotten, distorting history and severing the struggle for women’s rights from the larger project of human progress and freedom.
– Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Spruill Professor of History and Director of the Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill