My First Meeting of Dr. Norris
By Rev. Louis Entzminger
In August 1913 I received the following telegram:"Would you consider becoming superintendent First Baptist Sunday School at your present salary. If so come to Fort Worth our expense."In two or three weeks I headed for Fort Worth. I had never been this far West before. On the train between Dallas and Fort Worth I purchased a Fort Worth paper, and in that paper I read paragraph which stated that the Judge of the District Court, on motion of the state's attorney himself had dismissed charges against Dr. J. Frank Norris for burning his church.
When I arrived, and while talking with his secretary, in a few minutes, a slim, tall, boyish looking fellow came walking in. He looked very much like a bean pole dressed in a gray suit, and I could not believe it for some seconds when he shook hands with me and said, "This is Norris."
Although a youngster myself I had had considerable experience in dealing with people in business, in schools and in religious circles, and it did not take me long to observe the penetrating gray eyes that pierced me through.
I do not know what his first sight opinion of me was, but I am frank to say he presented a problem to me. It was not until I had left Fort Worth, after this first visit, that I observed the characteristic of Dr. Norris that my years of experience in association with him has justified - a sense of fairness in dealing with man, and wanting him to get all the facts and come to his own conclusion.
I was anxious for a conference with an old friend, who was in be Seminary in Fort Worth. In a little while we were alone, and he proceeded to tell me the whole story, presenting both sides of the question as fairly as I believe it could possibly be done:
"Norris was a great preacher" - "Large crowds attended his services" - "multitudes were saved." Well, this certainly was encouraging, but the other side of the question:
Many of the preachers and pastors of the leading churches,
denominational leaders, newspaper editorials, the city government, the county government, were against him - many, many unfavorable things.
I rode on the train from Georgetown to Louisville with Dr. J. B. Gambrell, and we had a most interesting visit. He was kind enough to give me the names of some good men who would talk to me frankly about Norris and the church and the situation there. I had the names of these men in my notebook.
Two of them, especially, I discovered in my conference with this student friend that these two men were Norris's friends and supporters, active members of his church. Dr. Gambrell's talk had left a most favorable impression on me concerning Norris, yet there was a serious question in my mind.
This seminary friend said:
"Norris is accused by the preachers as being an opportunist, of putting over many shrewd schemes."
He then stated one which was about as follows:The seminary, opened on Tuesday, but many students arrived in Fort Worth on Friday, and said some married students, with their families. And because of the great publicity given Norris in the daily papers, all over the state of Texas and the Southwest and in the Texas Baptist Standard, it seemed these students flocked to the First Baptist Church for Sunday night's service. Norris had several rows of seats down front reserved. During the opening part of his services that night with a packed house he had asked all the preachers and their wives to stand. There were a hundred or more - then he invited them from all over the building to these reserved seats, preached a great and impressive sermon that moved the audience to tears, concluding with an invitation to profess Christ, and to join the church on a profession of faith and baptism, or by letter, and some seventy-five of these ministerial students, some of them with their wives, united with the church. It seems that the preachers at the seminary thought this was a crime.Frankly it greatly impressed me. Any preacher who could preach to a packed house and have 20 or 30 people saved and was so powerful in his message, and in spite of all the unfavorable publicity about him, receive 75 young seminary students into his church membership, certainly must have the confidence of a great many people and know how to win people to Christ and to church membership.
Naturally I wanted to go to Fort Worth. Instead of this "scheme" reacting unfavorably, it greatly impressed me.
Other incidents related unfavorable to Norris were of similar nature.
Jealousy of Good Men
It did not take me long to feel that possibly because of the great crowds he preached to and the tremendous results from his ministry, he would naturally create more or less jealousy even with good men.
I had a visit with one of these laymen whose name Dr. Gambrell had given me. I accidently ran into him where the new church was being constructed. I gave no intimation to him I was making any inquiry about Dr. Norris, but in a few minutes he opened up, and although a very conservative man, he soon had me almost enthusiastic over Norris.
But still there were questions in my mind as to the character of a man against whom so many accusations had been made, who had been tried in the courts, and although cleared yet had a host of enemies among the leaders in every phase of life in the City of Fort Worth.
The newspapers were bitterly opposed to him, and took every occasion to publish unfavorable news. Certain leaders in the Baptist denomination, while very careful in what they would say were unfavorable to Norris. I found out later why, and so have others found out.
The one question in my mind was, what about this man's character?
I met Mrs. J. Frank Norris - a beautiful, smiling, charming, sparkling personality. I am frank to say she completely won me almost instantly. The opinion I formed of her at that time I have never had any occasion to change. She has grown on me through the years. I was convinced then that she was a most remarkable woman.
Saw Norris Perform First Major Operation
When I reached the tabernacle Sunday evening, had it not been for his aid I doubt if I could have gotten in hearing distance. It seemed to me everybody in Fort Worth was there. The tabernacle was packed and jammed; the seats all around filled. The preacher in a large stone church just across the street was preaching to a
little handfull, while the steps of his church was packed with Norris's audience, and all around the wall of his church men and women stood to hear Norris.
It is true he was preaching on a sensational subject - "The Ten Biggest Devils in Fort Worth, Names Given," but I had never dreamed of anything like what appeared as I finally, with Norris, had gotten in the tabernacle and to the platform.
Language to describe my experience as I looked over that immense multitude, I could not possibly command.
Dr. Norris got up after a rousing gospel song service led by an attorney, it seemed that all of the eight or ten thousand people - it looked like twenty-five thousand - had joined in those old gospel songs. It was tremendously impressive. He stood there making some announcements, looking humility personified. I could but wonder if he were not embarrassed by the tremendous audience. What in the world had all this crowd come out for? Was this little slim bean pole, dressed up in gray, adequate to such an occasion? He was very cool and calm, and calculating, also, intensely human. I was really afraid for him, so defenseless.
It did not take long to thoroughly disillusion me. Quietly he preceded to discuss some local matters - and then I observed his fingers for the first time. They were long and keen as railroad spikes. I observed them as he pointed out certain facts with reference to outstanding men who it seems had been using their influence against him.
He proved that one of them had a room in a certain hotel, although a married man with a family, where he entertained the ladies with beer and champagne parties; that this outstanding business man had a speaking tube from this hotel to the saloon through which he conveyed his orders to the bartender, and then the man who built the speaking tube, a long tall raw-bone carpenter stood up to testify to the truth of what Norris had stated. Names were called. It scared me out of my wits.
Well, I was stunned at the courage, the boldness and the gameness with which this explosion came.
I could hardly realize where I was or what was going on.
Another one of these outstanding men was figuratively put on the stand, name called, and his record as proven by a number of facts presented, certainly looked bad, and then another with the same results, and then another - remember these were the leading men of the city.
And finally the outstanding man, possibly of the whole city, owner of the great daily paper, head of the biggest firm of lawyers, not only in Fort Worth, but in the Southwest. It seems that his paper had been making vigorous attacks on Norris, and that the editor of this paper had been one of the leaders in the fight against Norris. I believe he was on the grand jury, possibly, foreman of the grand jury that framed the indictment against Norris, and Norris had charged that this paper was, at least in part, owned by the brewery interests, and that it was dominated by the liquor interests. This charge had been vigorously denied.
When Norris finished his address after an hour and half, although it seemed like only a few minutes to me, it seemed he had invited all these men to be present, and he invited them then and there to the platform to make any reply they wished to make, and to my utter surprise, a large handsomely dressed gentleman walked to the platform and started to speak. I discovered then for the first time that the audience was divided. He was cheered by some and hooted by others. Dr. Norris stepped forward and quieted the audience and pleaded with them for a respectful and attentive hearing.
The speaker had no trouble from then on until he asked Dr. Norris a question, "What business of this is yours?" he said with reference to the ownership of his paper. The tall, pale spindling preacher made a charge pointing his finger at the big attorney.
I shall never forget the words with which he replied, and very cooly, and in clarion voice that could be heard by all the thousands said:
"That's exactly the way with you fellows - you control the street car system and the newspapers and run the liquor business, and use the newspapers as an instrument to create sentiment, and then you ask what business of mine it is who runs the newspapers?"
Well, by this time this prominent lawyer was shaking like an aspen leaf and having asked a question, certainly had to be fair enough to be asked a question, and Norris was quick as lightning in attacking at this point.
He asked the big attorney and owner of the daily newspaper if it were not a fact that one of the brewing companies, calling the name of it, owned stock in his paper. It was one of the most tense moments I have ever seen in my life. The lawyer hesitated and tried to sidestep, but the preacher held him on the spot until he blustered out excitedly,
"Yes, they own" - this was as far as he got.
At this admission the greater part of that tremendous audience cheered for almost five minutes. This was the end of the meeting. The corporation attorney disappeared instantaneously. The great mass of humanity rushed up to Norris, who stood calm and victorious, as David over Goliath.
It was during and at the close of this service that the final question as to my going to Fort Worth was decided. No man would make such a bold and courageous attack upon these big business leaders, prove his case and win the applause of possibly ten thousand people, if there was the least soiled spot on his character. I was convinced absolutely beyond question and accepted the place with Dr. Norris and the First Baptist Church.
Many who were exceedingly anxious for me to come felt that it would have been much more impressive upon me had Norris preached a great sermon. But that would not have settled the question in my mind as it was decided that night. I have thought about it a great many times, and I am satisfied that the hand of God was in it all. It was a case of where Romans 8:28 fits exactly: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
Superintendent First Baptist Sunday School
I found that in the early spring of 1913 a large group of the most prominent and influential members of the church left the First Baptist Church and joined other Baptist churches in the city. This included the superintendent of the Sunday School and all the departmental superintendents except one, and most of the teaching staff.
This opposition to Dr. Norris in the early winter and spring of 1913, many of the wealthy were either excluded or secured letters and left the church at practically the same time.
Norris Won By RevivalThe story I have upon good authority, of this division in the church was told me by a man who was opposed to Dr. Norris and who went out with the group. He said, we wanted Norris to resign, he was creating such a stir in Fort Worth fighting the liquor crowd, and as he put it, almost everything and everybody else in the city felt that way. "We desired to take our summer vacation
and then come back and get rid of Norris. While we were away for the three or four summer months Norris was in a continuous revival meeting, and when we got back we found that he had had more than 500 additions to the church while we were away. Many of those joining knew nothing of us whatever. We had no power or influence with them, and before we knew it we were entirely out of the picture. Norris could take that crowd and could have turned us everyone out if he had wanted to. Where we made the mistake was in not putting him out before we went off on our summer vacations."
It was easy to see as I had begun the work that the most of the members of the church were new and inexperienced.
To secure a teaching staff of over 100 out of this group was no easy task. Twenty or more of those put on the teaching staff had just been received into the church, in fact some of them had not been baptized yet but were awaiting baptism.
It was in connection with this work that I came to know Mrs. J. Frank Norris. She was my "right hand man." She helped me to select everyone of the teachers and officers, and on Sunday morning, October 1st, there was a total attendance of 266 present. We entered into the new church building, although unfinished, and there I formed between 75 and 80 classes. Out of the 266, many of the teachers had no class at all, just a list of prospects out of which to build a class. In four weeks the attendance had gone from 266 to over 700.
The average attendance of the Sunday School the first twelve months, from the first Sunday in October 1913 to the first Sunday in October, 1914, was approximately 1000.
We received out of the Sunday school over 300 members, men, women, boys and girls.
I do not know when Norris prepared his sermons. We both went night and day, going "from house to house," winning souls, building up the congregation and the Bible School.
Naturally there were those who disagreed with Norris in his policy and methods. Immediately they began to pour their complaints in my ears. The first one was one of the main deacons in the church.
He took me in a big Cadillac and started telling me about Norris's handling of finances, offering all kinds of criticism. I told him I thought we ought to get Norris and have a conference
and straighten matters up. When I told him that he threw up his hands and said, "I would not have Norris to know anything about this for anything." I told him immediately there were no secrets between me and any member of the church where Dr. Norris was involved, and when I had finished a few remarks from the platform the following Sunday morning, there was no further criticism of Dr. Norris during my association with him in Fort Worth from members of the church.
The financial conditions were bad and financing the work was an exceedingly difficult matter.
When my first month's salary was due, it was not paid. I had discovered the financial condition was serious and waited a day or two without saying anything about it. But finally being hard pressed I mentioned it to Dr. Norris on Saturday. I think up to that time he did not know I had not been paid. At any rate that afternoon about five o'clock we went to a department store and I received my salary in cash from Dr. Norris' own hand. I found out later that he had called a man in Dallas that morning and borrowed it personally and had this man to call this department store manager who was a personal friend of his and have him pay the money to Dr. Norris.
Norris Gives Offerings From Meetings To ChurchIt was amusing to me to hear enemies of Dr. Norris criticise him on financial matters in connection with the church when I knew of my own personal experience and observation that he had gone out and held meetings to get money to pay my salary with. I saw him a number of times, in fact was with him in several meetings when every penny of offerings given him for three or four weeks meetings was placed in the church treasury to pay the obligations of the church.
When I began personal visitation I had had no experience and without letting Dr. Norris know it I planned some visitation for us to do together. I never shall forget the first visit we made. I hud secured the information in the census. We went to see a mother who claimed to have been a member of a church somewhere in the country whose husband was lost. We had two of their children in Sunday School.
When we knocked at the door she came, and she hesitated as she opened it. Norris looked at her and said, "This is Mr. Norris."
She was wiping her hands on an old fashioned gingham apron. She looked at him with a vengeance. From her looks I would not have been surprised if she had knocked him out the door and slammed it in his face. She seemed to be indignant. He managed somehow, I do not know how, to get inside. She did not want to see us; did not want to have anything to do with us, but in his tactful, kindly way we got in, and before I realized it we were seated, and he was asking her if he might read a passage from the Word of God. Before she had time to reply he was reading. Before reading the Scripture he had put his hand tenderly and kindly on both of the children's heads and gotten both their names. When he finished reading the Scripture he asked if we might pray, but without waiting for an answer we were all on our knees. Incidentally, I do not know when I ever heard a prayer that affected me as this prayer did. He prayed for this dear mother in such kind and tender words. In his prayer he talked about his own dear mother who loved God and who taught him the Scriptures at her knee, and he prayed that this mother who had the same God his mother had and the same Bible his mother had might be guided and blessed and rear her children in the fear and love of God; that she might have wisdom and grace and strength for the task. Then he prayed for each one of the little children by name and then for her husband who was a railroad engineer. I felt the very presence of God in the room. When we got up I turned away from them to wipe the tears from my eyes, but as I turned to look at her, great tears were streaming down her cheeks. She had not been able to speak for the moment. God had done His work that had changed the whole atmosphere, and in a moment this woman who was indignant because Dr. Norris had called, was unburdening her heart to him.
She had married this young railroad man twelve years before and moved from the country community and the old country church to Fort Worth.
Her husband took to drinking and as soon as he dismounted from his engine in the railroad yards as he came off his run he went to the saloon. She would often see very little of him while he was in Fort Worth. He would sober up just long enough before leaving on the next run to be ready for the task. He spent his salary for drink. The house was poorly furnished, the children poorly clad. She finally confessed, however as much as she might like to come to the Sunday School and church that she had no
clothes - that she was not able to clothe them adequately for church and Sunday School attendance. I never will forget the result of this visit. The next Sunday morning this mother with two little children were in the First Baptist Sunday School when the invitation was given at the close of the eleven o'clock service she was on the front seat asking to be restored to fellowship.
It was four weeks later at the close of a day long to be remembered when this husband and railroad engineer fell at the front seat in the church, buried his hands in his face and wept tears of repentance, and was gloriously saved at the close of the Sunday evening service.
On that memorable day 76 people came into the membership of the First Baptist Church!
But in spite of the favor and blessing of God upon the chrch and pastor, a large number of people saved and great increase in the Sunday School attendance, the enemies continued to work, and before the close of the first year of my connection a new indictment was secured against Dr. Norris for the same offense of which he had been cleared by twelve jurors.
Personally I was stunned. I could not understand it at all. I had been in the most intimate and inner circle of the Norris family and the church. I could not possibly conceive of such a thing as guilt on his part.
He went to make bond and waive commitment trial, but the thing was all evidently fixed, a new campaign of publicity against Norris was to be put on and the most unusual thing I have ever heard of was done. The court did not waive the commitment trial, but demanded that the case be tried before a Justice of Peace before being passed on to the Superior Court. This was done, and the purpose in the mind of the conspirators prosecuting him was served.
A new witness testified - I heard his testimony - that at 3 o'clock in the morning of the burning of the church he was loading his milk wagon on Third Street near Throckmorton at the creamery ready for his morning delivery. Looking back toward the church on the corner of Third and Taylor Streets, the other end of the block he saw a man coming out of the church who had on a certain kind of hat, black overcoat, and he described the collar and tie, in fact the dress of the man, and said because of the bright arc light that was burning, as well as the light burning
over the church door he distinctly and clearly saw the man and knew who it was. It was a tense moment in the court room. The attorney asked,
"Who was the man?"
And he said, "Dr. J. Frank Norris."
The witness finished loading his milk wagon and drove away. He had hardly gotten to the south side of the city when he noticed that there was a fire, and it was in the direction of the First Baptist Church to which everybody was hastening. The church was burned and Norris was seen by this witness coming out of the church and could be clearly distinguished a block away because of a light over the church door and the big arc light over the street in front.
The papers issued extras and headlined it in box car letters,
"NORRIS WAS GUILTY BEYOND QUESTION" - "and ere long he would be behind prison walls."
He made bond of course, and in spite of his urging immediate trial in the superior court everything was put off as long as possible. And every effort to embarrass, humiliate and disgrace a man and his family that could possibly be made was then furthered.
Norris had fought to clean up the red light district. He had done everything in the world to put the saloon out of business.
Numbers of drunkards were converted under his ministry and I saw him baptize hundreds of them myself.
The Testimony of the Light Company Exposes the Frame Up
The trial in the district court was finally forced by Norris, and if at any time there was any embarrassment or it in any way affected him, mentally, spiritually, or otherwise he concealed it perfectly from me. If anything, he seemed to preach with greater power and effectiveness while at the same time all the powers of darkness were moved against him and the church, and yet the work grew and multiplied and multitudes of hardened sinners came confessing Christ and were baptized.
When the trial came up this perjurer who swore in the commitment trial that he saw Dr. Norris more than a block away come out of the church under the arc light, when he got on the witness stand he was confronted with the records of the light and
power company of Fort Worth. These records showed there was a full moon, and that the light of the streets were turned off that night at 8 o'clock, and the time of the fire was two o'clock in the morning.
Then this perjured witness changed his testimony and said that it was the moon and not the arc light.
And the most terrible tense moment I ever saw took place in that court room.
Norris' attorney asked, "Who told you to change your testimony?"
The witness looked over toward the hired prosecution and the district attorney, "The district attorney, Mr. John W. Baukin, told me to change it."
That ended the conspiracy.
And I was in for another experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed before or since. The court room was turned into a revival meeting. There were several preachers in the court room who had been against Norris. They broke down and wept. The whole court room was bathed in tears. "Old Time Religion" and other revival songs were sung. People were converted. It was a most remarkable manifestation of the power and presence of God.
This was on Saturday. The question in my rnind was what the preacher would do on Sunday. Now would be his chance, and he would most assuredly make a drive against his enemies. That is what everybody thought. I did not know.
The crowd was there on Sunday night. "And he cut off the hem of his garment."
The house was packed and possibly as many people on the outside as were on the inside. It was one of the most tender and effective messages I ever listened to - how that David had an opportunity to slay his enemy and finish him up, but instead of doing it he clipped off a piece of the skirt of his garment and showed it to his enemy after he had gone some distance, to convince him that he could have slain him had he chosen to do so, but that the life of his enemy was in the hands of God. The climax to that message was how like the Christ who died for a world that hated him, and quoting, Romans 5:9, "But God comrnendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
At the conclusion of the sermon a multitude of people were saved. It was one of the greatest services I ever witnessed.
After this victory in the court room the growth of the church, including the Sunday School was more remarkable if possible than formerly. There was a great turning to the First Baptist, Church.
I am including here an editorial by Dr. J. B. Gambrell who was the editor of the Baptist Standard, published at Dallas, Texas, which gives his opinion and judgment in the Norris trials in Fort Worth, also an editorial by the Texas Christian Advocate, the Methodist paper for Texas:
"The Whole Business a Colossal Frame-Up of Wickedness in Which
the Machinery of the Law Has Been Seized and Used
to Ruin an Innocent Man in Order to Screen
Guilty Men" - J. B. Gambrell
Dr. J. B. Gambrell was editor of the Baptist Standard at that time and May 2, 1912, on the front page of the Standard under title, "The Vindication of Pastor Norris," Dr. J. B. Gambrell wrote the following editorial:
"The remarkable trial in Fort Worth, which has held the attention of the State and country for weeks, came to an end in a most triumphant way for Pastor J. F. Norris of the First Baptist Church, Fort Worth. The indictment was for perjury, but the trial was for perjury and arson. The verdict was 'Not guilty.' The whole country had rendered the verdict on the evidence in advance of the jury.
"Not in the history of America, perhaps, was there ever an indictment brought in by a grand jury on as flimsy and shadowy pretense of evidence. Nor was ever an indictment framed under more questionable circumstances. But that a grand jury would bring in an indictment against one occupying a place so exalted as that of pastor of a great church, and following a series of such crimes as had been committed in Fort Worth gave the country pause. The trial revealed a condition in and around that grand jury reprehensible and regrettable to the last degree.
"Not doubting for a moment that the underworld was beneath the prosecution of the pastor, making the atmosphere for it and filling Fort Worth with its spirit; and not doubting that Pastor Norris was innocent of the charge laid against him, I neverless felt that prudence, a decent regard for even the forrne of law, as
well as the ends of justice, dictated an attitude of waiting. This was the attitude of the country at large and of ministers in particular. The comparative silence of the Standard was in deference to civic decorum. But, now in words as plain as can be written, I give my conviction that
That indictment was an outrage.
The situation in Fort Worth was unfriendly to a fair trial. Passion was deeply stirred. Prejudice was rife. The forces of evil in Fort Worth are very strong, with ramifications widespread, personal matters, no way related to the case, unhappily became involved. The long and persistent war of Brother Norris on the allied and shameful vices of the city lay in the background. Putting everything together, the situation did not promise well for the defendant. That a verdict of 'not guilty' could be had under the conditions obtaining is highly gratifying and honoring to the spirit of justice which rose superior to partisan prejudice, and pronounced a righteous judgment. Great credit is due the twelve men who measured up to a high trust and vindicated the right.
The First Church, as a body, stood by the pastor, and were present in large numbers when the verdict was brought in. The Dallas News correspondents thus describe the scene that followed the announcement 'not guilty':
Following the reading of this verdict there was a remarkable demonstration. Dr. Norris was not in the court room at the time, having gone to the home of a friend to rest, but scores of women and other friends crowded about Mrs. Norris, sobs shaking their voices as they extended congratulations. Others were more demonstrative and gave a shrill cheer. In a moment this had swelled to what, might be called a storm of rejoicing. Almost hysterical laughter, cheers, handclappirig, the stamping of feet, all contributed to the noise.
Finally order was restored sufficiently to permit of the formal discharge of the jury, with the thanks of the court. This done, the demonstration was renewed. Someone began to sing 'Old-Time Religion' and scores joined in until the swelling chorus reminded one of the singing at a revival meeting. That hymn was succeeded by 'We Shall Meet on the Beautiful Shore'; 'Nearer My God to Thee'; 'There Is a Great Day Coming,' and 'Are You Ready?'
"Dr. Norris Arrives
It was at this juncture that Dr. Norris arrived at the court room. He had been notified by telephone of the result and had responded in great haste. As he came in the door he was greeted with the Chautauqua salute and cheered. After greeting Mrs. Norris very affectionately, he personally thanked the jury, while the crowd sang 'We Praise Thee, O Lord,' 'Revive Us Again' and 'How Firm a Foundation.' This last hymn was started by Hon. O. S. Lattimore. Mr. Norris was called upon to speak, and at last, replying to some utterance by Mr. Lattimore, said:
"Confident of Acquittal'Yes, I will say something, and it will be the first time I have had anything to say publicly in this matter. I have been confident of the result all along, and this ending today simply confirms that confidence. I am only going to say a few words, but 1 will have something to say next Sunday night. I will have a few plain words to say, then, just a few.
"Victim of Prejudice
" 'My friends, when fifteen years ago I went down into the water as a symbol of Christianity, I never even imagined that I could ever by any possibility stand before any of my fellow citizens as one accused of crime. And now, the victim of passion and prejudice as I have been, I want publicly to express my appreciation of the friends who have stood by me. But first of all, I want to lay the crown of laurels on the head of my wife, whose sustaining cheer, comfort and strengthening can simply never be told.
"Thanks His Friends" 'To my friends who have gone down in this valley of trial with me I also give thanks. I can not undertake to name them. There are too many. But to one and all of them go my heartfelt thanks.
" 'To my counsel - the fifteen lawyers who struggled for the right - there was much comment on the number, fifteen, but it could just as well have been five hundred as fifteen if I had taken them all - also go my grateful thanks.
'To the jurors who have so nobly done their duty to themselves, to justice, and to their State, a jury of the fair, honest, impartial citizenship of Tarrant County, who have given their aid in the vindication of my good name, that of my wife, that of my
children, that of the pastor of the First Baptist Church and the membership of that church - to them are special thanks due.
'As to the enemies-'
Forgiveness for Enemies
Here Mr. Lattimore and Mr. Doyle, of Mr. Norris' counsel, made some suggestions that could not be heard. Mr. Norris made a low-voiced reply to them and then said aloud: 'I know just what I am going to say, and I am not going to say too much. As to the enemies, I have none but the kindest feelings and not a harsh or unkind word to say. Some have been swept from their feet in this matter, influenced maybe by loud and continued talk, misrepresentations in newspapers or by other influences. Whatever the cause, I repeat I have only the kindest, charitable feelings.'
Dr. Gambrell Pays Tribute to J. M. Gaddy
Such a scene is not often witnessed in this world, and no heart can resist its pathos. I can but enter into this joyous scene to the full. The woman most conspicuous in it is the daughter of J. M. Gaddy, than whom Texas never had a more valiant soldier for the right. He was brother to my soul. I joined this woman in holy wedlock to the man by whose side she walked these days in the fiery furnace of trial and all the time in the dauntless spirit of her noble sire.
"The verdict might have been properly instructed by the Judge, for the prosecution stood at the end with not the decent shadow of a case. The defense not only destroyed the case of the prosecution, but on the arson part of the case, made out an affirmative case as impregnable as Gibraltar.
This is an hour for forgiveness and forgetting. In the stress of the battle natural friends may have wounded each other. Vision was blurred. Mischief makers have been in their heyday. Pastor Norris' words of forgiveness suit a great hour. They were well anil nobly spoken. Let all hearts respond and all live up to a high duty and privilege. There is no time for personal wars. The great church must go on with its work. The preacher must proclaim the divine message of peace and good will, living it as well as preaching it. The work of controlling evil is ever with us and must be pushed. Fort Worth has a duty to perform to herself. She ought to inaugurate a campaign for civic righteousness to redeem herself from her bad condition.
A Colossal Frame-Up of Wickedness
It has been given out that the arson indictment against Pastor Norris is to be prosecuted harder than the perjury indictment was. The country has come with great unanimity to the belief that the whole business is a colossal frame-up of wickedness in which the machinery of the law has been seized and used to ruin an innocent man in order to screen guilty men. The complete play-out of the perjury case, the utter inefficiency of the evidence, even total lack of any evidence in the case, has settled public opinion as to the grand jury, the legal adviser of the jury and the whole business. Hon. O. S. Lattimore did not put it too strong when he said it was a disgrace to the State."
Dr. Gambrell was editor of the Baptist Standard and the editorial above was published May 2, 1912.
"The Advocate" on the TrialLeading editorial of the Texas Christian Advocate, official organ of the M. E. Church, South, says in the issue of May 2, 1912:
'The effect of the verdict was not simply a vindication of Dr. Norris from the charge of perjury, but it was a rebuke to the grand jury which found the indictment. It would seem to mean that the grand jury had little, if any ground for the indictment. The defense contended that it was personal ill-will toward the minister and a disposition to do him all the injury possible regardless of the evidence involved. That ill-will realized that the trial would give an opportunity to abuse and vilify Dr. Norris and present him before the community in the worst light possible, and that this would compensate for their failure to convict him. In proof of this a certain juryman, a venerable citizen of nearly sixty years' residence in the county and a member of the grand jury, but who voted against the indictment, testified that a jury-man said to him, just before the indictment was voted, 'I do not believe myself that we have enough evidence to indict him,' but soon thereafter voted for the indictment."
Threats on Norris' LifeA number of times to my personal knowledge, Norris' life was threatened, sometimes by individuals and sometimes by groups.
In the midst of the hottest prohibition fight any city ever had, a group of the outstanding men of Fort Worth held a meeting
at which they voted unanimously to run Norris out of town. They notified him that he was to never speak again or appear on the streets of Fort Worth, and they gave him 30 days, I think, to get out of the city, and so notified him.
The first I knew about it was late one afternoon I saw hand bills passed out as I passed along one of the streets announcing,
"J. FRANK NORRIS SPEAKS TONIGHT AT THE CORNER OF FIFTEENTH AND MAIN AT SEVEN O'CLOCK."
In that handbill the threat of these men was quoted, and he was speaking there directly in the face of the order for him never to do so any more. It developed that he had received this order and threat and since he could get no advertisement in the newspaper he had ordered 25,000 copies of this handbill distributed all over the city of Fort Worth.
The atmosphere was so tense I felt sure that there would be trouble at 15th and Main that night.
I debated the question as to whether I should go there or not. I thought my days of physical encounter with men had passed when I left the turpentine camp of Florida where often drunken and unruly labor had to be dealt with, and sometimes severe measures had to be taken.
However, I could not find Norris anywhere, and when speaking time came I found my way to the advertised place. And of all the mobs I ever saw - well, they were certainly there.
The streets were packed and jammed; half the city was there, and in great confusion. There were three saloons, if not four, one on each corner at this particular place.
He stood in a Ford roadster to speak. There certainly was a mob spirit there.
It developed soon that Norris had several thousand very warm rooters and supporters present. It could have developed into a very serious situation. Norris led that excited mob in singing "The Sweet By and By." It quieted the whole crowd and they listened attentively.
Another experience I shall not forget to my dying day - it was during this same prohibition fight, a friend of Norris' came walking up to the church one day just as he and I started out to go some place. The friend's face was almost white as a sheet,
and he was trembling with great excitement, saying, "Dr. Norris, let me beg you not to go down the street, you stay right here" - I will not quote the man's name. He was one of the leading real estate men of Fort Worth, and is now one of the best friends Norris has - "he says that the first time he lays his eyes on you he is going to shoot your heart out," and he is right down there now at the corner of Sixth and Main, and he said, "I beg you not to go that way."
Norris looked at me and said, "Come on, Entz" - brushed by the man making some nonchalant response and off we went, and to my surprise and amazement, and I might add almost to my consternation, he proceeded forthwith to Sixth and Main Streets.
Between Fifth and Sixth on Main Street was the largest bank in the city. In front of this bank was an old time hitching rack. Standing there leaning upon that was this real estate man who was going to kill Norris on first sight, talking to another man.
Norris and I arm in arm, turned up the street directly to the place where these men were standing talking. He did the turning - I reluctantly - almost had to turn with him. I simply knew the fire works was going to come off. All my past life came up before me as I thought of every mean thing I had done and what my wife would do without me. I did not want to be buried in Fort Worth or be shipped back to Florida where most of my relatives were at that time; I wondered about my insurance. My mind was working like lightning, and my feet were not going in the direction of my heart's desire. But there was nothing else to do.
We walked to the entrance of the bank in ten feet of the place where this man who was going to kill Norris on first sight was standing talking. As we walked up to the bank Norris turned his back to the entrance where this man was standing, picked up a magazine off the display stand; we stood there just a moment, but there was no effort on the part of this man who was going to kill Norris on first sight to make any movement in that direction.
To my amazement and very great delight he and the man to whom he was talking, while we paused in ten feet of them, turned
away and went angling across the street to the other side and off down the street somewhere. I was so relieved I paid very little attention to where they went except that they had left that immediate vicinity.
Norris looked at me with what seemed to me then as disdain and said,
"Entz, that's the only way to handle this crowd. If they had the least idea you are afraid of them they would kill you."
And I am sure now he was right.
I have been in all kinds of experiences with this man, and I say beyond all question he fears no one but God.
And yet I do not believe there is a man living - indeed this will surprise many people I am sure - that would avoid trouble, that would almost be imposed on rather than have difficulty.
His patience in dealing with difficult situations, his evident desire to avoid difficulty surprised me many times. While he will not run from it, I know of no man who would use greater endeavor to avoid difficulty with anybody. But I certainly am sorry for the other man when that patience comes to an end.
I would not be telling the truth to say that Norris does not like a flight, and yet as I look back over the history of the past 22 years, in almost every one of the major difficulties with denominational leadership, and the evolutionists and modernists, along with political office holders and others whom he has engaged in public discussion, either on moral or religious questions, taking into consideration his conviction, it would have been practically impossible to have avoided them.
In all of the trying experiences I have been through with J. Fank Norris there has always been a sense of humor, and in fact many humorous experiences. He has gotten off some good jokes on me, some of them made out of whole cloth, and they are good, I will confess.
I remember several that he enjoyed hugely. I, too, after it was over with. As an illustration, he had been making an attack on the indecent moving' picture shows and fighting the opening of the moving picture shows on Sunday, had spoken before the Legislature on the matter, preached on it, and in fact had done everything possible to keep the shows from opening on Sunday in Fort Worth, and the moving picture people certainly had
no use for him. One of the largest moving picture houses in the city of Fort Worth was owned by a Jew. (This man is now one of Norris' best friends.)
We were trying to find room for extra Sunday School classes. I suggested we might rent one of the moving picture buildings on Sunday. Norris seemed to thrill to the idea, carried me to this big theater and said, "You go in and see what you can do about getting it."
"Tell him you will be glad to pay him for it," etc.
I thought he was going to see somebody else next door. I went in and approached the owner of the moving picture show about the matter. He asked me like a flash,
"Aren't you associated with Norris?"
I said, "I am superintendent of the Sunday School up there."
Everything else I heard for the next two or three minutes was "blankety! blankety! blank! I quietly retired, somewhat confused and in fact fighting mad - not angry, just fighting mad. Norris pretended to be busy looking for somebody or something, but in a few minutes the whole situation dawned on me, he had been splitting his sides laughing at the way that theater owner was "cussing" me out.
I forgave him for it long ago. In fact did it then.
Yes, we had lots of fun together.
One of the most unusual experiences we have ever had was the story he told on me about pulling people out of bed at night to win them to Christ. We were both young and strong at the time and went night and day. When he prepared his sermons I don't know. The biggest part of the time for nearly four years we were going night and day after people. I have never kept any records much on anything I have done. I know lots of people who have kept files of advertisements in newspapers, articles about pictures, diaries and all kinds of things, the number of marriages performed, number of people baptized. I have no records whatever on these things; all I have is the record in my memory of the many wonderful experiences that J. Frank Norris and I had together in winning people to Christ - if all were written it would fill many volumes - night and day, summer and winter, hot and cold, sunshine and rain, morning, noon and night we have gone from house to house seeking to win people to Jesus Christ.
There was a railroad man and his wife, large, stout people, both of them. I had been to see them several times, could not find
them at home. The woman had told me her husband would be there a certain night - they had been misinformed like multiplied thousands of others about Norris. I wanted to meet him, so Norris was visiting with me that evening. We went by the house early in the evening and again they were not at home. We came back that way after making a number of calls. It must have been around 10 o'clock at night. Norris insisted it was too late, but I rang the door bell anyway. A light went on - I called him from the car where he was seated in front of the house, as he got to the door the man opened it. He was dressed in an old fashioned all-over-everything night gown almost dragging the floor. He looked about like a bale of cotton rolling around. We apologized for disturbing them at that time of the night, but he insisted on us having a seat and said he would call his wife. As we were seated she came down the stairway, and to my amazement she was in her night gown, the same kind her husband wore. We took our seats and they rolled into a big armed chair. It was easy to see Norris and I were ill at ease. I made up my mind to make the best of the situation.
I pulled out my New Testament and started to talk with them; finally I said, "Let's get down here and pray about it. We all four knelt - Norris was kneeling so that he could see their feet, and see them both with his eyes open. I could not quite appreciate his predicament - I prayed, then called on him to pray. We arose from our knees and he almost abruptly left the house. I tarried, however, until they both gave me their hands accepting Christ, and I thank God for saving them. We went on home discussing the matter at some length. This was Saturday night. Sunday evening we were in our accustomed place at the main entrance of the church auditorium watching especially for those we had visited and won during the week. Presently two well dressed, fine looking people came walking up and in a moment I recognized them as the people we had visited the night before. Norris could hardly believe it when I presented them to him. I saw that the ushers seated them in a favorable place. Later, before the sermon, I had a chance to greet them again and say a word to them in their seats. When the invitation was given at the close of the service that evening these two friends went forward to make a public confession of Christ.
Norris has told this experience many times, and no doubt some people have doubted - two preachers actually pulling people out of the bed at ten or eleven o'clock at night to win them to Christ - and in their nightgowns!
But why not? If people are lost without Christ, and if there is a hell, and sinners are lost and will spend eternity in hell, why should not we be intensely in earnest and day and night seek to lead men and women to Christ?
Norris might have many faults; if people are looking for faults they are usually easy to find. But I know of no man who will work longer or harder in season and out of season and who will go forth and pay any kind of price to win men to Jesus Christ.
I have already said, I do not know when Norris prepares his sermons. He has gone with me six days in the week from morning till night and preached two or three great sermons on Sunday. I do not know when he prepared them. I have seen him go home with half dozen magazines under his arm at 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock in the evening, and go by his home at 10 or 11 o'clock at night and find them scattered around all over the floor or piled up in the waste basket. I can understand now after several years of association with him something of how and when he prepares his sermons.
In the first place, he has one of the keenest and most brilliant minds in the world today. He can spin historical facts, giving dates, persons, and places by the hour. He can read what there is in a newspaper or magazine while I am getting started, and he never forget anything he reads.
He is the best educated man I know anything about.
He knows the Bible from the first word in Genesis to the last amen in Revelation. He memorizes scripture all the time.
After three years with the First Baptist Church I resigned to accept a position as instructor in practical Sunday School work at the Southwestern Theological Seminary at the invitation of Dr. L. R. Scarborough. Dr. Scarborough was at that time a member of the First Baptist Church. The day I finally accepted the position with Dr. Scarborough he said to me his only regret was he was afraid the Sunday School would go to pieces at the First Baptist Church, and regretted the great loss my leaving would be to the church and the injury it would do to the work. I said to him then, "You evidently do not know J. Frank Norris - you needn't worry about anything he puts his hand to being a failure." I have often thought about this in the conflicts between these good men. It was years after this while I was in Fort Worth on a visil that Dr. Scarborough asked me if I had any lellers from Norris similar to one I had received which had, without
my knowledge, fallen into the hands of some of those who were against Norris.
In this letter he had written me he said he had a car load of dynamite he was going to turn loose on the machine, and a number of other things to that effect. I was surprised that Dr. Scarborough asked me the question, "Have you any more letters from Norris similar to the one I saw sometime ago?"
I said, "Yes, I receive letters from Norris constantly, and many of them along the same line."
He said, "Would you mind turning some of them over to me? We are going to dehorn Norris. We have got it to do."
I strongly advised Dr. Scarborough not to do it. I said Norris has been charged with practically everything a man could be charged with; has been cleared in every case, and nobody would believe anything he might be charged with now, and you are a good man. You do not enjoy a fight and you would be constantly in hot water and besides before it is over with you will be charged with doing everything from shooting craps to cattle stealing, and if I were you I would go right ahead with my work and waste no time attacking Norris.
Some of the things that were brought out in the now famous fight between the denominational leaders and Norris during the past several years have been rather amusing, and one particular with reference to cattle was certainly amusing.
One of the things that has always impressed me is Norris' continual reference to his mother, how she taught him the Scriptures, how she prayed for him. She must have been a most remarkable woman and his father undoubtedly a remarkable man; ruined by the awful curse of drink. No wonder J. Frank Norris has all his life made constant, vigorous warfare against the liquor traffic.
I could better understand it after I had heard him from the platform recite some of his boyhood experiences. No man in these modern times has ever more forcefully and effectively fought the liquor traffic than J. Frank Norris. I have heard him preach on it time after time, and I have seen him baptize multitudes of drunkards and saloon keepers.
Whatever else J. Frank Norris may preach on, in practically every message he reaches the heart of the lost sinner.
It seems to be like the Apostle Paul, "his heart's desire," and the great church in Fort Worth and now the one in Detroit in their remarkable soul winning work is a testimony to this passion.
Inside History of First Baptist Church, Forth Worth and Temple Baptist Church, Detroit - Life Story of Dr. J. Frank Norris; Rev. Louis Entzminger, "My First Meeting of Dr. Norris", n.p., n.d., pp. 53-76. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.
More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage