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The defense team for the Rev. J. Frank Norris in court during his murder trial in January 1927. From left are John Dee Prest, Norris and Dayton Moses.
The defense team for the Rev. J. Frank Norris in court during his murder trial in January 1927. From left are John Dee Prest, Norris and Dayton Moses.

J. Frank Norris (1877-1952) was a controversial fundamentalist Baptist minister who left an indelible footprint in Tarrant County.

Born in Alabama, Norris moved to Texas with his family in 1881. After attending Baylor University, Norris earned an advanced theology degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Returning to Texas in 1905, he became pastor of McKinney Avenue Baptist Church in Dallas. Four years later, he accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, his tenure enduring until his death in 1952.

Norris simultaneously pastored the Temple Baptist Church in Detroit beginning in 1935. In 1946, the combined Texas and Michigan congregations numbered more than 26,000.

An adept communicator, Norris started the first regular radio ministry in the U.S. in the 1920s. He was the editor of the Baptist Standard in 1907-09 and later published The Searchlight newspaper in Texas and The Fundamentalist in Detroit, all platforms to promote his social, religious and political views. In 1939, Norris founded the Fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, now Arlington Baptist College.

Norris ran afoul of the law several times. In 1912, he was acquitted of arson and perjury in charges related to fires that destroyed the First Baptist Church auditorium and heavily damaged his residence. In 1926, Norris killed D.E. Chipps, a friend of Fort Worth Mayor H.C. Meacham, in Norris’ church office. He was acquitted of a murder charge after arguing that he fired in self-defense.

Pictured here are members of the Norris defense team in January 1927. From left are John Dee Prest, Norris and attorney Dayton Moses.

The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries offer a rich and diverse collection of materials on the history of Texas and the Southwest. Each week in Time Frames, readers get a glimpse of the past with an image from Special Collections. 817-272-3393; library.uta.edu/special-collections.

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