John Franklyn Norris
1877 – 1952
John Franklyn Norris was born in Dadeville, Alabama, 1877, but spent his childhood and youth in Hubbard, Texas, where the crusading spirit of the old West gave him life’s direction. As a boy he was shot three times when horse thieves were attacking his father because he testified against the gang. Mrs. Norris knew her son was going to live and be a preacher, even though the doctors gave him up to die.
He graduated from Baylor University, and was valedictorian of his class at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was ordained to the ministry in 1899 and soon thereafter began his long stormy career by serving as editor of “The Baptist Standard.” He crusaded against the liquor traffic and horse racing, leading to passage of new laws in Texas. Norris aided Dr. B. H. Carroll in the founding of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1909 he accepted the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, and remained there until his death. Norris continued his crusade against corruption in city politics. Twice his church was burned to the ground, but he rebuilt it. An unruly mob gathered on a Fort Worth street and an agitator offered $1,000 to the person who would shoot J. Frank Norris. Upon hearing about the mob, Norris went to the street corner and, in view of the crowd, bought a newspaper and turned to read it leaving his back as a target. On another occasion a crowd gathered in the town hall and threatened to hang Norris. He strolled into the meeting and sat in the first row. The dynamic preaching of Norris gave him the reputation of being able to draw a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 any place in Texas.
In 1935 Norris also accepted the pastorate of Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, Michigan, and held joint pastorates for fifteen years of these two great churches separated geographically by thirteen hundred miles. During those years the attendance of each Sunday School reached over 5,000 weekly under the leadership of one pastor, and constituted the world’s largest Sunday Schools. His newspapers, The Fundamentalist and The Searchlight, claimed to have the largest circulation of a religious newspaper west of the Mississippi.
A master pulpiteer, Dr. Norris was a fierce opponent of Communism, Catholicism, liberalism, and evolution and was acclaimed to be one of the twentieth century’s outstanding leaders of Bible fundamentalism. In 1939, with the aid of Dr. Louis Entzminger, he organized the Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, an institution which excelled in the training of young preachers. Many of the graduates of this school have built some of the largest churches in America.
Norris was a personal friend of world leaders such as William Jennings Bryan, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt. He preached to state legislators and is credited with personally swinging the Texas vote from Al Smith, the Catholic candidate, to Herbert Hoover in 1928.
A friend of world leaders, a compassionate soul winner, and a Bible expositor, Dr. Norris died in Keystone, Florida, August 20, 1952 and was buried in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, August 24, 1952.