I came of age in the 1960’s. When I learned American History in high school we read that Lincoln freed the slaves. We didn’t learn about “Jim Crow” or lynching or about how Black Americans were routinely brutalized and killed. The Tulsa Race Massacre was never mentioned. We didn’t learn about “red lining.” American History was my favorite subject. I took enough American history courses in college that it could have been my major. I took the GRE in American History and scored high enough to be awarded 30 credits. I never heard about Emmett Till until a couple of years ago after George Floyd was brutally murdered.
In the summer of 2020 while much of our country was locked down from the Covid-19 pandemic I had the opportunity to be part of course at Houghton University called “Racism and American Christianity.” Our professor was the first black person I ever had in any educational setting in my life. Julian Armand Cook, an ordained Baptist minister and member of Houghton University’s faculty provided us with facts and insights that had been neatly avoided in the first 65 plus years of my education. We read books like “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”, which exposed a telling of American history that had been neatly avoided in my earlier readings. I was appalled at the systematic racist brutality visited upon the black people of the United States and fully condoned by our own federal government until the late 1950’s. One of the most appalling of those hate crimes was the murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till who was visiting his family in rural Mississippi in the summer of 1955.
Emmett’s crime was that he allegedly whistled at a white woman while shopping in a general store. For that transgression Emmett was beaten, brutally murdered and his body dumped in a river weighed down by heavy equipment. Emmett’s killers were acquitted. Sound familiar doesn’t it. This is some of the history that some folks in our country don’t think our children ought to learn. Emmett’s murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and led to some of the civil rights legislation that have been written into law. Unfortunately laws can’t change attitudes and bigotry which all people of color continue to endure in the United States.
This week I had the privilege of watching the movie “Till” which is available from Amazon, YouTube, AppleTV and elsewhere.
“How do you tell your all-white mother that your all-white “friends” just dragged you into their big all-white house in all-white Southampton, past an untouchable all-white room, just to corner you and call you the dirtiest thing in their all-white world? Nigger.”
— The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey https://a.co/4I4AaQ6
I’ve long been a fan of Mariah Carey. I remember I was driving home from graduate school when I first heard “Vision of Love” on one of the local radio stations. There was a unique quality to her voice and reading this book about her life has that same spark. She is a great communicator. The book provides evidence of the ever present racism that pervades our culture even today. The debate in our nation rages over how to honor our past without glorifying the scourge of racism and misogyny.
Recently there has been discussion of removing the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the legislative chamber of New York City. Does the removal of the statue solve the problem. How about saving the statue but sharing the history of Jefferson and others who raped their slave mistresses and fathered children whom they also enslaved?
Our one dollar, two dollar and twenty dollar bills bear the images of men who supported the institution of slavery. Both Jefferson and Washington had biracial children. There is no evidence of Jackson fathering any children with his slaves but he was a slave master nonetheless. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that we are a less than perfect nation?
Can we get past the meanness of our past and provide some real meaning for our future? Can we heal the wounds of racism by acknowledging their presence in our present and past?
This week’s passing of Colin Powell invited me to reflect on the impact of him as an American icon. I strongly disagreed with the decision of the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq and I was sorry that General Powell gave testimony in the United Nations that provided the cover for that war. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein did not pose a credible threat to the integrity of the United States. I wrote letters to the Bush Administration at the time and at one point received a nice reply from the oval office.
Colin Powell became the first black Secretary of State on the United States on January 20, 2001. He became the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1, 1989. Prior to that he was Deputy National Security advisor in the Reagan Administration. General Powell’s life was full of firsts. That’s wonderful to be sure. The larger question for me is why did it take so long for America to put a black person in those positions? Africans came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. It took three-hundred and seventy years for one to ascend to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Surely General Powell was not the first African American to serve in our military. Why did it take so long for Black Americans to rise to general officer ranks? Who were the Buffalo Soldiers? Who were the Tuskegee Airmen?
Jackie Robinson broke the ‘color line’ in 1947. Why were there ‘Negro Leagues’? Why are there no women’s faces on our currency? Why were the original owners of the America’s denied citizenship until 1925? Why did we need a Fourteenth Amendment? Why no people of color on currency, stamps and national emblems. Slaves built the White House. Is that fact taught in our schools?
Lately there’s been lots of discussion of ‘Critical Race Theory‘ and the ‘1619 Project‘. There are folks in this country that still have a problem acknowledging our history as en-slavers and murderers of Africans and Native Americans. Those are not pleasant memories nor should they be. Acknowledging and accepting our past is the pathway to a hopeful future.
This was an exceptionally well researched and written book that I stumbled upon. It was not on my radar but I am so glad that I borrowed it and listened to it on Libby from our public library. Mary Trump is a bright spot and atones for the indelible mark that her surname has had upon the American psyche.
I’ve read so many good books this summer that i didn’t think it was possible to read one more. This invitation to read this book from a class I am taking at Houghton College. It resonated for me because like the author I was a military medic though in a different war. Like the author I too was conflicted about killing for my country. It was counter to all I had been taught and what I believed. This gripping story of conversion is a must read.
I’ve come to believe that white supremacy is so embedded in Eurocentric American Christianity that most folks can’t believe that Jesus and the early church were not white. That they were in fact brown and/or black. Look at the statues and paintings in most churches and museums depicting Jesus, his followers and most of the early saints. It’s highly likely that St. Augustine was at least brown. He was from North Africa. The Desert Fathers and Mother’s came out of the Egyptian and Ethiopian deserts. It wasn’t until Christianity moved to Europe and the Americas that it became a religion of conquest and subjugation of indigenous people.
“Again, the actor Ossie Davis stood. His deep voice delivered the eulogy to Malcolm X which was going to cause Davis subsequently to be hailed more than ever among Negroes in Harlem: “Here—at this final hour, in this quiet place, Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes—extinguished now, and gone from us forever…. “Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile…. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! “And we will answer and say unto them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves…. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our own black shining Prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.””
— The Autobiography of Malcolm X by MALCOLM X
I knew about Malcolm as someone who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s but I had the perspective of a white man. I saw him as a threat and frightening to me. I didn’t understand the back story until reading this book. I now know more about this amazing man who was truly a prophetic voice for all Americans.
James Cone’s powerful book, ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree’ is the reason I’m in this course. I don’t remember who recommended it to me earlier this spring but reading became a metanoia for me. It is the reason that I enrolled in this course. I knew very little about lynchings. I read little about them in my study of American History which was my undergraduate major. I remember the power scenes in the movie,”The Great Debaters” which is one of my favorites. However I missed the paradox that is the cross and the lynching tree especially as the lived experience of American Christianity.
I grew up in Roman Catholic community which was essentially a de facto segregated group although none of us would have thought it that at the time. I attended liturgies frequently as a child and young adult. I remember the disconnect for me with the church in the 1960’s and 1970’s when little was said in support of the civil rights movement and against the war in Vietnam. That eventually led away from regular attendance and participation. In the past twenty years I’ve been reconnected to the church and a more active participation in the social gospel through my involvement with Franciscans at Mt. Irenaeus which led in time to becoming a professed Secular Franciscan. However, despite being a member of group of folks who were more active in our ministry to the marginalized I still had not grasped the powerful and prophetic voice and vision that is contained in this particular book and in the content of Julian’s lectures.
Through this course and the materials I’ve come to believe that American Christianity whether Protestant or Catholic has been essentially “white-washed.” We need redemption and renewal in the church as whole to make it a true instrument of the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than an instrument of the status quo. P
This is one of the best books I’ve read on the history of racism in America. Much of the factual data presented in the book was news to me and my undergraduate major was American History. DL Hughley intersperses enough comedy to make this an easy book to read. He covers a difficult topic masterfully. i highly recommend this book.
It’s been my privilege for the past couple of weeks to be a student once again. I’m auditing a course at nearby Houghton College and thanks to this pandemic and social distancing we are using Zoom. Race and American Christianity is the title of the course and our professor is Julian Armand Cook. i love the course and following last Thursday’s lecture I took Dr. Cook’s invitation to visit his church. I couldn’t make it in person but again thanks to the miracle of YouTube I listened to the service for this Sunday. I decided to look around on the church’s YouTube channel and found Julian’s sermon for May 31, 2020 which followed the death of George Floyd. His preaching is powerful and I wanted to share it and invite us all prayer. We are at a pivotal point in time. Thanks Julian for your invitation and your passion. I invite you to listen to the sermon beginning at 40:25 minutes of this video.