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Free in DC For MOW 50: What Happened To God?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2013 by Free Smith

MLK Cross

 

 

Malcolm Mecca

The impact of the spiritual community on the Civil Rights Movement cannot be overstated. Many of its leaders were religious leaders, and the love and peacefulness that helped define the Movement are deeply rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Author of King’s Vision of Justice: Rooted in the Bible, David J. Lull wrote, “Dr. King often pointed out that it was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that inspired the ‘dignified social action’ of the civil rights movement. His notion of “creative suffering” – borne by civil rights activists who endured persecution and police brutality – came from his Christian faith in the redemptive suffering of Jesus.”

Usage of scriptural innuendoes was favored rhetorical practice for King, especially hopes for “God’s children” he pled for in the “I Have A Dream” speech. Even his ominous, final speech was closed with the biblical allusion of being at the “mountaintop” and seeing the “Promised Land” referencing Moses who, as a punishment from God, could only see the Hebrews’ “Promised Land” from Mount Nebo where he died. Use of this passage evidenced that King sensed his impending death, which was the next day.

Furthermore, Dr. King saw the Church as a microcosm of racism in America. According to Aldon Morris, sociologist at Northwestern University and writer of The Origins of the Civil Right Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change, cited King’s labeling of Sunday church services as “the most segregated hour in America.” “He felt the church hadn’t stood up enough and supported the movement.  They were needing allies from many different groups, and with the movement rooted in moral and religious precepts it made a great deal of sense to reach out to various religious groups.”

In his book, Gospel of Freedom, author John Rieder examined King’s moving “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” expressed that King’s letter (also strewn with biblical references) helped to highlight the contradiction of Jim Crow to religious values held by institutions and spurred them to action, creating a “confluence of a major part of the black movement with the larger ferment in American Christianity and Judaism.”

Other some of  King’s more radical counterparts also used spirituality as a foundation to their fight. Muslim doctrine and his post as head voice of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam heavily influenced Malcolm X’s noble campaign. In his quest to liberate Blacks in America, founder of the UNIA, counterpart to W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP, Marcus Garvey, put his separatist mission in a religious context, “As the Jew is held together by his religion… so likewise the Negro must be united in one grand racial hierarchy…Like the great Church of Rome, Negroes the world over must practice one faith, that of Confidence in themselves, with One God! One Aim! One Destiny! Let no religious scruples, no political machination divide us, but let us hold together under all climes and in every country, making among ourselves a Racial Empire upon which ’the sun shall never set.’”

Seeing how spirituality and faith were so influential in the Civil Rights Movement, one might wonder, what happened? Today, the leaders of thought in the Black community are predominately entertainers, replacing the ministers who led during times of oppression. According to Yeadon’s Rev. Dr. Harold Dean Trulear (“Uncle Dean” to me), reputable director of Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Reentry Initiative and professor at Howard University, “Media has taken center stage and it’s so powerful that it creates more of a sense of being a spectator and being more passive. The action is up front on the screen. The spiritual people on television are giving more of a message of individual prosperity and individual solutions to social problems than they are looking at the collective.” This focus on the self has been said to be a somewhat destructive imposition of feudalistic, European ideals foreign and incompatible to Black/African culture (stemming from a lesson I learned from Howard University’s Dr. Gregory Carr in his “Black Aesthetics” course). Trulear partially jested, “If Rosa Parks came to church to today and said she’d been discriminated against on the bus, somebody would’ve told her to ask God for a car.” He continued, “That’s an individual solution to social problem, that people overcome individually rather than transform society itself.”

Trulear calls this plight, “uncritical integration,” which he attributes to the Black community’s replication of “rampant individualism”, imperialistic mindsets and discrimination against subsets. “If the society was sick, then you don’t want to integrate into a sick society. You want to transform it. There’s plenty of stuff that we just took a from a very sick society,” he surmised. He deems that Black people have “uncritically adopted” a “flawed” American Dream. “There are number of things we do as Americans that is not the medicine. Rather than challenging the status quo about everything, we just got our piece of the pie.”

Since Blacks got their “piece of the pie, Trulear says revolutionary attitudes in the church have been tamed referencing H. Richard Niebuhr’s 1929 text, The Social Sources of Denominations, “I do think that Black churches have done what all churches have done which is the more affluent the congregation becomes, the less likely it is that they be involved in activism. They become more integrated in the mainstream society.”

Trulear also pointed out that, at the time, fellow Morehouse alum, Dr. King was not a pastor of a church. For six years, he was a senior pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, but his responsibilities hindered his leadership of the SCLC. “He couldn’t do it. There wasn’t enough time, so when he goes back to Atlanta as co-pastor (of Ebenezer Baptist Church) he has very different duties that allow him to spend time on a movement that he could have had he been confined to one church,” explained Trulear. He credited the work of the organizations’ full-time staffs with helping King and other leaders by “doing the organizing work on the ground.“

Trulear gave his blueprint to attaining “The Dream,” heavily influenced by  Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”): “One thing you can do is refuse to allow society to define you by the fact that you’re homeless or have a criminal record and then you can work with other people who have accepted that and help turn their lives around. That includes accepting the designation of subhuman because you’re Black or gay and because you’re an ex-convict or sitting in a homeless shelter. The situation doesn’t define me, I’m defined by Christ and because I’m defined by Christ, I can handle all situations.”