What Donald Trump said about John Lewis

Watch Trump’s interview with journalist Jonathan Swan on Axios on HBO:

The section on the late civil rights activist John Lewis begins at the 35:23 mark, right after Trump says he has done more for the African American community than Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed into law both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). This interview apparently took place on the day Lewis was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump says he does not know how history will remember John Lewis. Of course Trump could have said that Lewis will be remembered as a member of the Nashville Student Movement, a freedom rider, an activist who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or a member of the House of Representatives who fought for civil rights. But he said none of these things. Why? Because Trump cannot conceive of Lewis’s contribution to American history outside of how it intersects with his own presidency. He is incapable of seeing himself as part of a larger story of the American past because he knows that his presidency, like all presidencies, is just a small part of a long narrative. If Trump thinks historically it will make him feel small. As I have written before, his failure on this front is the essence of narcissism.

Within seconds of Swan’s question about Lewis, Trump notes that the Georgia congressman chose not to attend his inauguration. As we will see, Trump simply cannot get past this talking point.

Swan asks Trump if he finds Lewis to be an “impressive” man. Trump responds: “I can’t say one way or the other; I find a lot of people impressive, I find a lot of people not impressive.” Trump then repeats the fact that Lewis did not come to his inauguration and adds that Lewis did not come to any of his State of the Union speeches either. For the record, Lewis refused to come to these events because he did not believe Trump was a legitimate president:

Trump says that “no one has done more for Black Americans than I have.” He again notes that Lewis did not come to his inauguration. This time adds: “he should have come, I think he made a big mistake.”

Trump finally admits that Lewis devoted “a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights,” and then adds, “but there were many others also.” When asked if he would “support” renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis, Trump responds: “I would have no objection to it if they’d like to do it.”

Many have called Trump a racist who does not care about African-Americans. Trump disagrees with this. He believes that the economy raises all boats, including those of Black Americans. Of course now that that the economy is in the tank, and COVID-19 is here, Black Americans are suffering at a much higher rate than White Americans. Why? As evidenced from Swan’s interview, Trump is not interested in this question. In the end, he has allowed revenge and payback to get in the way of celebrating one of our greatest heroes. It shameful. But it is also what we have come to expect in the Trump presidency.

What is Trump doing during the John Lewis funeral?

Lewis and Lawson

John Lewis and James Lawson, 2018

If you are not watching the John Lewis funeral right now, I hope you get a chance to see some of the speeches after they are posted online.  For example, 91-year-old Jim Lawson, an advocate of non-violent protest, offered a speech that connected the civil rights movement and Lewis’s life to both American and Christian ideals. It was a powerful message. Lawson mentored Lewis and several other young Black men and women who were part of the civil rights movement in Nashville.

Here is the speech:

Several years ago I got a chance to visit Nashville and meet Rip Patton, one of Lawson’s  disciples during the Nashville Student Movement. Patton was a twenty-one-year-old music major at Tennessee State University when he met Lawson in 1959. Lawson trained Patton (and others) in non-violent protest. Soon Patton found himself seated at a lunch counter in downtown Nashville, where he would be spit on, punched, and covered in ketchup, mustard, salt, and water. Patton did not retaliate because he had been educated by Lawson in the spiritual discipline necessary for a situation like this.

Donald Trump refused to pay his respects to John Lewis as he lied in state at the U.S. Capitol. I am guessing it had something to do with Lewis’s refusal to attend Trump’s inauguration.

So what is Trump doing during the ceremony? He is tweeting this:

What an embarrassment.

Lonnie Bunch on John Lewis

Dedication Ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie Bunch is the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and was the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Over at Politico he reflects on the life of civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis.

Here is a taste:

I first got to know Congressman Lewis when the Smithsonian hired me to make real the centurylong dream of a museum on the National Mall dedicated to the history and culture of African Americans. Without his persistence, the museum might never have existed. Upon his election to office in 1986, one of the first bills Lewis introduced was legislation to create the museum. He continued to champion it, building enthusiasm for the project among his colleagues and constituents for 15 years, before the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act finally passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Every time I met with the congressman, I was struck by his patience and perseverance, qualities one would expect from someone who had been deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights since he was a teenager. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s radio sermons and the movement to integrate Alabama’s schools, John Lewis gave his first sermon at Macedonia Baptist Church in Troy, Alabama, when he was just 15. When he later attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary, he tried to start a campus chapter of the NAACP, only to encounter resistance from the school’s leaders, who were reluctant to lose the white support they counted on. Lewis became adept at overcoming resistance throughout his life and shared wisdom about doing so with many people—myself included. As I struggled to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I cannot count the number of times I looked to his example of fighting the good fight every day.

Read the entire piece here.

John Lewis, RIP

Lewis dead

Sad news. Here is Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times:

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by a senior Democratic official.

He announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and vowed to fight it with the same passion with which he had battled racial injustice. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against systemic racism and the police killings of Black people. He saw those demonstrations, the largest protest movement in American history, as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sideline.

Read the rest here.

When evangelicals put their faith and trust in presidents and Supreme Court justices

Gorsuch Trump

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion. So did Trump-appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically, the story centers on Gorsuch. Let’s remember that many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because they believed he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade and protect their religious liberties. When white evangelicals talk about religious liberties, the right to uphold views of traditional marriage and sexuality at their institutions, and still maintain their tax-exempt status and have access to federal funding programs, are at or near the top of the list.

For example, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote:

Court evangelicals, for example, believe that a Trump administration will protect Christian colleges and universities from losing their religious exemptions, exemptions that allow them to receive federal money despite their religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage. One school that would have a lot to lose if these exemptions were to disappear is Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s school does not allow faculty members who are gay, and it has taken strong stances against gay marriage and other related matters of sexual ethics. In 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr. no doubt has his eye on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California legislature that would remove Title IX religious exemptions for private liberal arts colleges that are opposed to gay marraige or refuse to hire gay faculty. The sponsors of the bill believed that such rules represented a form of discrimination against LGBTQ students attending those schools. Biola University, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, along with several other California Christian colleges and universities, argued that the bill, if passed, would not only violate their religious liberties but would prevent low-income students in need of financial aid from attending their institutions.

The California bill had no bearing on federal funding or institutions outside California, but it still raised much fear among Christian colleges throughout the country. Liberty University students received $445 million in federal student loans, the highest today of any four-year university in Virginia and the eighth-highest in the nation. (The high ranking in both categories is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Liberty student body.) 

Many white evangelicals hoped that Trump would end these problems by appointing Supreme Court justices who would make sure that schools like Liberty, Biola, and dozens more Christian colleges, including my own institution, Messiah College, would get religious exemptions.

Again, here is Believe Me:

When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear  that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said, “and if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republicans voters that the United States was “one justice away” from “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

“One justice away.” That  one justice was Neil Gorsuch.

Cruz, of course, did not get the nomination. But as a I argued in Believe Me, Trump watched him (along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Christian Right favorites) carefully in order to learn how to tap the white evangelical vote. Here is more from the book:

…Trump pulled out his most important move to win over conservative evangelicals who were still skeptical about his candidacy on May 18[,2020]. On that day, the soon-to-be-GOP nominee released the names of eleven judges whom he said he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. It was a move straight out of the playbook. The list was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank known for defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and fighting for the right of religious institutions to avoid government interference. On July 13, 2016, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that evangelicals were rallying to Trump, and it predicted that 78 percent of white evangelical voters would support him in November.

Neil Gorsuch was on that list.

Many court evangelicals are not happy with Gorsuch’s majority opinion:

Franklin Graham has responded here.

We will see how this all plays out politically, but there are still some serious religious liberty questions that need to be addressed in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned. In my next post on this subject, I will address the way other evangelicals and faith-based institutions are responding to this decision, particularly as it relates to religious liberty.

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Metaxas

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Eric Metaxas is still attacking systemic racism. Today one his guests said, “systemic racism does not exist. It is a conspiracy theory that the radical Left has been using to try to destroy the whole American system of justice, of equity, of individual rights, and of the Christian mission of the human being as morally responsible for his own actions and for no one else’s.” (For what people mean when they say “systemic racism,” I point you to Chris Cuomo’s show last night).

Metaxas says that people are now talking so about systemic racism right now because Donald Trump “has been such a monkey-wrench in the deep state.” (No reference here to the idea that people may be talking about systemic racism because of the death of George Floyd and the peaceful protest in every U.S. city”). His guest also compares what is happening right now in America to the Salem Witch Trials. Metaxas compares the woke mob to “Hitler and the Nazis” and also suggests that Black Lives Matter and anyone else who is sympathetic to the movement is the Antichrist. Metaxas knows where his ratings bread is buttered.

OK.

In other court evangelical news:

Robert Jeffress believes that churches should lead the way in solving the problem of racism. He writes, “Every major social and political movement in American–from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement–has been led by pastors and churches. Too many attempts have been made in recent years to scrub our public square clean of religious language and devotion.”

Leave it to Jeffress to somehow connect the church’s role in social justice to the victimization of white evangelical churches.

I wish Jeffress was correct. I wish white churches would step-up and work to end racism in America. But first let’s stop and think more deeply about the history of American reform movements. Yes, Christians were active in the abolition movement and civil rights movement. This activity has been well documented. But let’s also remember that abolitionism was necessary because white churches in the South–including Jeffress’s own Southern Baptist Convention–endorsed slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church was born out of its defense of slavery.

And how about the civil rights movement? Let’s remember that Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Black church had to fight for civil rights because white churches and pastors did nothing to end it. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the white clergymen in Birmingham who did not not want him in town because he was an “outside agitator.” And let’s not forget that Jeffress’s own First Baptist Church in Dallas was a bastion of segregationist theology. So before Jeffress starts pontificating about churches leading the way, he should look at the history of his own people.

Jeffress says that “reform is always local.” I wish this were true when it comes to the history race relations in America. The racist localism of white cities, and the fear of “outside agitators” like King, meant that change had to come from the outside, including the federal government. History teaches that when we leave white evangelical churches, especially those in the South, to solve the problem of racism, very little happens. I pray that things might be different this time around.

Below is a video of Jeffress’s appearance tonight on Fox News Business with Lou Dobbs. I was waiting for Jeffress to bring up Romans 13 to defend the police. It happened tonight, just after Jeffress asserted that Trump does not have a racist bone in his body. And he concludes by saying that if Biden wins in 2020 he will bring out the guillotines and kill everyone who has a thought that the Left does not like. What is it lately with all of these references to the French Revolution? Jeffress sounds like the Federalists in New England who feared that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president in 1800 the Democratic-Republicans–fueled by the spirit of the French Revolution– would start closing churches and confiscating Bibles. And there are still smart people out there who reject my fear thesis.

Meanwhile:

Ralph Reed is trying to convince people that he has compassion for Stacey Abrams

Franklin Graham wants you to vote for law and order:

Until next time.

What Do We Mean By “Rights” and “Justice”?

Rights

For the last few months, I have been thinking about rights. Protesters at state capitals do not want governors taking away their right to open their businesses during the pandemic. White evangelicals support Donald Trump because he is defending their right to worship and other forms of religious liberty. I recently watched the FX documentary AKA Jane Roe, which brought to light once again the claim that women have the “right” to their own bodies.

And now we are in the midst of racial conflict and social unrest in America. The Trump administration claims that they respect the rights of people to protest peacefully. Black Americans are in the streets demanding their rights as citizens and human beings after decades of white indifference to their concerns.

What are these rights? And how do they relate to justice?

Last night I read a 1973 essay by German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper. I have found his ideas useful in this day and age. Here is a taste of “The Rights of Others” (published in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in the Modern Age:

First of all, when the ancients–naturally I do not mean this term in the sense of “the thinkers of the past,” but rather in the sense of “the great thinkers,” above all those who bore witness in our own tradition–speak about justice, they never think in terms of the man with rights, but rather in terms of the man with obligations. It is the concern of the just man, they say, to give others due rather than to obtain what is due to him. Thus to be cheated out of what is due oneself is an altogether different matter than to withhold, curtail, or take away from someone else what is due to him. In the dialogues of Plato Socrates repeats over and over: To be sure, this statement has been made many times, but it will not do any harm to say it once again: “He who commits an injustice is worse off than he who suffers injustice.”

To repeat my point once again, the ancient doctrine of justice is not primarily an exposition of the rights owed to people, which they can with all propriety demand. Instead it is the exposition and the validation of the obligation to respect rights. On the other hand, the primary focus of the later doctrine, with which we are more familiar–the doctrine of human rights–is not the man with obligations but the man with rights. Naturally this modern theory also involves the idea of obligation and of the person with obligations, just as, conversely, the ancient theory of justice clearly took into account the man with rights. Yet an unmistakable and characteristic shift in emphasis has taken place in modern times, and difficult though it may be to interpret this shift, it is important that we notice that it is there.

Some takeaways from the larger essay:

  1. When the great philosophers of the West–the men who inspired our founding fathers–spoke of rights, they were always referring, to quote Pieper, “exclusively to the ‘rights of the other person.'”
  2. There has always been a delicate balance in Western Civilization between “rights” and “obligations.” But for most of the history of the West, the idea of “obligations” was paramount.
  3. Thomas Jefferson was right when he said in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from the Creator. Most Americans do not need to be convinced of this. But it is much more difficult to convince people, as Pieper notes, “that there are grounds for their obligations, and to reveal the inalienable nature of what is due others” (interesting use of the word “inalienable” here–isn’t it?).  Pieper adds: “Ultimately, man possesses inalienable rights because behind man there stands an authority who transcends all human debate, because, to state the matter more clearly, God created man as a person. This, and nothing else, is in the end the only valid ground for the unconditional nature of man’s obligation to exercise justice.”
  4. In the context of our current moment of racial strife, Pieper’s words are relevant: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due….”
  5. Pieper’s ideas seem very compatible with the teachings of Jesus and the Christian faith. (He writes out of the Catholic tradition).

The History Behind “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”

Here is what Trump tweeted this morning:

This phrase comes from former Miami police chief Walter Headley:

Looting shooting

Here is a taste of front-page article from the Miami Herald on December 27, 1967:

Miami Police Chief Walter Headley announced Tuesday that his men will use shot-guns, dogs, and a “get tough policy” instead of community relations programs to cut crime in the city’s slums.

Headley said he is “declaring war” on criminals responsible for a sharp increase in armed robberies and shootings in Miami’s Negro areas.

“Felons will learn that they can’t be bonded out from the morgue,” he said.

He said his men have been told that any force, up to and including death, is proper when apprehending a felon.

“Community relations and all that sort of thins has failed,” Chief Headley said. “We have done everything we could, sending speakers out and meeting with Negro leaders. But it has amounted to nothing,” he said.

“We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprisings and looting because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Chief Headley said. 

His statement was in a sharp contrast to recent comments of Dade Sheriff E. Wilson Purdy who credited community relations and special personnel training for successfully preventing civil disorders.

“My men are getting tired of felons being bailed out of jail so quickly that they beat the arresting officer back to his zone,” Headley said.

He said the major group his “get tough” policy is aimed at is young Negro males, from 15 to 21.

“Ninety per cent of our Negro population is law abiding and wants to eliminate our crime problems,” he said. “But 10 per cent are young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.”

Headley said special cars will be organized with sufficient police manpower to enforce the city’s “stop and frisk law” on gangs loitering on city streets.”

He said he is transferring about half of the 16 men in the vice squad to patrols to bolster his force on the streets.

More police dogs are being sought to add to the 16 dogs now serving in the department’s canine corps.

Heavily equipped police without dogs have been unable to apprehend fleet-footed young hoodlums, Headley said. “We’re going to use shotguns and dogs to stop them from now on,” he said. 

He said the shotguns will be equipped with shells “so thopse on the receving end won’t get up very quickly.”

“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet,” Chief Headley said.

I’m taking complete responsibility for this and I just hope we get support from the people we’re trying to help.”

He said he decided on the new policy after three Miamians were killed by armed bandits over the Christmas weekend.

Asked about possible reaction from civil rights groups and other opponents of the get tough policy, Headley said, “I guess I’ll have to start carrying my pistol and not answering my phone for a few days….”

For some context, I encourage you to check out Chanelle Nyree Rose‘s book The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896-1968. Rose writes:

Racial tensions between Miami’s black community and the police department escalated after Police Chief Walter Headley instituted what became the notorious “get tough” policy in the fall of 1967. As longtime civil rights advocate and law professor Michelle Alexander has pointed out in her scathing indictment of the criminal justice, the “get tough on crime movement” emerged as a conservative response to liberals who placed more emphasis on police brutality than structural inequalities that helped to explain high crime rates in black communities. In Miami, Headley routinely criticized Robert High’s mayoral leadership and held strong reservations about various public officials’ non-confrontational approach toward addressing racial unrest through organizations like the metropolitan Community Relations Board.  He adopted a more sophisticated racism that embraced paternalism, and his approach appeared  more akin to Albany’s Laurie Pritchett than Birmingham’s “Bull” Conner. In effect, he had tactfully avoided the kind of negative publicity that traditionally followed his notorious predecessor Leslie Quigg. But this would change. In December 1967, Headley announced that the police department planned “to use shotguns and dogs” to curb the escalating crime rate in Liberty City. The police chief deemed such drastic measures as necessary and heavily criticized the ineffectiveness of community relations programs in regard to criminal activity. His infamous statement, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” evoked national criticism and fueled black discontent on a local and national level.

“Genuine Christian Faith is Larger Than the Constitution”

Corona Church

It looks like more than 1200 California pastors will hold in-person services this weekend in violation of Governor Gavin Newsoms’s stay-at-home order. Read their letter to Newsom here.

Here is Peter Marty, publisher of The Christian Century:

What’s motivating this willingness to put the lives of church members at risk in order to assert First Amendment rights? I don’t think it has anything to do with an honest conviction that various governors can’t stand religion. It has everything to do with an obsession over rights.

The language of rights is the language of power. “No right is safe unless it can be carried to an extreme,” conservative political philosopher Harvey Mansfield once remarked. This may be what we’re witnessing at the moment. Even though all rights have limits—you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater—the absolutizing of rights has become a distorted feature of American politics.

Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon calls it “the illusion of absoluteness.” In her 1991 book Rights Talk, she points out that when talk of rights turns absolute it inhibits conversation, silences responsibility, and downplays obligation toward the common good. She writes that the “relentless individualism” promoted by such rights talk “fosters a climate that is inhospitable to society’s losers, and systematically disadvantages caretakers and dependents, young and old.”

Rights are certainly important. But there’s a reason the Bible shows little interest in individual rights. If I see my life primarily as a prepackaged set of guaranteed rights owed me, instead of as a gift of God, what motivation is there to feel deep obligation toward society’s most vulnerable? If I’m just receiving what’s my rightful due, why would I ever need to express gratitude? What’s the point of looking outward toward others if I’m chiefly responsible for looking inward and securing the personal rights that are mine?

I want a faith that’s larger than the US Con­sti­tution…. 

Read the entire piece here.

What White Evangelicals Can Learn About Politics From the Civil Rights Movement

 

MLK GRave

In June 2017, I spent ten days with my family and several colleagues from Messiah College traveling through the American South on a civil rights movement bus tour. Our trip took us to some of the most important sites and cities of the movement. We made stops in Greensboro, Atlanta, Albany, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and Nashville

Along the way we spent time with some of the veterans of the movement. In Atlanta we heard from Juanita Jones Abernathy, the wife and co-laborer of Ralph Abernathy, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest associates. In Albany we sang civil rights songs with Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers.

In Selma we met Joanne Bland, a local activist who, at the age of eleven, participated in all three Edmund Pettus Bridge marches. In Birmingham we talked with Carolyn Maul McKinstry and Denise McNair. McKinstry was fifteen years old when she survived the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. That explosion took the life of McNair’s sister, whom she never had a chance to meet.

In Nashville, we listened to the inspirational stories of Ernest “Rip” Patton, one of the early freedom riders, and Kwame Leonard, one of the movement’s behind-the-scenes organizers.

As I processed everything that I learned on my colleague Todd Allen’s “Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights” bus tour, I kept returning to thoughts about the relationship between religion and politics. Donald Trump had been in office for under five months, but my anger and frustration upon learning that 81 percent of my fellow evangelicals had voted for him were still fresh.

As I listened to the voices of the movement veterans, walked the ground that they had walked, and saw the photographs, studied the exhibits, and watched the footage, it was clear that I was witnessing a Christian approach to politics that was very different from the one that catapulted Trump into the White House and continues to garner white evangelical support for his presidency. Hope and humility defined the political engagement and social activism of the civil rights movement. The movement served, and continues to serve, as an antidote to a politics of fear and power.

****

Those who participated in the civil rights movement has much to fear: bombs, burning crosses, billy clubs, death threats, water hoses, police dogs, and lynch mobs—to name a few. They feared for the lives of their families and spent every day wondering whether they would still be around to continue the fight the next day. For these reasons, many African Americans, understandably, did not participate in the movement and prevented their children from getting involved. The danger was very real.

Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. When we visited the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church where King was baptized and where he (and his father) served as pastor, his final sermon, the one he delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, was playing over the speakers.

King was in Memphis to encourage sanitation workers fighting for better pay and improved working conditions. I sat in the back pew and listened:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m no concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing anything. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

It was a message of hope. Because of his faith, God had given him—and the women and men of the movement he led—all the strength they would need to continue the struggle. King made himself available to do the Lord’s will. Now he was looking forward. Was he talking about his eternal life in what now seems like prophetic fashion, or was he talking about God working out his purposes on earth?

No matter: King was confident in God’s power to work out his will: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” An assassin’s bullet took King’s life the next day, April 4, 1968, but the movement went on.

Can evangelicals recover this confidence in God’s power—not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability to work out his purposes for good? Can they recover hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”

I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our trip. It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates. Rather, it was a view of this world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.

Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes—if not in this life, surely in the world to come. The people in the movement understood that laws, social programs, even local and voluntary action, would only get them so far. Something deeper was needed.

There was something kingdom-oriented going on in these Southern cities. I thought of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I saw this kind of hope in the eyes of Rip Patton as he sat with us in the Nashville Public Library and explained why (and how) he had such a “good time” singing while incarcerated with other freedom riders in Parchman Prison in Jackson, Mississippi.

I heard this kind of hope in the voice of Rutha Mae Harris as she led us in “This Little Light of Mine” and “Ain’t Gonna Turn Me ‘Round” from the front of the sanctuary of the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church in Albany.

As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage of John Lewis and Joanne Bland as they marched into the face of terror on Bloody Sunday. Such audacity requires hope.

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of mind that political scientist Glenn Tinder had described as a “kind of death.” Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we can never recover. It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror. Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the carnage of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.

A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life. Poverty is a problem. Rusted-out factories often do appear, as Trump once described them, like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Crime is real

But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.” Hope, on the other hand, draws us into the future, and in this way it engages us in life.

*****

It is nonsensical to talk about the civil rights movement in terms of political power, because even at the height of the movement’s influence, African Americans did not possess much political power. Yes, the movement had its leaders, and they did have time in the national spotlight. But when the movement leaders entered the halls of power, they were usually there to speak truth with a prophetic voice. King, for example, was willing to break with Lyndon Johnson when he disagreed with him on the Vietnam War, even if it meant losing access to the most powerful man on earth.

Most of all, though, the civil rights movement was shaped by people of humble of means who lived ordinary lives in ordinary neighborhoods. Many of them never expected to step onto a national stage or receive credit for leading the great social movement in American history. These ordinary men and women fought injustice wherever God had placed them. They offer us a beautiful illustration of what scholar James Davison Hunter has called “faithful presence.”

For Hunter, a theology of faithful presence calls Christians to serve the people and places where they live. The call of faithful presence, Hunter writes in his book To Change the World, “gives priority to what is right in front of us—community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. It is in these places, through “the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries of people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, co-workers, and community—where we find authenticity as a body of believers. It is here, Hunter adds, “where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible with which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context in which shalom is enacted.”

I thought about Hunter’s words as I stood in the hot Selma sun and listened to Joanne Bland explain to us the significance of a small and crumbling patch of pavement in a playground behind Brown Chapel AME church. This was the exact spot, she told us, where the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches began. For Bland, who was raised in a housing complex across the street from the church, this was a sacred space.

The humility on display during the civil rights movement was just as countercultural then as it is now. This is usually the case with nonviolent protests. Those who participated thought of themselves not as individuals but as part of a movement larger than themselves.

Rip Patton was a twenty-one-year old music major at Tennessee State University when he met Jim Lawson in 1959. Lawson trained Patton (and others) in nonviolent protest. Soon Patton found himself seated at a lunch counter in downtown Nashville, where he would be spit on, punched, covered with ketchup, mustard, salt, and water.

Patton did not retaliate because he had been educated in the spiritual discipline necessary for a situation like this. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a political and social movement, but he was also the high priest of a spiritual movement, something akin to a religious revival.

The civil rights movement never spoke the language of hate or resentment. In fact, its Christian leaders saw that all human beings were made in the image of God and sinners in need of God’s redemptive love. Many in the movement practiced what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described as “the spiritual discipline against resentment.” They saw that those who retaliated violently or with anger against injustice were only propagating injustices of their own.

Instead, the spiritual discipline against resentment unleashed a different kind of power—the power of the cross and the resurrection. This kind of power could provide comfort amid suffering and a faithful gospel witness to the world.

The Mississippi voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “The white man’s afraid he’ll be treated like he’s been treating the Negroes, but I couldn’t carry that much hate. It wouldn’t have solved any problems for me to hate whites because they hate me. Oh, there’s so much hate! Only God has kept the Negro sane.”

****

Where does all this reflection leave us? Where did it leave me as I got off the bus and headed back to my working-class, central Pennsylvania neighborhood. How might hope and humility inform the way we white American evangelicals think about politics and other forms of public engagement?

It is time to take a long hard look at what we have become. We have a lot of work to do.

This essay draws heavily from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, which was recently released in paperback by Eerdmans Publishing

The Author’s Corner With Kelly Ryan

RyanKelly A. Ryan is Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of History at Indiana University-Southeast.  This interview is based on her new book Everyday Crimes: Social Violence and Civil Rights in Early America (New York University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Everyday Crimes?

KR: When I was researching my first book, I ran across records of abused wives in the revolutionary era and early republic who had the courage to report their husbands to a local justice of the peace. I was surprised by the activism of these women as we know that reporting abuse often leads to greater violence. I wondered about the resistance of slaves and servants –  two other groups categorized as legal dependents – and whether or not they had more or less success in stymying the violence of their masters. Focusing on these groups and newly freed African Americans from the colonial era through the early republic allowed me to get a glimpse of whose voices were privileged and the many ways that legally and socially subordinated individuals fought for their human and civil rights in a society that did not value them as highly as their social superiors.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Everyday Crimes?

KR: Everyday Crimes argues that the resistance of wives, servants, slaves, and free African Americans to violence expanded their human and civil rights.  Although it was dangerous to contest assaults, legal and social dependents obtained greater access to legal rights to sue and offer testimony, expanded divorce and separation options, saw alterations in slave codes, and the emergence of emancipation statutes.

JF: Why do we need to read Everyday Crimes?

KR: In the past few years, our society has grappled with whose voices are privileged in cases of assault and murder. Everyday Crimes shares stories of the victims of violence and the ways our legal and social system indemnified some prosecutors of violence from condemnation. It’s important for Americans to understand how our history is a legacy that continues in the modern era, even as African Americans, women, and children have access to civil rights. We must keep searching for ways to better protect Americans and prevent violence.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KR: Like most historians, my interest in history stems from amazing teachers in high school and college. Maryknoll High School in Honolulu, Hawaii had passionate instructors of United States, European, and Asian history who taught history as a way of understanding our modern world. I was interested in a great number of things when I arrived at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia as a first year student, but the history professors there, most importantly Lawrence Levine and Howard Smead, made history relevant to everyday life and taught with such great joy. It was infectious. Moreover, I felt that history allowed me to continue focusing on my love of art, anthropology, and literature because all are sources of inspiration and research for historians.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: After 15 year of being a professional historian, I have so many stories connected to sexuality and violence in early America that I have not been able to tell as part of my previous scholarship.  I’d like to bring more of a biographical focus to the men and women who have encountered our criminal justice system. I’m really interested in sharing some of the information I’ve gathered about how early constables and police have been victims of and prosecutors of violence. I also have two forthcoming chapters in planned series edited by other scholars in the Routledge History of American Sexuality and the Cambridge History of the American Revolution.

JF: Thanks, Kelly!

Quick Thoughts on Reagan’s Racist Remarks. Or What Say Ye Dinesh D’Souza and Friends?

Watchf Associated Press Domestic News  New York United States APHS57004 REPUBLICAN LEADERS

By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.

Listen to the remarks here and read historian Tim Naftali’s contextual piece at The Atlantic.

When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse.  For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.

Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.  Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war.  But things change.  Historians study change over time.  While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others.  Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America.  Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.

So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments?  If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?

Highlander Research and Education Center Torched. White Supremacy Symbol Found.

Highlander

MLK, Pete Seeger, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, and Charis Horton at Highland Institute, 1957 (Source: http://www.highlandercenter.org)

I am surprised that this is not getting more news coverage.

The Highlander Folk School was founded in 1932 in Grundy County, Tennessee to train labor organizers. By the 1950s, it became a center for training civil rights workers. Rosa Parks prepared for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott at the school.  Septima Clark, Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Pete Seeger, Ralph Abernathy, and John Lewis also studied there.

Today it is known as the Highlander Research and Education Center (it moved to New Market, TN in 1971).

On March 29, 2019, the Center burned to the ground.  Here is NBC News:

A Tennessee social justice center that has hosted iconic civil rights leaders was destroyed in a fire and a “white power” symbol was found on the site, the center said.

The symbol, which officials did not describe but said was connected to the white power movement, was discovered after the main office was completely destroyed in a fire last week, the Highlander Research and Education Center said in a news release Tuesday. It was spray-painted on the parking lot connected to the main office.

No one was hurt in Friday’s blaze.

“While we don’t know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” Highlander said. “Since 2016, the white power movement has become more visible, and we’ve seen that manifest in various ways, both subtle and overt.”

And this:

Highlander’s main office was home to decades’ worth of documents, speeches and memorabilia that was lost in the fire, the center said on Facebook.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday said in a statement that investigators were working with state bomb and arson agents to determine the cause of the fire.

“We are investigating a symbol that was painted in the parking area of the office to see if it has any affiliation to any individual or group,” the sheriff’s office said.

Highlander’s office burned one day after the Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters and a Chickasaw Nation office were vandalized with racist graffiti. The offices were spray-painted with messages that included a swastika, “1488” — which is frequently used by white supremacists and refers to Adolf Hitler — and anti-Chinese slurs.

Read the entire piece here.

Scholars of the civil rights movement:  How devastating is the archival loss?

The Author’s Corner with Ansley Quiros

9781469646763.jpgAnsley L. Quiros is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Alabama. This interview is based on her new book God with Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942–1976 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2018). 

JF: What led you to write God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: As I pressed into the racial issues at the heart of American history, I began to think more about the South, particularly about the befuddling relationship between race and religion. These were issues that had long dogged at the corners of my consciousness as a child of the South, raised in Atlanta, but now I brought to them a historian’s perspective as well as native’s inquisitiveness. I wanted to see how exactly theological commitments animated not only the pursuit of racial justice but the opposition to it. And Americus was a perfect place to set this case study—notable for the presence of Koinonia Farm (an interracial Christian farming community founded in the 1940s), SNCC’s Southwest Georgia Freedom Project, the brutal, violent opposition to civil rights, and the deep religious commitments on all sides. I wanted to see how theological ideas took on flesh and blood, how they were incarnated in American life.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: The struggle over civil rights was not, for many, just about lunch counters and waiting rooms or even access to the vote; it was also about Christian orthodoxy. God with Us examines this theological struggle through the story of one southern town–Americus, Georgia–where ordinary Americans both sought and confronted racial change in the twentieth century.

JF: Why do we need to read God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: In the past few years, it has become impossible to ignore the ways in which those who claim Christianity have also buttressed systems that uphold white supremacy. And this has been, for many evangelicals, shocking and dismaying. But it has a long history. This book contributes to understanding how these alliances came to be in the mid-twentieth century, how racism hides within certain theologies, sometimes in plain sight. But the book also, I think, offers hope. The courage of black and white activists for freedom and justice, the way that they refused to believe heresy but insisted on truth, is truly moving. And it may yet stir us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AQ: I suppose I had always been interested in big questions, and I had engaging, bright history teachers in high school who made me want to major in history when I went to college. At Furman University, I got to take a wide array of courses. My professors there encouraged me to consider graduate school and I ended up at Vanderbilt after I graduated. At Vandy, I had wonderful mentors and advisors, people who really taught me how to read and write history, how to harness my historical curiosity. And though I was interested in lots of different fields, I kept returning to questions about the American past, that compelling drama of freedom and exclusion. Even after all this time, I find the story of American history completely enthralling. I always tell my students, ‘I couldn’t make this up!’

JF: What is your next project?

AQ: I have two projects in the works. One is an exploration of the Atlanta street party known as Freaknik. It’s a wild story, but one that reveals much about the city of Atlanta, the rise of the black new South, and the limits of black governance in the multicultural 1990s. The other project is spiritual biography of Charles and Shirley Sherrod, racial justice activists who have spent their lives in Southwest Georgia. I guess I’m not done with Georgia yet!

JF: Thanks, Ansley!

David Brody: Trump’s Court Journalist

Brody FileSome of you are familiar with David Brody, the Chief Political Analyst at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News and the author of The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography.  He often claims to be a legitimate journalist and chronicler of American politics, but in reality he is a pro-Trump advocate.  Here are a few of his recent tweets:

Today Brody has a piece at USA Today titled “Supreme Court and Andrew Brunson return show God sent Trump for ‘such a time as this.'”

The title itself implies that Brody seems to have a hotline to God.  He knows that Donald Trump is part of God’s will to make America great again and restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  This kind of certainty about God’s will in the world has long been a hallmark of American fundamentalism.

Brody then expounds on the Old Testament book of Esther.  He writes:

Esther is considered a hero in the Jewish history books.  Evangelicals see Donald Trump in a similar way: an unlikely hero, put in a place of influence, “for such a time as this.”  No, not turn back the clock on civil rights.  Today’s authentic, Bible-believing evangelicals have no tolerance for racism of any kind.  Rather, they see God’s hand at play to usher in a new era in support of traditional Judeo-Christian principles.

Two quick responses to this paragraph:

  • This is classic Brody.  He writes about “evangelicals” in the third person as if he is only reporting on what they believe.  Yet he continues to tweet as a politico and pro-Trumper.
  • Like Brody, I don’t know many evangelicals who would say they want to “turn back the clock on civil rights” (but I know they are out there).  But I know a lot of evangelicals who will not condemn Trump’s racist comments or the way those comments fire-up the white nationalists in his base.  Let’s remember that Robert Jeffress (who Brody quotes glowingly in his USA Today article) said Trump “did just fine” in his comments in the wake of the race riots in Charlottesville.  I also know a lot of evangelicals who have no problem chanting a phrase like “Make America Great Again” or wearing a MAGA hat.  As I have said multiple times at this blog,  in Believe Me, and on the Believe Me book tour, America has never been “great” for everyone–the poor, people of color, women, etc….

Brody concludes:

Romans 13:1 declares, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Evangelicals believe this promise, and that’s why they are supremely confident that Donald Trump and his Supreme Court have been heaven-sent.

I did not hear Brody or other conservative evangelicals making this argument during the Clinton or Obama presidencies.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents at the border.

Read Brody’s entire piece here.

Black Evangelicals and the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

Cake baker

We have done a few posts already on Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

According to a recent piece by Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today, a 2016 Pew survey found that 35% of white evangelicals support same-sex marriage, while 44% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.

Only 22% of white evangelicals favor requiring businesses to serve same-sex weddings.  46% of black Protestants favor this.

Notice that the survey compares white EVANGELICALS with black PROTESTANTSso the comparison does not tell us as much as we think it does.  (Although it is also fair to say that a large number of black Protestants are evangelical in theology).  Nevertheless, it is clear that African-Americans are more than open to same sex marriage than are white evangelicals.

Shellnut asked four African-American Christian leaders to reflect on the Masterpiece case.  They are:

Charles Watson of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Lisa Robinson, editor of Kaleoscope blog

Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas

Justin Giboney, founder of the AND Campaign

Here is Robinson:

As an African American woman, it might seem reasonable for me to have qualms about the recent ruling the Supreme Court delivered in support of a Christian baker. Jack Phillips’s refusal to serve these individuals smacks of the same kind of infringement that African Americans in this country experienced. However, three factors give me pause in this line of thinking and lead me to applaud the Supreme Court’s decision.

First, the case is not about discrimination, but religious conscience. The civil rights movement was started because a whole class of people were pervasively denied acceptance based on who they were biologically. Discrimination ensued because they weren’t deemed to be fit to share the same services, space, or civic obligations in a white society.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case wasn’t about the people, but the ceremony. I think likening the two cases—discrimination against blacks and denial of cake-baking for a ceremony—undermines the cause of the civil rights movement, which was about affirming the dignity of personhood irrespective of lifestyle choices.

I can appreciate arguments that say whites believed upholding the purity of races was rooted in their Christian convictions; however, the racist line of thinking that prevailed for so long has no basis in Scripture (consider the marriages of Solomon and Moses), whereas endorsing same-sex marriage is explicitly prohibited.

Second, reliance on state-sanctioned intervention can have negative implications for how we value fellow image bearers apart from their choices. I confess that I have a love-hate perspective toward the governmental intervention needed to address discrimination against African Americans. Unfortunately, we ultimately had to rely the state to define discrimination rather than God himself and his requirements for what kind of activity his people should or should not support.

Lastly, equating refusal to participate in same-sex ceremonies with active discrimination against a class of people puts us in a precarious position of lending support to same-sex marriage because we don’t want to reject people. We ought to be free to distinguish between the value of persons and the values they espouse. At the end of the day, commitment to Christian convictions matters most.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelical Activist John Perkins on Racial Reconciliation

One BloodOK–time for a different guy named Perkins.  Very different.

The Tennessean is running a nice piece on John D. Perkins, longtime evangelical rights activist.  Perkins’s new (and last) book is One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race.

A taste of the article:

John M. Perkins, a leading evangelical voice on racial reconciliation, thinks that 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the church is not focusing enough on unity. 

“It scares me. We’re not talking about togetherness,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t improve the issue.”

Perkins, a minister who fought for civil rights in Mississippi, is hopeful for the future. But he believes that for reconciliation to happen, people must first affirm the dignity of all human beings and then move forward together.

“I believe that’s the gospel,” Perkins said. “God created man to reflect his image in the world and his likeness and then he said, ‘Don’t make no other god before me.’ What we’re doing is making ourselves god before God and each other.”

Perkins, 87, was in Nashville on Friday sharing that message, which is included in his new book, “One Blood.” The roughly 200-page work, co-written by Karen Waddles, is billed as Perkins’ parting words to the church on race.

Read the entire piece here.

The Octavius Catto Memorial

CattoI first learned about Octavius Catto about ten years ago when we took our daughters to Philadelphia for a short vacation.  During our visit we took full advantage of the city’s “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches.  Professional storytellers at each bench–there are fifteen scattered around the Independence Hall area–tell stories about famous Philadelphians.  I don’t know if the program has changed over the years, but when my kids were young they could get a free carousel ride and an ice cream cone in Franklin Square if they visited all fifteen benches.

I vividly remember one of the “Once Upon a Nation” story tellers (I think it was outside the National Constitution Center) telling my girls the story of Catto’s civil rights activism in Civil War-era Philadelphia

I was thus pleased to see that Philadelphia will be erecting a statue near City Hall to commemorate Catto’s contribution to the city’s history.

Over at Philly.Com, writer Jonathan Lai reports on a recent program for teachers on Catto’s life and his contribution to Philadelphia’s African American history.

Here is a taste:

Catto was murdered in 1871, at just 32 years old. He sought to protect fellow African Americans who were trying to exercise their right to vote, which had just been ratified by the states the year before. But his name had been largely missing from the modern discussion of civil rights, organizers have said.

As he has been brought back into popular consciousness — a sculpture is set to be placed next month on the southern apron of City Hall — the School District of Philadelphia, the Catto Memorial Fund, and the National Archives partnered for Thursday’s event, the first in a yearlong series aimed at helping teachers include Catto in their curricula, the educational counterpart to the physical memorial.

The statue is the first of a named African American on public ground in the city. The work, titled Quest for Parity, will feature the 12-foot-tall bronze statue, a stainless-steel ballot box, and five granite pillars symbolizing streetcars.

“The Catto story is the national story. It is part of the story of our Constitution. It is the story of how ordinary citizens work, some every day, to make the Constitution live,” said V. Chapman Smith, an organizer of Thursday’s event who works at the National Archives and who is on the board of the Catto Memorial Fund.

Read the entire article here.

Our First Summer “Patrons-Only” Episode is Here

Todd_Allen.IMG_6016

Todd Allen

If you are a patron of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you have heard from producer Drew Dylri Hermeling this morning about how to access our first patrons-only summer mini-episode.

Our guest on the episode is Todd Allen, the new assistant Special Assistant to the President and Provost for Diversity Affairs at Messiah College.  Todd is a scholar of the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement and wrote his doctoral dissertation on museum interpretations of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

For more than a decade Todd has led “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour,” a premier Civil Rights bus tour that takes participants to nearly every major historical site associated with the Movement.  Stops on the tour include Greensboro, NC; Atlanta, GA; Albany, GA; Montgomery, AL; Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; and Nashville, TN.  The tour combines historical site and museum visits with lectures, conversations with major Civil Rights Movement veterans, and documentary films.  I took the tour in June 2017 and wrote about it here.

In this episode, Todd talks about the origins of the tour, Civil Rights Movement tourism, his building of relationships with the veterans of the Movement, and a whole lot more.

We are thrilled to share this special episode with our patrons and send it along to all future patrons as well.  Please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page and making a pledge.

Did the Civil Rights Act Spur Racist Progress?

Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_July_2,_1964

Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.  According to National Book Award winner and historian Ibram X. Kendi, the Act “spurred all sorts of racial progress–from desegregating Southern establishments to driving anti-discrimination lawsuits, to opening the doors of opportunity for the new black middle class.”

But Kendi’s recent piece in The Washington Post also calls our attention to what he believes to be an overlooked aspect of the Civil Rights Act.  He argues that the Act “also spurred racist progress.”  He adds, ”

Here is a taste:

After the passage of the act, Americans quickly confused the death of Jim Crow for the death of racism. The result: They blamed persisting and progressing racial disparities on black inferiority. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had been complaining throughout the 1960s about those “dependent animal” creatures on welfare. Criminologists like Marvin Wolfgang were writing about urban blacks’ “subculture of violence.” Sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Johnson’s assistant secretary of labor, pointed to the black family as a “tangle of pathology” in a 1965 report.kendi

As new racist ideas and anti-racist demonstrations spread in the late 1960s, first President Johnson and then Richard Nixon turned away from civil rights toward “law and order” — a phrase that came to symbolize and pardon the progress of racist ideas and policies. The Nixon White House branded black people as the real source of the racial problems, rather than the Americans who quietly responded to the 1964 act by backing “race neutral” policies that were aimed at excluding black bodies.

For many Americans, it was this violent subculture, emanating from the weak and dependent black family, that caused the hundreds of urban rebellions that followed in the days, months and years after the Civil Rights Act. As the Wall Street Journal headline on Aug.16, 1965, explained: “Behind the Riots: Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sow Seeds of Race Violence: Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms.”

Read the entire piece here.