A Confederate flag in the building built by slaves

Felicia Bell is a historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In her recent piece at The Washington Post she reminds us about the people who labored to build the U.S. Capitol. Here is a taste of her piece, “Enslaved Black craftsman helped build the U.S. Capitol that a mob fueled by racist rhetoric stormed“:

I stood in my living room motionless and stunned Jan. 6 as I watched an attempted coup happening in real time. Raging insurrectionists fueled by racist rhetoric and conspiracy theories had besieged and forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, intent on disrupting and halting a fundamental democratic process: the peaceful transfer of power. Their perceived loss of privilege and political power sparked violence that would result in the deaths of six people, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers.

I’d begun that morning with joy when I learned of the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s historic win as the first Black senator from my home state of Georgia. However, upon hearing about the events taking place at the Capitol, all I could feel was dismay. This was not only an attack on democracy, but a violation of where democracy lives.

My joy gave way to disgust when I saw the unruly mob scaling the walls of the Capitol to implement their seditious act on Congress. My thoughts turned to the historical significance of the building and those who helped build it. The walls they were climbing, upon which they would unfurl their insurrectionist banners, were originally made of sandstone built by enslaved craftsmen.

Enslaved and free Black craftsmen were a critical labor force used by the U.S. government, as authorized by President George Washington, to build the Capitol. The commissioners of the District of Columbia were assigned by the executive branch to oversee the Capitol construction project. Although their records indicate the number of enslaved craftsmen fluctuated over years, it climbed into the hundreds: “We believe more than 800 mechanics and Labourers [sic] employed on public and private account in improving the City.”

Read the rest here.

Like Biden, Abraham Lincoln also faced the potential of violence on Inauguration Day

Here is historian Ted Widmer at The Washington Post:

Washington had been unusually angry in the weeks preceding Inauguration Day. Seven states had already left the Union; a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to tabulate the electoral college vote. Fights broke out in the galleries during speeches, where spectators jeered, “Abe Lincoln will never come here!”

Over the winter, armed militias paraded through the city, and hooligans smashed Republican printing presses, as if to prevent news from flowing. Rumors swept the District that a militia was going to invade from Virginia to set up a new proslavery government. They wanted to keep all of it — the Capitol, the White House and especially the name: the United States of America. Lincoln would have had to start his presidency elsewhere.

There was far more to the visceral opposition to Lincoln than just his views on slavery. He had won with less than 40 percent of the vote, and entrenched interests feared the loss of easy access to Washington’s gilded corridors. Although they were not as gilded as they might have been — one reason it was taking so long to renovate the Capitol was that the guards hired to protect it from looting were stripping its treasures for themselves, down to the paint.

It seemed as though everyone was on the take. Certainly, the proslavery interests had owned Washington for as long as anyone could remember, capturing an overwhelming preponderance of the nation’s House speakers, committee chairs, sergeants-at-arms and Supreme Court justices. Lobbyists flourished in this climate, buying and selling access from local watering holes.

Read the entire piece here.

Antifa! Antifa! The court evangelicals prepare for spiritual warfare against Biden and the Democrats

We are learning more and more about the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. They were Trump-supporters, extreme Christian nationalists, QAnon believers, militia groups, and other assorted thugs. Mo Brooks, a Republican representative from Alabama, still believes that Antifa was behind the insurrection:

On Wednesday, Trump spoke to his followers. He said that he loved them and called them “special.” Watch:

Last night, Trump read another statement:

This is Trump conceding the election without officially conceding the election.

It is worth mentioning again that Trump cannot give a speech without lying. He did not “immediately employ the national guard.” In fact, he initially resisted the idea. There is nothing in this speech about the fact that Trump created this mob or that he is ultimately responsible for what happened. On Wednesday, he was sending his love to the insurrectionists and calling them “special.” Last night he wanted to throw them in jail.

Does anyone believe anything Trump said in this video? Does he really care about national healing and reconciliation? He released this second video because he is scared. His advisers and cabinet members are resigning. The House and Senate are calling for either the 25th Amendment or another impeachment. And what did he mean when he said “our incredible journey is only just beginning?” Maybe it has yet something to do with this:

Let’s check-in again on the court evangelicals:

Eric Metaxas had self-professed prophet Lance Wallnau on his radio program. He starts the conversation by asking Wallnau if “the prophets got it wrong.” I listened several times to Wallnau answer this question and I have no idea what he is talking about. I think he is just making it all up. Wallnau, speaking with apparent prophetic authority, says that the insurrectionists were Antifa members. Metaxas agrees. He calls the insurrection a “Marxist coup. Metaxas also floats the idea that Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C., was behind the rioting. Finally, Wallnau says that he and Metaxas are part of a Christian populist movement led by Donald Trump. Trump, he says, “is not finished.” He describes this “movement” as “righteous.”

Metaxas also talked to Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Kirk admits that Biden will be the next president. He says that a “lot of people were misled” to believe that Trump was actually going to win. Metaxas admits that he was one of those people, but Kirk lets him off the hook. Then they start talking about the possibility of a God-sized miracle that will get Trump into office.

Kirk, “constitutional scholar” that he is, criticizes Mike Pence for doing his constitutional duty on Wednesday night. He said that Pence did not act with “courage or clarity” when he agreed to certify the votes of the Electoral College.

Watch:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody on “smart analysis”:

Brody plays the moral equivalency card:

David Brody is a sly one:

Pastor Darrell Scott says he spoke to Trump. MAGA forever!

David and Tim Barton of Wallbuilders believe that Antifa was behind the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Richard Land rejects the violence at the U.S. capitol, but he says nothing about his role in empowering Trump and, by extension, those who stormed Congress. Remember, it was Land who bragged about having “unprecedented access” to the White House during Trump’s presidency.

Jack Hibbs is talking with fellow court evangelical Tony Perkins about the “spiritual battle” for the U.S. capitol. Perkins says that when Trump was elected in 2016 he felt a demonic presence in Washington D.C. trying to stop the inauguration. The women’s march, according to Perkins, was part of this evil presence.

Ralph Reed praises Mike Pence:

Interesting:

Trump has two weeks. I think it’s a little late for advice:

Franklin Graham–yes Franklin Graham–wants us to stop the finger-pointing:

I wonder if Franklin will listen to Cindy T:

The court evangelicals and hotel Trump

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reveals all the court evangelicals who have stayed at the $650 a night Trump hotel in Washington D.C. Here is a taste:

Jerry Falwell Jr., former president of Liberty University, said he stayed there for a gala for the opening of the Museum of the Bible in 2017 and has eaten in the lobby’s restaurant several times because he is fond of seafood as well as the establishment’s owner. “It’s like supporting a friend,” said Falwell, who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters. When he was president of Liberty, the university would pay for his travel, he said. “It’s not like they’re giving us better rates. We pay full price.”

Robert Jeffress, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, a prominent Southern Baptist Church in Dallas, said he has stayed at the hotel about a dozen times since it opened and gets a discount because he is a regular customer. He said his choice of hotel, which his church pays for, has nothing to do with his support for the president and comes down to one factor: Its proximity to the White House. “It’s ridiculous to think that the president could be swayed … by where guests stay,” he said.

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stayed in the hotel for one night in August 2018 when he was in town for a White House dinner for religious leaders, a trip that was paid for by his North Carolina church The Summit. Greear’s spokesman Todd Unzicker said Greear had booked an Airbnb but decided to switch to the Trump hotel because he could meet with other pastors staying there, and because he thought it had a good space to record a video for his ministry. “It’s like the convention hotel,” Unzicker said. “It’s convenient.”

Read the entire piece here.

Franklin Graham will lead a prayer march through Washington D.C. today

Yonat Shimron has it covered at Religion News Service. Here is a taste:

Like his late father, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham is not a marcher.

The Graham family formula has always focused on stadium-sized evangelistic revivals.

But ahead of the presidential election, the evangelical preacher is borrowing a tactic used by civil rights leaders and Black Lives Matter protesters. He is organizing a mass prayer march Saturday (Sept. 26) from the Lincoln Memorial to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s important that men and women of God come to Washington, and let’s call on his name and ask for his help,” Graham told RNS. “We are so divided, politically, morally, spiritually. We’re just divided. We pray that God can help unite this nation to be truly the United States of America.”

Graham insists the march is not an effort to encourage voting or to rally evangelicals to the polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election. His only agenda is to get people to repent and pray, he said.

But when he speaks about the protests against police brutality, the Democratic party or President Trump’s impending Supreme Court nomination, he echoes talking points and slogans advanced by the president and the GOP.

“The Democratic Party as a whole has moved into socialism,” Graham said.

Read the rest here.

I am all for prayer, but this event has pro-Trump politics written all over it. Here is what I told Shimron:

“It’s going to be hard to miss this as a kind of counter-march, an anti Black Lives Matter or anti-violence (march),” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah University and an expert on evangelicalism. “His march is clearly defining itself over and against the protests against George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”

All of these speakers are either court evangelicals or popular Trump supporters. The event is “hosted” by Mike Huckabee and Graham’s daughter, Cissie Graham.

Liberty University, who recently dumped president and court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., has not changed one bit in its Trumpism. Acting president Jerry Prevo is sending 2200 students to the event. Prevo says that this is “strictly a prayer march.” I wonder if Prevo would send Liberty University students to a prayer march sponsored by an anti-Trump evangelical?

Other speakers include court evangelicals Alveda King and Bishop Harry Jackson.

In another event this weekend, Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jewish pastor who writes apocalyptic novels comparing the attacks on September 11 to the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel, is holding an event in Washington D.C. called “The Return: National and Global Day of Prayer and Repentance.”

Speakers include court evangelical Tony Perkins, court evangelical Jim Garlow, former Rep. Michelle Bachman, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, “MyPillow guy” Mike Lindell, singer Pat Boone, actor Kevin Sorbo, former gang member of The Cross and the Switchblade fame Nicky Cruz, American Idol star Danny Gokey, and Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz.

Washington D.C. goes too far with “clumsy report” on renaming monuments and other facilities

Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.

Read the report here. As far as I can tell, this committee did not include any American historians. Here is some context.

I agree entirely with The Washington Post editors:

D.C. MAYOR Muriel E. Bowser (D) may be right that President Trump and other Republicans deliberately misinterpreted a report from the District’s committee on renaming schools, buildings and other government facilities. No one ever recommended that the Washington Monument or other federal memorials be bulldozed. The District, though, played right into the hands of Mr. Trump and other critics with the clumsy rollout of a report that, while well intentioned, was overbroad in its recommendations and failed to distinguish between historical figures with no admirable characteristics and those who made significant contributions to society.

Amid the national reckoning about racism that followed the killing of George Floyd, Ms. Bowser appointed a committee to review the namesakes of schools, buildings and other government-owned facilities in Washington. District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (or DCFACES) spent two months looking at more than 1,300 government-owned assets — schools, recreation centers, public housing — to identify those with names that are “inconsistent with D.C. values and in some way encouraged the oppression of African Americans and other communities of color or contributed to our long history of systemic racism.” Using criteria that included participation in slavery, the committee concluded that about 150 individuals who have something named after them were “persons of concern” and recommended that dozens of sites — including 21 schools — be renamed.

Most of the controversy over the committee’s report centered on the initial inclusion of federal properties: It recommended that Ms. Bowser urge federal authorities to add plaques providing context about slave ownership or other oppression of people of color to the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and other famed locales in the capital. But more problematic was the use of bright lines to disqualify people seemingly with no regard for the whole of their lives. Benjamin Franklin, for example, seems to have been targeted because he once owned slaves; never mind that he signed the Declaration of Independence, was the first postmaster general and later renounced slavery and became a leading abolitionist.

Read the rest here.

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas threw a punch at an anti-Trump protester on Thursday night. What did he say about it today?

Nothing specifically.

In case you missed it:

But if you listen carefully to his radio show today, you will pick-up several veiled references to the incident amid the obsessive fear-mongering that is a daily staple of the show.

In hour one, Metaxas has a conversation with his regular guest, right-wing commentary John Zmirak.

Listen here (Part 1):

At the 9:35 mark, Metaxas facetiously introduces Zmirak this way: “…the dude is sawed-off, so I am just telling you, get ready, you gotta go into your protective stance, he’s going to try to run you over with a bicycle, he’s very threatening, he has a rap-sheet a mile long, he’s a scary dude, I just want you to be poised. John Zmirak is coming-up.”

I’m not sure what this means, but it certainly seems like a reference to what happened last Thursday night, especially the part about the bike.

At the 13:15 mark, Metaxas talks about the streets of Washington D.C. following the last night of the GOP convention. He complains about “vileness directed at women…from the mouths of what they like to call ‘protesters’.” Sounds like a chivalry defense.

At the 25:50 mark, Metaxas talks about rage: “When we give into rage, we don’t know what it is we’re giving into.” Indeed.

At the 31:20 mark, Metaxas starts using the Bible, Christianity, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to defend violence. “There is a place for self-defense,” he says. Zmirak says that the non-violence/pacifist reading of the Bible is a “primitive and childish reading of the Gospels.” This discussion makes me wonder if Metaxas and Zmirak are talking about 1930s Germany or last Thursday night in Washington.

During this part of the conversation Metaxas comes very close to making a direct connection between today’s Democratic Party and the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. Smirak tries to make a biblical and Christian defense of Kyle Rittenhouse’s recent actions in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

At the 38:41 mark, Metaxas identifies court evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson as the man he and his wife Susanne were walking with on Thursday night when he took a swing at the protester. He says that he and his wife were just trying to “shepherd” Jackson to his Uber amid “threats of violence and danger.” Again, nothing about the punch.

Metaxas also says that Christians should pray for their enemies, but at the same time fight for what is “true.” This is ironic coming from a guy who threw a punch at his enemy on Thursday night and supports a president who is a serial liar. Please Eric, don’t start talking about truth until you devote an entire episode of your Christian radio show to the endless falsehoods propagated by this president. You are propping-up a man who is misleading millions of people. One might think a Christian radio show that deals with contemporary issues might be concerned about this.

In Part 2 of the show, the discussion continues with Zmirak. At the 2:00 mark, Metaxas once again starts talking about his night in Washington D.C.: “Our lives were threatened…but we don’t want to talk about that.” Later in the hour, Metaxas interviews Jackson about his new book, but they do not talk about what happened on Thursday evening.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

COurt evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

They are still coming for Jesus:

Graham is responding to this tweet by Mike Huckabee:

I was listening to CNN when Lemon said that Jesus “wasn’t perfect.” I think this was more of a simple theological misunderstanding by Lemon, or perhaps he really doesn’t believe Jesus was perfect. We live in a religious diverse country after all. Don Lemon is free to believe that Jesus was not perfect. (By the way, do Jewish conservatives on Fox News believe Jesus was perfect?) In other words, I did not see this as an attempt to attack Christianity. Lemon was trying to show that our founding fathers were not perfect. He was even calling out liberals. Watch for yourself:

Apparently Robert Jeffress is not happy about this either. But this should not surprise us. He has long believed that we live in a Christian nation, not a pluralistic democracy.

According to Jeffress, anyone who does not believe Jesus was perfect is peddling “fake news.”

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network agrees:

Again, the point here is not to argue whether or not Jesus was perfect. That is a theological discussion. 3 points:

  1. The court evangelicals do not care about the larger context of Lemon’s statement because the context does not suit their political agenda.
  2. It is fine to tweet that Lemon does not understand the beliefs of Christianity. I am criticizing how his views (or his mistake) were turned into culture war tweets.
  3. The court evangelicals do not believe in a pluralistic society. The idea that Jesus was imperfect may be a “lie” to all serious Christians, but this is not an exclusively Christian nation. Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people of all kinds of religions watch CNN. Non-Christians work at Fox News (I think). The belief that “Jesus was perfect” is an article of faith and it is perfectly fine in a democracy for people to disagree with this claim. As a Christian, I believe in the incarnation, but I am not offended that Don Lemon may not. These kinds of tweets just make Christians look foolish.

Gary Bauer is using his Facebook page to share an article on the American Revolution that appeared yesterday at The Federalist. Jane Hampton Cook’s essay is a historical and theological mess. It blurs African slavery, political slavery, and the biblical idea of liberty from sin. But at least she was able to take a shot at the 1619 Project! That’s all that really matters. Bauer writes:”>Rather than teaching our children a lie — that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery as the 1619 Project falsely claims — this is what our children should be learning in school.”

Hey Ralph, all you need to do is say “Happy Anniversary.” That’s it:

Eric Metaxas is trying to get his book If You Can Keep It in the hands of “every high school history teacher in the country. Before your school adopts Eric Metaxas’s book, please read this article and this series of posts.

Tonight David Barton will be making a case for why Washington D.C. should not be a state. I don’t have time to watch it, but I am guessing it has something to do with Christian nationalism.

Seven Mountain Dominion advocate Lance Wallnau is at it again. He also wants to destroy public education.

Is it really true that Democrats don’t care about law and order or the Constitution? Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks so:

What about all those Confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol?

eb4c8-united_states_capitol_-_west_front

Here is a taste of William Hogeland‘s piece at Boston Review:

Eleven statues of Confederate officers, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, stand in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. In response to House Democrats’ recent effort to fast-track their removal, Senator Mitch McConnell and other rearguard cultural defenders have said that to do so would erase history.

Many Americans are startled to learn that Confederate statues are in the Capitol at all. On Twitter, this surprise has often taken the form of a question: “Why in the hell are there Confederate statues in the Capital?” “Wait—there’s a statue of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens and nine other confederates in the US Capitol building?” “Good Lord, what are they doing there?”

Good questions. Amid the widespread defacings, topplings, and official removals of statuary representing not only enslavers but also racist leaders of many kinds, the presence there of Confederate monuments—not in former slave states but in the seat of the government that the Confederacy fought—seems bizarre indeed. People who remember, as I do, seeing the statues on childhood visits to the Capitol will be less surprised, but I suspect that even we have thought little about the National Statuary Hall Collection’s contents, or even its existence. A large, oddball batch of mostly old memorials, the collection is centered in the National Statuary Hall, beside the Rotunda, and scattered about in other rooms; many of its subjects are at best obscure. At first glance, the collection might seem, aside from the outrageous presence of the Confederacy, innocuous enough, if a bit antique.

But the stark reality is that the U.S. government’s peculiar relationship to the Civil War made those Confederate statues a defining feature of the whole National Statuary Hall Collection—a fulfillment, even, of what became its purpose. What Confederate figures are doing in the collection is worth knowing, because it bears on larger, even more unsettling political and cultural processes that have marked U.S. public discourse regarding race and racism in the past three centuries.

Read the rest here.

Google Maps Recognizes Black Lives Matter Plaza

Washington D.C.:

Black Lives Matter Plaza

Here is WFTV 9:

A sign on the street now identifies that section of 16th Street near the White House as “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”

City workers and local artists painted the street that leads to the White House with “Black Lives Matter” in bright yellow letters. The mural stretches across the entire width of 16th Street to the north of Lafayette Square and ends near St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Robert Watson

George Washington's Final BattleRobert Watson is Distinguished Professor of American History at Lynn University. This interview is based on his new book, George Washington’s Final Battle: The Epic Struggle to Build a Capital City and a Nation (Georgetown University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write George Washington’s Final Battle?

RW: I have always admired George Washington and loved the capital city–the majestic government buildings, world-class museums, the National Mall, and the city’s history. However, I have always been surprised and a bit dismayed that most Americans know very little about the capital’s history, the difficult and unlikely story behind the location and design of our national seat of government, and Washington’s role in building the city that bears his name. Yet, it is an intriguing and inspiring story, one that mirrors the forging of the Republic.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of George Washington’s Final Battle?

RW: We know George Washington as many things–heroic general, first president, a man of honor and discipline, and so on, but too often we fail to appreciate that he was also a visionary and a man possessing formidable political skills (when he wanted or needed to deploy them, which was the case while building support for the capital city). Both these sides of Washington are on display in his struggle to build a grand capital city.

JF: Why do we need to read George Washington’s Final Battle?

RW: In building a grand capital city along the Potomac, Washington not only realized a personal passion but helped strengthen the fledgling Republic and federal government, imbue his countrymen with a sense of national pride and American identity, and give the new nation credibility in the eyes of Europe.

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

RW: I grew up in central Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg and a Saturday drive away from Valley Forge and Philadelphia. Some of my earliest and most cherished memories were of visiting the many important historic sites in the area. So, I supposed it was through osmosis that I developed a passion for history. I know I picked the right occupation because I never tire of visiting museums, battlefields, and historic sites around the US and internationally.

JF: What is your next project?

RW: A book on the Civil War and another book project on the capital city.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

An African-American Pastor Guides His Congregation Through the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

Grinke

Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937) pastored the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., an African-American congregation, for nearly fifty years.  He was an active member of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Niagara Movement and was involved in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Church historian Louis Weeks has published a short introduction to Grimké at the website of the Presbyterian Historical Society.  Here is a taste:

Throughout his ministry, Francis Grimké stood for equal rights and the end of racism against black Americans. He eloquently demonstrated this during his sermons and lectures, such as his address at the Union Thanksgiving Service at Plymouth Congregational Church, Washington, D.C., in 1919: “On an occasion such as this, it is well for us to ask ourselves the question, What reason or reasons have we, as an oppressed, aggrieved, circumscribed class in this country, in the midst of this great white population, to be thankful during this past year?” He answered the question with the Bible, specifically the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule of Jesus. He went on to appeal to Reformed teachings about respect and citizenship, condemned lynchings and pervasive racism, and lauded black leadership “no longer to submit quietly to the acts of violence that a certain class of whites have felt free to inflict upon (us).”

In my efforts to think historically and Christianly about our current coronavirus pandemic, I stumbled across Grimké’s November 3, 1918 address, “Some Reflections, Growing Out of the Recent Epidemic of Influenza That Afflicted Our City.” Here is how he begins the address:

We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish influenza, with its enormous death rate and its consequent wretchedness and misery.  Every part of the land has felt its deadly touch–North, South, East and West–in the Army, in the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, high and low, white and black. Over the land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers that it has been difficult to care for them properly, overcrowding all of our hospitals–and it has proven fatal in so many cases that it has been difficult at times to dig graves fast enough in which to bury them. Our own beautiful city has suffered terribly from it, making it necessary, as a precautionary measure, to close the schools, theaters, churches, and to forbid all public gathering within the doors as well as outdoors. At last, however, the scourge has been stayed, and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God, and to open again the schools of our city.

Now that the worst is over, I have been thinking, as doubtless you have all been, of these calamitous weeks through which we have been passing–thinking of the large numbers that have been sick–the large numbers that have died, the many, many homes that have been made desolate–the many, many bleeding, sorrowing hearts that have been left behind, and I have been asking myself the question, What is the meaning of it all? What ought it to mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser, or better for it? Surely God has a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit for it.

Grimké offered his congregation several lessons about the meaning of the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed over 675,000 Americans and over 2800 in Washington D.C.:

1. Humility. Humans are at the mercy of viruses and diseases. It reminds us that there are some things that we cannot control. Grimké writes, “How easy it would be for God to wipe out the whole human race, in this way, if he wanted to; for these terrible epidemics, plagues, the mighty forces of nature, all are at His command, are all His agents. At any moment, if He willed it, in this way, vast populations or portions of populations could be destroyed.” This was Grimké’s Calvinism at work. He believed in a providential God who sometimes brought suffering to his people. He referenced the Book of Job and Psalm 91 on this front.  God’s ways are mysterious.

2. Follow the advice and instructions of experts. In their attempts to curb the influenza and “safeguard” the general public, Washington D.C.’s public health commissioners closed theaters, schools, churches, and large public gatherings. Not everyone was happy about this. Grimké writes, “There has been considerable grumbling, I know, on the part of some, particularly in regard to the closing of the churches. It seems to me, however, in a matter like this it is always wise to submit to such restrictions for the time being.” The local government’s exercise of power in this moment was indeed “extraordinary” and would “not be tolerated under ordinary circumstances,” but the circumstances in Washington D.C. and the nation during the epidemic were far from “ordinary.” Grimké warned his congregation not to “needlessly run into danger, and expect God to protect us.” He added that, “All the churches, as well as the community at large, are going to be stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.” Listen to the experts. Self-quarantine an practice social distancing.

3. Influenza does not discriminate based on race. Grimké has a message to his white neighbors: “during this epidemic scourge, if he gave any thought to the matter, if a particle of sense remained in him, he must have seen the folly of counting upon a white skin. Did the whiteness of his skin protect him? Did the epidemic pause to see whether his skin was white or black before smiting him?” Grimké believed that God was bringing this epidemic, at least in part, “to beat a little sense into the white man’s head” and “show him the folly of the empty conceit of his vaunted race superiority.” For once, he added, “a white skin counted for nothing in the way of securing better treatment–in the way of obtaining for its possessor considerations denied to those of darker hue.” Grimké was not very optimistic that his white neighbors would learn this lesson from the epidemic.

4. When churches close, the life of the faithful and the larger community is weaker.  Grimké called attention to “the sincere regrets that I have heard expressed all over the city by numbers of people at the closing of the churches.” He used these sentiments to encourage people to start attending church on a more regular basis now that the doors of congregations were open once again.

5. The possibility of death is always before us and we should live accordingly.  The 1918 epidemic, in Grimké’s words, “kept the thought of death and of eternity constantly before the people.” Grimké used this reality to preach the Gospel: “You who are not Christians, who have not yet repented of your sins, who have not yet surrendered yourselves to the guidance of Jesus Christ, if you allow these repeated warnings that you have had, day by day, week by week, to go uneeded…God has opened the way for your salvation, through the gift of His only begotten Son, who died that you might have the opportunity of making your peace with God….”

6. We should not fear because God is with us in the midst of life’s storms.  Here is Grimké: “While the plague was raging, while thousands were dying, what a comfort it was to feel that we were in the hands of a loving Father who was looking out for us, who had given us the great assurance that all things should work together for our good. And, therefore, that come what would–whether we were smitten or perished, we knew it would be well with us, that there was no reason to be alarmed.”

“Slavery in the President’s Neighborhood”

White House

Learn more about this great online exhibit at The White House Historical Association:

Many people think of the White House as a symbol of democracy, but it also embodies America’s complicated past and the paradoxical relationship between slavery and freedom in the nation’s capital.

While there are few written accounts of the enslaved and free African Americans who built, lived, and worked at the White House, their voices can be found in letters, newspapers, memoirs, census records, architecture, and oral histories.

By connecting these details from diverse sources, the White House Historical Association seeks to return these individuals to the historical forefront.

Learn more here.

Slavery and the Nation’s Capital

Early Washington D.C.

Over at website of The White House Historical Association, public historian Lina Mann explains why slavery flourished in Washington D.C. 

Here is a taste:

For the first seventy-two years of its existence, the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., harbored one of America’s most difficult historical truths and greatest contradictions: slavery. The city’s placement along the Potomac River, in between the slave states of Maryland and Virginia, ensured that slavery was ingrained into every aspect of life, including the buildings, institutions, and social fabric of Washington, D.C. Enslaved workers contributed to public building projects, were bought and sold within the boundaries of the city, and served many of the men who founded the nation. Slavery was alive and well in the President’s Neighborhood.

In June 1790, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson sat down to dinner with Virginia Congressman James Madison and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. By the end of the evening, these men had agreed upon a new location for the United States capital. Prior to this dinner, a debate on its location divided members of the fledgling government. Hamilton and his supporters believed the capital should be in New York City, while others preferred Philadelphia or a location along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Southerners like Jefferson and Madison favored a location along the Potomac River, fearing that a northern capital would diminish southern power, undermine slavery, and encourage corruption among bankers, merchants, and creditors. That night, according to Jefferson’s recollections, the three agreed to place the capital along the Potomac in exchange for the federal assumption of states’ war debts from the American Revolution.

On July 16, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, moving the capital from New York to Philadelphia for ten years’ time and then permanently to the “river Potomack.”

By placing the seat of government firmly in the South, this legislation allowed slavery to flourish in the new capital. After President George Washington signed the Residence Act into law, he took an active role overseeing the construction of the Federal City. Working with French-born engineer Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant, he selected a building site near his Mount Vernon estate at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

To establish this new Federal City, Maryland ceded about seventy square miles, while Virginia contributed around twenty.

President Washington also appointed three commissioners in January 1791 to manage city construction: Thomas Johnson, David Stuart, and Daniel Carroll.

All three men owned slaves.

Read the rest here.

A Review of Three New Washington D.C. Exhibits on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

women's Sufferage

Are you looking for one more quick get-away this summer?  Why not take a women’s suffrage-themed trip to Washington D.C.?

Over at The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler reviews exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and National Archives.  These exhibits, Schuessler argues, reveal the complexity of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Together, these shows — all curated by women — make up one of the richest explorations of women’s history yet assembled in the capital, or anywhere else. But they also offer a lesson in the messiness, complexities and compromises involved in any movement for social change — and the fraught politics of historical memory itself.

For years, the drive for women’s suffrage was presented mainly as the story of middle-class white women and iconic national leaders like Anthony and Stanton. That story began with the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York in 1848 and ended with the triumphant adoption of the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, which resulted in the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history.

But in recent decades scholars have taken a less top-down view, emphasizing the movement’s multiple starting points and patchwork progress through hundreds of state and local campaigns. They have also excavated the role of African-American women, who were largely excluded from the major, white-led suffrage organizations and marginalized in the early histories of the movement, if they were mentioned at all.

Even before the centennial year began, there have been tensions over who and what to celebrate — or even how to sum up the amendment’s significance.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Wants to Cancel the 4th of July and Replace it With the 8th of November

Trump flag

Just kidding.  I think the kids call this “clickbait.”

But I wouldn’t put it past Trump to do something like this.  After all, he has said numerous times that the greatest presidential in American history took place on November 8, 2016.

Actually, Trump will be making changes to the traditional Washington D.C. July 4th celebration.  Here is a taste of some reporting from the Washington Post:

President Trump has effectively taken charge of the nation’s premier Fourth of July celebration in Washington, moving the gargantuan fireworks display from its usual spot on the Mall to be closer to the Potomac River and making tentative plans to address the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, according to top administration officials.

 The president’s starring role has the potential to turn what has long been a nonpartisan celebration of the nation’s founding into another version of a Trump campaign rally. Officials said it is unclear how much the changes may cost, but the plans have already raised alarms among city officials and some lawmakers about the potential impact of such major alterations to a time-honored and well-organized summer tradition.

Fireworks on the Mall, which the National Park Service has orchestrated for more than half a century, draw hundreds of thousands of Americans annually and mark one of the highlights of the city’s tourist season. The event has been broadcast live on television since 1947 and since 1981 has been accompanied by a free concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol featuring high-profile musicians and a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

Read the rest here.

 Some quick thoughts:

  1.  I think I will watch the Boston Pops on PBS this year.
  2.  Will there be more people in Washington D.C. on July 4th than were present at Obama’s inauguration?  I am sure Trump will be keeping an eye on this.  Also expect him to exaggerate the number who WILL show up.
  3. From a historical perspective, the most audacious and ironic part of this new plan is that Trump will give an address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  4. Trump clearly wants to make this event about him.  He is hijacking the most sacred day on the calendar of American civil religion for a campaign speech.
  5. Trump has now turned Independence Day into a day of national disunity.  I have no doubt that he will give a campaign-style speech that will drive another wedge into our already divided country.  If Trump really cares about national unity and patriotism he should stay home.  He has already forfeited the right to speak on behalf of “we the people.”