We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community

There are several high-profile national leaders in Christianity whose posts I simply cannot like or share, and haven’t been able to for several years now. And that’s frustrating to me because these are people I align with on much of their theology.

Why? Because their TONE is continually so condescending, so arrogant, and so judgmental. How I wished we all realized that HOW something is said is just as important as WHAT is being said.

We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community right now. 

We need more truth-in-love tellers.

We need more people who won’t shy away from telling the truth, but are at the same time extremely aware and cognizant of its delivery. People who are hyper-intentional about communicating their love and acceptance of the ones who happen to be in the crosshairs of that truth.

Truth-only-tellers tend to garner support from their “Christian fan-base” while simultaneous pissing off those on the edges and margins of the faith. They embolden the ones in the Christian corner while alienating themselves from the very ones they’re called to reach.

I believe that it is 100% possible to communicate your view of truth with someone who 100% disagrees with you, and still do so in a way that validates their experiences, intellect, and dignity. But if you shut them down and attack them as a person first, your message won’t be heard.

You’ll be known for who you’re against and what you hate, rather than who you’re for and what you love.

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Segregation & America in 1951

In 1951 (just 66 years ago), this is what America looked like:
– The State of Florida did not allow black and white students to use the same editions of textbooks.
– Interracial boxing matches were prohibited in Texas.
– A white nurse in Alabama was not allowed to take care of a black patient. She literally had to go get someone else to help the person in need.
– Bathrooms were segregated in the factories in North Carolina, the cotton mills in South Carolina, and the mines in four other states.
– In six states, white and black prisoners were not allowed to be chained together.
– In seven states, parks, playgrounds, bathing and fishing and boating facilities, amusement parks, race tracks, pool halls, circuses, theaters and public halls were all segregated.
– Ten states required segregated waiting rooms for public transportation.
– Fourteen states required black travelers to sit in the back of buses and streetcars.
– Fourteen states required separate facilities for black and white mentally ill patients.
– Seventeen states by law required the segregation of public schools.
– Four other states allowed individual communities to choose to segregate their schools if the community wanted to. You can guess where that legislative ambiguity ended up. 

For me, one of the saddest and overtly absurd realizations in this realm was this: in eleven states, separate schools for BLIND KIDS were operating. Essentially, these states were saying: “EVEN IF YOU CAN’T SEE ONE ANOTHER, YOU STILL CAN’T SHARE THE SAME SPACE.”

As a dad, I sit here today and wonder how exactly parents explained this to their kids? However they figured out how to do that, the MINDSET OF SEGREGATION was passed down to the next generation.

The insanity…

I’m going to be continuing to share over the next few months the things I’ve been learning and the realities my eyes have been opened up to.

Not because any of us LIKE to look at this stuff, but because we NEED to look at this stuff.

2016 happened.

And it was NOT a good year for equality and progress. It showed us all (if we’d just open our eyes to see), the mountains of inequality and heaps of injustice still around us today. We may not have segregated schools, but we have divided hearts. And it’s time we stop ignoring the diagnosis and sweeping the filth under the rug.

#OurHistory

#StayWoke

 

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Redlining

You have heard about RedLining, right? This is one of the things I don’t remember ever being taught in my history classes, but it has profoundly shaped the racialization of our culture and why still today there is such a divide between our cities and our suburbs. #WeBuiltAWall #OurHistory 

St. Louis Riot, 1917

The story I’m about to share is one I had never heard until I really started looking into #OurHistory through the lens of the African-American experience. It may be new to you as well, so please don’t skip over this. It’s important we all understand and truly listen to what it tells us.

July 2, 1917.

This was right in the heart of the Great Migration, as scores and scores of African Americans fled the South in hopes of a brighter future. Certainly, they were fleeing the terror of the lynch mobs, but the driving force was the hope of better financial opportunities than the subtle (reinvented) slavery of sharecropping. When they arrived North, I wish I could say the experience was different. 

In East St. Louis, labor agents had successfully recruited thousands of black men to work in the city’s aluminum factories. The predominantly white work force was on strike at the time, so the new labor force was brought in to keep production moving. The race card was played on purpose, and as expected, it infuriated the striking workers.

Little skirmishes broke out here and there as the black workers entered the factory, but before long it evolved into open violence throughout much of East St. Louis. The police force, which was largely white, decided to look the other way as those within the black community were assaulted, clubbed, and stabbed. Riots broke out, and when it was all said and done, 9 white people and at least 40 black people died.

“AT LEAST 40…”

The ambiguity there is one of the saddest parts of this story. Many remained unaccounted for after the dust settled. The number was likely far greater, based on eyewitness accounts of black bodies being thrown in ditches and in the Mississippi River, never to be recovered. One of the pictures in this post is an image of the aftermath, the search for bodies among the debris.

The massacre did not go unnoticed.

Just 3 weeks later, the NAACP organized a silent march in NYC, down Fifth Avenue. With only the sound of muffled drums, ten thousand men, women, and children marched from Harlem to Manhattan. No words, no shouting. They carried signs, some of them displaying messages like these:

“Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?”

“Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?”

This was a silent protest because it seemed that nobody would hear their cries out loud.

#OurHistory

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Plessy v Ferguson, 1896

As I’ve continued to learn these last few months- time and time again- the injustices throughout our history to people of color have not been merely individual, one-on-one discrepancies. It would certainly make the problem of inequality easier to conquer if they were simply isolated instances between depraved individuals. But what I’m finding (and I hope beginning to communicate) is that the injustices and inequality over the years have been systematic and structural. For years, the US government has twisted and manipulated the Constitution to say what it wanted it to say, and in so doing continually departed from the original intent. There’s few examples of this better than the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson. Though this decision was made in 1896, it would go on to profoundly affect the African-American experience until its eventual overturning in 1954. At the time of this writing, that was just 63 years ago.

The case is named after a man named Homer Plessy. From just looking at his light skin complexion you wouldn’t be able to readily tell that he was black. However, on June 7, 1892, Plessy sat in the “White” car of the East Lousiana Railroad and identified himself as black. This wasn’t an accident of ignorance. His intent was to deliberately make an issue out of the Jim Crow laws of the day- legislation designed to separate the races- knowing full well it would get him arrested and hoping it would end up in the Supreme Court where it could produce change.

Like so many African-Americans who have risen out of the history books, I so admire Plessy’s courage and willingness to sacrifice his own freedom for the good of his neighbor. There’s something very Jesus-like about that. He was not violent in his protest of the wrongs around him, but yet firmly resolved to challenge the ideologies of inequality protected by the law.

He was arrested, and eventually the case did make its way to the highest court of the land. His lawyers argued that the Separate Car Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendment.

In 1896, the ruling came down.

Listen to these DEVASTATING words by Justice Henry Brown, and try to follow the (twisted) logic in his statement. It is mind-boggling to me the LENGTHS they had to go to in order to safely continue the injustice within the confines of the Constitution:

“A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races — has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races. … The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”

Of the seven Justices, there was just one that spoke words of dissent to the decision- John Marshall Harlan. He could see the carnage awaiting if this went through and tried to speak reason… but to no avail. Look at his words in this excerpt from his statement:

“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. … The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution.”

In hindsight today, we can see the very prophetic nature of his words.

One Justice spoke up. The other six went along with the prevailing thought of the day.

Today I wonder how the landscape of our history would have changed if just three other Justices on the bench engaged a little bit deeper with the checks in their soul in the moment… if just three others had the courage to side with Harlan?

This is yet again another example where the silence of a few contributed to the harm of many.

When we today see injustice or inequality, do we speak up? Are we so afraid of our social status and standing that we remain in the shadows… when our neighbor is dependant on our voice to change the cultural tide?

#OurHistory

Remembering Thomas Moss, 1892

The story of Thomas Moss is one I’m convinced everyone needs to hear.

It was March of 1892, the year when lynchings in the South were at an all-time high. The number of lynchings for a single year would never be higher than in 1892.

Thomas Moss was a highly respected postman within the black community of Memphis, Tennessee. Seeing an opportunity for some healthy competition, he started a grocery store called the People’s Grocery. The problem was, it was across the street from another grocery store, one owned by a white man named William Barrett. The effect this had on his customer base enraged Barrett to the point that he hired some off-duty deputy sheriffs to vandalize and destroy the store. Moss and two of his friends, Calvin McDowell and Henry Stewart, not knowing who they were dealing with, resisted the attack and before long, a gun battle broke out, wounding several of the deputies. As a result, Moss, his two friends, and 100 other black supporters were arrested. A few nights later, Moss, McDowell, and Stewart were dragged out of their cells, taken to a deserted railroad yard, and shot to death.

No trial.
No witnesses.

One of the reasons this particular account is so significant is that Thomas Moss was a friend of the now famous Ida B. Wells. Like many middle-class African-Americans, she had believed the myth that only low-income blacks were lynched for heinous crimes. Wells now couldn’t escape the fact that even innocent middle-class black people could be targets. As a result, this event sent Ida B. Wells on a crusade to lift the carpet of these lynchings up and expose them for what they really were.

The prevailing narrative of the day used to spread fear was that these lynchings were a means to “protect white women from rape” and that avenging a wrong by lynching was “manly”.

I found this chilling quote from Rebecca Latimer Felton, a former slave owner and women’s rights activist: “When there’s not enough religion in the pulpit… then I say lynch. Lynch a thousand times a week if necessary.”

I realize this is hard to look at. But it’s so important that we not ignore it. Just as it’s important to visit the Holocaust Museum and remember the horrific events in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, it’s important that we remember what occurred just a few generations ago.

Depending on the historian, there were nearly 5,000 recorded lynchings between 1882-1968, 73% of which were of African-Americans. It’s important to note that these are the number of RECORDED lynchings. There were many more that never hit the record books.

These lynchings ranged from simple, quiet events with only a few people present, to large festivals with huge crowds of spectators. Admission by ticket was not uncommon.

People were coming out to these LIKE A FREAKIN’ MOVIE ON FRIDAY NIGHT.

It disgusts me to even write that.

Yale Professor, Jonathan Holloway said, “In its own grotesque way, slavery afforded a level of protection for blacks. It certainly wasn’t there after emancipation. Of course, that is not a defense of slavery, but that is just sort of an element to consider in this equation.”

If you go to the link below, you can see a collection of postcards with actual pictures from some of these lynching festivals collected by James Allen. They are hard to look at, but I want to encourage you to do so. http://buff.ly/2kB55Oe

About these images, historian Leon F. Litwack wrote: “The photographs stretch our credulity, even numb our minds and senses to the full extent of the horror, but they must be examined if we are to understand how normal men and women could live with, participate in, and defend such atrocities, even reinterpret them so they would not see themselves or be perceived as less than civilized. The men and women who tortured, dismembered, and murdered in this fashion understood perfectly well what they were doing and thought of themselves as perfectly normal human beings. Few had any ethical qualms about their actions. This was not the outburst of crazed men or uncontrolled barbarians but the triumph of a belief system that defined one people as less human than another.”

That last line is really, really important.

“This was … the triumph of a belief system that defined one people as less human than another.”

As if the horrors of slavery weren’t enough, the lynchings of the 1880’s through the 1960’s again and again and again told the African-American community that their lives didn’t matter.

#OurHistory

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Ida B. Wells

This woman.

Overflowing with holy discontent.
Emboldened with a contagious fury for justice.
Unwilling to sit idly by while injustice got the last word.

Ida B. Wells.

Without fear of her own well-being, she broke the silence and helped the world see the disparity that existed between the perception of lynchings in the late 1800’s, and the horrific reality of what was actually occurring.

And she wouldn’t stop sharing it until she had no more breath with which to share.

I have learned much from this incredible woman, and I deeply admire her courage and resolve.

#OurHistory

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Strange Fruit

Every American should know this song, because its inspiration is (sadly) part of #OurHistory.

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

This was originally written as a poem by a teacher, Abel Meeropol (Lewis Allen) in 1937, then made famous as a song performed by Billie Holiday in 1939.

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Controlling The Voting Rolls

As I looked at the Post-Emancipation South, a common theme of “control” clearly rose out of the history books. The southern white population continually asked and answered questions related to how they would now control the Black population in the wake of slavery:
– “What are we going to do about the rising number of African-Americans on the voting rolls?”
– “How will that affect jury selections?”
– “What does this mean for the elections and at the local, state, and national level?”
– “How will we maintain the southern economy that up until this point was borne on the backs of slaves?”

These are legitimate questions… questions that, (with humility), I must recognize are questions I’d likely be asking if I were living in this place and time. We ought not to be so arrogant to think we wouldn’t have fallen under the same mindset of the day.

There’s a whole book that could be written on the Sharecropping system. It’s easy to think that slavery ended with the 13th Amendment, but it’s not that simple. I think it might be benficial for all of us to zero in on that topic more, though I’m not going to spend a lot of time writing about it today. It was certainly eye-opening for me to see the ways the South reinvented itself as soon as the Union troops left in the wake of the Civil War’s end. While you couldn’t any longer legally “own” a slave and call him property, you could certainly manipulate the labor system to force the African-American population to remain in the system, year after year, with very little hope of being able to establish themselves on their own. Essentially, slavery simply reinvented itself under this new labor system. A yearning to break out of this oppression is the primary reason why an astounding number of African Americans eventually would migrate North in 1915 and thereafter. It’s a fascinating and simultaneously discouraging example of the depravity of the human mind as we again chased the interests of self by dominating our neighbor.

Today I want to focus some energy on the voting registration and rolls of the late 1800’s in the Post-Emancipation South.

Related to controlling the voting rolls, one stark example (of many) is pretty profound. In Louisiana in 1896, over 130,000 African-Americans were now registered to vote. The black vote, which clearly would have gone to the Republican ticket, was a majority in 26 parishes in Louisiana.

Sadly, that quickly changed.

Just four years later, in 1900, the voting rolls plummeted down to just 5,300 African-Americans in Louisiana. That’s a 96% drop in just 4 years! Put that number in context with the other practices that were commonplace in the South during this time, and it’s quite easy for us to determine the causality for this decrease in black representation.

I think it’s worth educating ourselves on some of these commonplace practices.

According to a report put out by a National Historic Landmarks Program, “Violence played a large part in Republican defeats. The Ku Klux Klan, born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865, along with other white vigilante groups such as the Knights of the White Camellia, unleashed a reign of terror throughout the South to intimidate African Americans and their white allies from voting. Klansmen inflicted beatings, committed rape and murder, and drove families from their homes. […] Throughout their ordeal, African Americans braved great risks to go to the polls, but each year their numbers dwindled. Furthermore, once Democrats returned to power, they enacted measures to restrict black suffrage, such as poll tax requirements, which fell hardest on the poor.”

In addition to the extra poll taxes and the threat of violence, other measures were used to manipulate voting results.

Under the guise of voter privacy and prevention of intimidation at the polls, the concept of the secret ballot began. Prior to the secret ballot, voters went to the polls with printed ballots distributed by political parties with their candidates’ names on them. The secret ballot system prohibited the use of this material and required voters to make their choices from the numerous names and offices printed on official ballots, a task that many of them could not perform. The concept makes sense to us today, but at this time, when the literacy rate among the majority of the black population was nearly still as low as it had ever been, it diminished the black vote.

Along a very similar vein, (much less subtle) literacy tests were used.

The report from the NHLP that I mentioned earlier went on to say the following:
“Literacy tests, if administered fairly, would have disenfranchised a considerable number of poorly educated blacks and whites. Instead, white registrars decided who passed the exam, and they used their discretion mainly against African Americans. In 1890, the Mississippi constitutional convention adopted a literacy qualification that would become the model for the region. It provided an illiterate suffrage applicant the option of enrolling if he could “understand any section of the state constitution read to him . . . or give a reasonable interpretation thereof.” In this way, voting officials denied registration to blacks but not whites, however unable to read and write the whites might have been.”

Lousiana took it even further. Upon seeing the uneducated white population affected by the literacy tests, a new idea of “Grandfather Clauses” emerged. In it’s most basic form, it created the exception to those who failed the literacy test IF they’re grandfather had previously voted in the past. Since virtually no blacks had grandfathers that were given the right to vote during this time, this presented no advantage to the African-American, but it certainly did for the white man.

I know this is a long post, but all of this continued to show me how systemic and structural the discrimination against African-Americans has been in our history. When we today see riots erupt and communities of people shouting to the rooftops to be heard, it’s easy (and comfortable) for us as white people to find a way to blame it on an individual within the “movement”. Or if there’s an altercation between a white person and a black person it’s easy to ascribe it to something interpersonal between the parties involved. While that can be part of the story, there’s a deeper history that these examples hopefully begin to help us see. These tensions emerge at a far deeper level- a structural, systemic, and subconscious level. Over the years these have become cultural norms that (people that look like me) are in danger of not even recognizing.

#OurHistory

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Recreated & Relabeled

When did slavery in America end?

Just months ago I would’ve given a quick answer to that question. In my ignorance I certainly wouldn’t have known the date off the top of my head, and if I were able to do a quick Google search under the table without you knowing, I’d eventually come back with 1865.

“Yes, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was put into play.”

But today if we were having that conversation, I would hesitate a lot more, and I’d probably respond with some kind of hat-tip to the loaded nature of your question. After some conversation and back and forth, eventually, I’d just flat out tell you IT NEVER ENDED; that through the years slavery has just been recreated and relabeled in different forms.

Hopefully we’d still be talking.

Quite frankly, I’m hoping you’re still reading.

For me, I’ve grown up and lived with a lot of assumptions. But those assumptions have proven to be misrepresentations, and they have now in turn transformed into convictions deep in my soul. You know as well as I do- when a conviction is embedded deep enough inside you, you just have to share it. Even if nobody will listen.

Some have asked why I’m writing these posts. They think I’m trying to convince them of something. I’m really not.

In fact I think the following quote is most accurate to my heart in these posts:

“Sometimes I speak up because I think it might actually change the world. Other times, I speak up simply to keep the world from changing me.”

I know we’re only a couple days into this month, but I appreciate you taking this journey with me. Please keep reading. The posts coming up are about to get even darker, but we must remember the wrongs of our past lest we repeat them in our future.

#OurHistory

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