By Brenda H. Andrews
Publisher and Editor In Chief
New Journal and Guide
Something is happening among Black clergy today that cannot be overlooked by those of us who have been on the battlefield for the advancement of Black America for a lifetime.
As a youth growing up in Lynchburg, Va., I was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which fostered many of the civil rights gains we have today as a result of mass demonstrations, protest marches, and finally, economic boycotts. The first part of that Movement with its marches and protests was similar to what we are witnessing today in the Black Lives Movement. It remains to be seen if today’s movement—yet in its infancy—will grow into an effective agent for the change that is central to living successfully in a capitalistic country.
The leadership in Lynchburg and many other cities across the South in the 1960s was centered in the Black clergy of large churches, mainly, but smaller churches were also on board. The major civil rights groups like the NAACP, CORE, SCLC and SNCC were prominently involved as well, but even in those organizations, the leaders had close ties to the Black Church. And the little support we received from the white community came from sympathetic white clergy who stepped outside of their racist congregations to embrace the bonds of brotherhood that is the basis of all religions.
The Black Church has always been the focal point for the advocacy of justice and equality for Black Americans. Throughout our history in America, it has been our churches that have served as places where we were allowed to meet absent white oppression to seek out our souls’ salvation. Unbeknownst to those who oppressed us, we also could address our struggles for freedom and equalityin a land that first enslaved us as three-fifths of a person, and then, relegated us to second class citizenship after emancipation.
After freedom and into the Civil Rights Movement, political activism may not have been a part of the Sunday morning worship sermon, but it definitely was there for the community mass meeting at 5 p.m. to discuss efforts to bring segregation to its knees. It was in the Black Church that protest strategy meetings and mass freedom rallies were held, voter efforts and registration drives were planned and executed, and freedom songs were sung to encourage our wearied hearts that “we ain’t gone let nobody turn us around”.
Please allow me a quick aside here. I took my then eight-year-old son, Oronde, to the 1983 March on Washington in observance of the 20th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic speech, “I Have A Dream”. It was his first mass march and my return to Washington, D.C., having been there as a youth in 1963 to hear Dr. King.
Our chartered bus may have seen its better days, and half way to D.C.,as we marchers were singing loudly, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”, the bus puttered and stopped on the highway. It wasa teaching moment for me and my son about why we were on the bus in the first place and how the song we were singing offered a comforting message of perservance through trials. Happily, after some delay for repairs, we were again on our way to the march.
It has been the Black Church out of which colleges for Black youth have been birthed and continue today to receive financial support; businesses have been built, including the Black newspaper industry which in 1827 was forged by a Black Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Samuel Cornish, and a Black scholar named John Russworm; and, of course, the list goes on.
Today, a new generation of young people who comprise the Black Lives Movement has stepped out to fill a void in leadership they feel has been abdicated by the traditional agents for Black justice and equality. Most youth have no memory, knowledge or, in some cases, interest, in the past.
It is important to keep in mind that it is always the young who forment change. Remember Dr. King was only 26-years-old when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 which propelled him into the spotlight as one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
Proponents of the Black Lives Movement have taken to the streets of America unlike anything since the protests of some 50-60 years ago, and with the energy that has the possibility to effect positive changes. They are assisted and supported by other races and ethnicities in a way that has not been present in the past.
At the same time, the Black Church appears to be edging forward, too, joining in public rallies with a message for Black justice for George Floyd, held in the knee hold of a Minneapolis police officer until he had died, and that of other Black men and women victimized by police brutality.
To know what local clergy members in Hampton Roads are doing or thinking as they march to bring attention to events surrounding the murder of George Floyd, I reached out to a few visible members of the faith community by email, given the restraints New Journal and Guide is experiencing as we recover from COVID-19 disruptions to our business flow. I asked about the role of the church in either cementing or disrupting the issues now on the table related to racial justice and equality.
Those who responded spoke candidly: Rev. Dr. Keith Jones, Senior Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church, Norfolk, and President of the Tidewater Baptist Ministers Conference; Rev. Rosalind M. Hairston, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church West Munden, Norfolk; Rev. Gary McCollum, Member of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference. Virginia Beach; and Rabbi Roz Mandelberg, Ohef Sholom Temple, Norfolk.
“The challenge of the Black Lives Movement is that it is often without the moral construct and biblical under girding that the true Black church provides,” said Dr. Jones. “My hope is two-fold…First, that the movement will not grow weary or disinterested. There is a lot to do. This is a struggle that will continue, even when the cameras are not rolling. Secondly, these two vital forces, the Church and the Movement will merge so that the Black Church, which has always preached liberation can help this energetic Movement to better articulate its cause.”
This series will look further at the role of the Black Church in relation to the Black Lives Movement in making necessary changes for Blacks in America.
The series continues in our July 9, 2020 edition.