BEGINNING HISTORICAL GROUNDWORK
Introduction: For 400 years in this land, African people have paid for having Black skin. Beginning in 1619 their ancestors were captured and brought here as slaves. A civil war was fought over slavery and emancipation was declared law on January 1, 1863. Freedom for the formerly enslaved was not sudden or complete. Slaves became ill-treated share-croppers, were denied the right to vote, were demoralized by Jim Crow laws, given the dirtiest and most labor-intensive jobs, paid less than non-Blacks for the same work, sent to war for this country, and denied the benefits of the GI bill, government-backed home mortgages, and equal education.
The cumulative effect of living under 150 years of racist treatment results today in Black people having the stability of being home owners far less frequently than their white counterparts. Under continuing bias, they face limited opportunity as a product of sub-standard education, are often not chosen for employment, are hemmed into desperate situations, and are imprisoned disproportionately compared to the general population. Adding insult to injury, Black people are blamed by society for the problems they face when society has placed them in the less-than-privileged position to begin with.
This dispassionate and incomplete list of wrongs perpetuated by Caucasian people of European descent and endured by our Black brothers and sisters does not describe the incredible emotional, financial, spiritual costs borne in individual Black lives generation after generation, nor its cumulative effect. Trauma, exploitation, and disappointment are carried by people in their bodies, in their families, and in their culture to the detriment of us all.
Most White people are not taught about this history, are not aware of its present impact on Black lives, nor do they recognize that they benefit from it. White people need to know that when they are identified as part of a privileged race in society they are not being judged to be bad people simply for being born into their position. Nor is the suffering, struggle and difficulty in individual White lives denied when the position of privilege is acknowledged.
These are facts of history. The anger, frustration and outrage at contemporary society for continuing to use systems that favor White citizens is very real. We see systematic oppression in repeated injustices executed by police departments, the judicial system, and in our centers of power and authority. While crowds stand in streets protesting for change, we are called to hear their voices and reasoned criticism with openness and self-reflection. We are called to find ourselves willing to arrive at new places of understanding where we desire a change in the status quo. We don’t know the future, but the Jesus of our hearts tells us that we must stop at nothing short of justice for all.
In this moment, we have the opportunity:
- to listen to Black and Brown voices,
- to recognize that we benefit from being White.
- to recognize and change policies which act to keep a race of people disadvantaged.
- to act so that Black and Brown people are represented proportionately in government and leadership positions,
- to help changes take place which support racial equity (not equality).
- to put away our prejudices, and long-lived ways of building community
- to make new relationships and forge new alliances among race groups so we can get to know each other.
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith … May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen” (Galatians 6).
Writing by Black authors has been an important part of literature and the historical record in this country. This is the beginning of a list of those resources. It is not comprehensive. If you would like to suggest text(s) to add to this list, please email us.
The Souls of Black Folk – Paperback – September 4, 2013 – by W. E. B. Du Bois
The Fire Next Time – Paperback – December 1, 1992 – by James Baldwin
Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own – Hardcover – June 30, 2020 – by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
*Race Matters, 25th Anniversary: With a New Introduction – Paperback – December 5, 2017 – by Cornel West
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and died May, 28, 2014 in North Carolina. She spent time in Wichita and is well-known to some in our congregation today. An American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, she published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – 1969 – Maya Angelou
- Biographical information – https://www.mayaangelou.com
Toni Morrison is the author of eleven novels, from The Bluest Eye (1970) to God Help the Child (2015). She received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She died in 2019.
- Home (Vintage International) – Paperback – January 1, 2013 – by Toni Morrison
- The Bluest Eye (Vintage International) – Paperback – May 8, 2007 – by Toni Morrison
Malcolm X (original name Malcolm Little, Muslim name el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz), was born May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was assassinated February 21, 1965 in New York. An African-American leader and prominent figure in the Nation of Islam who articulated concepts of race pride and black nationalism in the early 1960s.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley – Paperback – November 1, 1992 – by Malcolm X
A leader of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He was educated at Columbia University and Lincoln University. He published his first book of poetry and this landmark essay (1926) which is seen by many as a cornerstone document articulation of the Harlem renaissance.
- The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69395/the-negro-artist-and-the-racial-mountain
- Biographical information – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/langston-hughes
Zora Neale Hurston
An American author, she was born in January 1891 and died in January 1960. She was an anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-1900s American South and published research on hoodoo. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, and moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, in 1894. In her early career, Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research while a student at Barnard College and Columbia University. She had an interest in African-American and Caribbean folklore, and how these contributed to the community’s identity.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God – Paperback – May 30, 2006 – Zora Neale Hurston