When a man’s ways please the Lord : he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. — Prov. xvi, 7.
… Such legislation as Jim Crow car laws cannot live long among a free people and at this stage of civilization that is everywhere putting a premium upon worth, not color; upon character, rather than accident of birth. The fact that the Negro is not secure in his life and property, but is ruthlessly lynched under any pretext or exiled from home because he has an opinion and expressed it, is another scourge. That such an appalling sentiment could exist; such a dangerous and deadly unwritten law could be sustained, in a country like this, shows an unjust and wicked public sentiment that sustains it. Here are the courts that guarantee a fair and impartial trial to the humblest citizen, ignored and a state of anarchy and mob violence placed in their stead. Men administer law to suit themselves, in the face of duly appointed administrators, appointed by the State and elected by the suffrages of the people.
There are but few places in America where the lives and property of Negroes are secure.. The civilized world knows this. Our fame as a nation of lynchers, who does not believe in the courts we, ourselves, have established, but resorts to lawlessness and murder is international — universal. This lawless spirit among us takes the American people out of the list of humanitarians and classifies them with the Russian Massacre, Chinese Boxers, and African Cannibals. Lynching is now an American pastime. And no one can tell when the most representative Negro will be subjected to the noose or provide a roast for a howling mob.
W. Bishop, Johnson, D. D, LL. D., “The Scourging of a Race”, The scourging of a race, and other sermons and addresses
We opened this blog with an address from Bishop Johnson at a funeral. This sermon, the eponymous introduction to his book of sermons, pulls no punches about the suffering of African Americans. He expressed hope, in 1902, that Jim Crow laws could not last long, but they remained the law of the land until 1965, and took much longer in some areas to be completely dismantled.
Shortly before this writing, a museum to memorialize the intense suffering of African Americans opened in Alabama. Their web site says, “More than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.” One of the more gruesome and chilling aspects of these events was that local stores would sometimes sell the fingers of the victims as souvenirs. Others sold postcards. Churches would hold picnics at the lynchings. As Johnson notes, the culture of a people would have to be pretty far steeped in barbarianism in order for so many to be so comfortable with these public tortures. Johnson claims we don’t have much room to point a finger at Russian Massacre, Chinese Boxers, and African Cannibals.
What’s a Christian to do? Fortunately, Christianity isn’t about joining the most moral team and then defending the necessity or relative innocuousness of that team’s crimes. It’s about a Saviour to came to rescue a completely fallen humanity. Christianity, per se, isn’t so much discredited as ideas of the existence of a “Bible belt”, or American exceptionalism, or our being a “Christian nation”. All cultures continually have a need to repent, examine ourselves, and listen to the voices of the suffering.
PRAYER FOCUS: Listen to the Pass the Mic’s podcast episode on Reflecting on Dr. James Cone. Cone is author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”.