Moyers On Democracy Podcast; Rev. Dr. James Forbes: Juneteenth
I hope that white people can see that no need to deny any longer, there's no need to lie any longer, there's no need to claim somebody else and blame somebody else for the evils of the past. They are part of our history. I hope the day would be able to see how great will be today when we, having made peace with the evils of the past as our evils, except the grace of the giftedness and the invitation to be participants in building the new reality, the new world. Join us as Bill Moyers talks with Dr. James Forbes, a passionate advocate of celebrating Friday June 19th as Juneteenth. The day in 1865 when the last of America's slaves learned they were free. Because many states had refused to end slavery when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation
Proclamation two and a half years earlier, it took that long before Union troops landed in Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and the quarter million slaves in Texas were slaves no more. Next then, descendants of those former slaves have celebrated Juneteenth as their independent stay. For the last five years, Dr. James Forbes, senior minister emeritus of the historic Riverside Church, has organized and acclaimed Juneteenth celebration in New York City. Twice now at Carnegie Hall, this year, online. Therefore, a conversation with him is his longtime friend, Bill Moyers. Hi, Jim. This is Bill Moyers. How are you? I'm doing very well. Thank you. Good. Good to talk to you. I've known you a long time now, and I've watched as you've done more than anyone I know, to press the case for celebrating Juneteenth as an extraordinary day.
This is your sixth occasion coming up this week. Big occasion, big celebration, right? Yes, and it will be on the line for Carnegie Hall, and people can tune into that. How's it feel to be doing it in the midst of all the stern and drawing happening right now? Well, in tragedy comes, you must make it pay dearly, so that even though there are tragic events occurring, I mean, before you can heal up from one atrocity, here comes another, all of that. My mind is focused on how there must be a divine source of the energy to help this movement to develop, particularly after George Floyd's murder. I believe that God is at work, even in the awful circumstances we lament, and that the
groundswell of blacks and whites and browns gathering for protests, I think that's actually miraculous of biblical proportions. I mean, I've been in marches, but to see the diversity in the marches and in the protesters suggests there is a spirit dynamic at word. In these awful times, grace is manifesting itself, and that's the way I prefer to look at it. Oh, I could say, oh, is getting worse. We thought we were healing up from one funeral here, we got to go to another, but I keep looking for a sighting of the hand of God amidst the tragic circumstances of our times. But something is different this time, isn't it?
Yes, something is different, and we will not return to business as usual after the events we have experienced this year. That's my thinking. I think that there is an ugliness in the way the administration is dealing with the pandemic, dealing with protests that is allowing us to see, it is not just one person, one consummate, one mayor, one governor. I think we see beneath individual actions of meanness and unkindness. I think we see that America itself as a whole system. Our whole society has a malignancy of racial and class prejudice and bigotry. I think even people that have been in denial see more clearly than ever before how deserving
of retribution from high places the whole culture is. And I think because we see it that way, we have a much more systemic assessment of what's going wrong and we sense that there needs to be systemic transformation, radical revolution of values, especially as it has to do with people of color or people of lower economic status. Is this different gem from how you experienced racism when you were growing up in North Carolina? I think it's different because, and it's amazing, white folks know the truth we are telling now better than they knew it before. And they cannot hide any longer from the truth of their guilt of the continued systemic
manifestations of exploitation. I think it's a wonderful thing that white folks know that what we are talking about is the same thing. Let's help. I heard you say once that white supremacy is not just a social arrangement, it's a race based faith. Do you remember saying that? Yes. Yes, it is. This is a spiritual crisis, it is a spiritual crisis because spiritual values are so less considered worthy of our attention than material matters so that it is as if we've got a whole bunch of surrogate gods, alternative deities, our political party, money, power, our national identification, even our collective sense of victimization if we are a particular element
in the culture. These things function with the level of seriousness as if they were gods, or at least more than the god of justice. Let me just say this, the god of justice is not the reigning deity in America anymore. Who's the other god that is the other god? Well, the president is for some people, his base, money is for other people who had it. Some people who feel down and out as some evangelicals do their own identity as a deprived segment of the society takes on almost divine status for them. What does it mean for faith to be race based? What I'm thinking is that a demonic presence brought the illusion of fight supremacy and
that people sufficiently bought into it that our whole nation is based upon it so that if you ask about one's worldview, if your worldview is based on the fact that fights are more worthy of life than blacks, that they are more special in the sight of the creator because they represent something of the identity with god. That means that the same loyalty that one gives to one's faith in general goes to your race and that people are almost thinking that if fightness does not prevail, then their whole world collapses.
I think that's the way it is with people. I'm Bill Moyers and I'm talking with the Reverend James Forbes, the longtime senior minister of Riverside Church in New York. You once wrote that given the historical power differential between blacks and whites, blacks are required to be attentive to the way their white counterparts see themselves in relation to people of color if they want to survive and even thrive. Is that still the way it is? That is still the way it is. Well, it's on the threshold of changing. I think so and I think the movement is helping this change. When people walk in the streets and say no justice, no peace, that at least is beginning to challenge whether the power can function with impunity as they do continue evil against
black people. I think it's beginning to be challenged that is how long can white people endure the extraordinary advantage they have in this culture as they continue to treat black people as things. I think that question is in some people's minds these days that overlooked that years ago. So at least let me say I've been inquiring and I think I hear from God after 400 years of oppression of black people, I think I hear from God a question, isn't that enough blood to drink from the veins of black people or enough black flesh to eat in cannibalistic ways? Ain't that enough? But more than that.
That's the kind of means period it were, but God tells me more gentle, I think, about this fight people. Do you all not know that in blackness I have deposited some wonderful grace, which along with whatever grace there is in your whiteness, if you all could stop allowing yourselves to view yourselves as alien others of each other? You could discover, do you not know how much wonderful quality of life could be possible if black people and white people could recognize that fundamentally they are one family, they are brothers and sisters? You, if white people need to understand, do you know how much you are missing by simply making chattel property out of these folks that God said were human beings? I think another thing I think I hear from God is that you really need to know that I am so committed, God is so committed to truth, that if you were there to embrace the truth,
you would discover that the key truth is that God's forgiveness is available. And that God's forgiveness is available particularly to people who are prepared to follow the path of truth and just God's grace is available to those who are ready now to embrace the new possibility of Psalm 133, how blessed could it and how blessed it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity? If only white people could understand how they are denying themselves the richness that God has placed in their other brothers and sisters, God will grant them part of them as they embrace the commitment of being one people together. And this matters to God because God is ultimate relationality.
I don't sound like I'm preaching to you Bill, that is, well, you were several times named one of America's 12 greatest preachers, so it's all right if you can't forget your history. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, but by that I've said, do you know that God, so far as I can tell, is love and that love puts a premium on relationality, that is, if black people and white people could relate to each other as brothers and sisters with mutuality of care and concern, that would make the heart of God so happy. I mean, if you just thought of it like that, that because God is ultimate relationality, the whole universe itself, all of the various pieces of it, all of the various species, all of the various generations and eons in God are one, so that those who persist in alienation
and the demonization of the other, that does not make the heart of God the Creator, does not create satisfaction, it is because God is ultimate relationality for all of the pieces fit, that all of the pieces, all of the eons, the sun, the moon, the stars, all of the orders of creation, as they relate to each other and understand that one has impact on the possibilities of the other. What is that that I think God would wish us to see and learn to live into and to live by? But do you think God forgives the policeman who kept his knee of George Floyd's neck
for over eight and a half minutes until the breath of life left him? The way I answer that question is that if I were going to represent Shulvin before God, I would have to have a class action presentation. If God forgives any one of us of sins that we have committed, then we should wish that forgiveness of sin is a class action, that's why I guess I'm different. I'm not as much worried about his knee on his neck as I am following. Those who were also sitting on the brother's body and the elephant of the systemic racism has been sitting on our neck for all these years, I'll have to include him in it. I hope that semblance of justice will prevail so that he would be incarcerated for his
evil, but even if he's incarcerated, I would wish God would go into an incarcerated jail. And if he grew to repent for the evils that led to that behavior, I hope he might be forgiven as well. But what do you say to a young woman like Alaya Eastman? Let me tell you about it, she's 19 years old, she survived the 2018 massacre at her high school in Portland, Florida, she became a gun control advocate, so many legislative efforts to all, she's now been organizing protests in Washington over police violence against her black brothers and sisters, as she said, I'm tired, I'm literally tired, I'm tired of having to do this. We came out of Parkland bowing to change the gun laws, and nothing has really happened. We saw so many legislative efforts stall, we do our job, she said, and then we don't
see the people we vote in doing their job. And her lament was echoed by many others in that story, and I tremble for the country in this respect, if these young people, once again, come out of a crisis such as we've been experiencing, and our system doesn't respond, our system, the whole collectivity of our system goes back to the normality before Trump, her heart is not only going to be broken, but her sense of America will be forever changed. So how can you keep clinging to the possibilities that you have spoken of in our conversation? Because every time there has been a surge of freedom for blacks after the Civil War, after the emancipation population, after the reconstruction, after the civil rights movement
of the last century, after the first presidency of a black president, there's always been a backlash that has said things really again toward the past. How can you feel so hopeful now? Well, I think the way I guess I'd have to respond to the young lady and to your question as well, what I want to do is I want to continue to keep faith with the tradition of which I am a part, and I call it black spirituality. When I heard Kathleen Bantle sing at Carnegie Hall years ago, God, how come may hear? God, how come may hear? God, how come may hear? I wish I'd never been born. That was a powerful moment. So what I do is that tradition is that that's what makes us such a great gift to America.
That black people came here with that kind of capacity that in the midst of the imponderables and the inscrutables of life, we still engage in conversation with the God that we know to be real. So my first answer to the young lady is, let's say the God, God, don't let this harvest pass unfruitful. Don't let what has been in the streets of America in these last two weeks be for naught? I mean, beat the gates of eternity. God, you got to let something of value emerge from this. When we hear you did it 400 years for Israel, you've got to do it now for Americans black and white.
If you've got a relationship with God, you've got to get some out of this thing this time. And then you listen to what God says, I'm working on it, Jim. And you've got to give me everything you've got to. We've got to work on this thing together. Dr. King says, we shall get to the promised land. I may not get there with you, but here's the people who will get to the promised land. So anyway, it's interesting that you should ask this question because there's this poem that I put together, Bill, that might seem like the best answer I could give to the question that you've just asked me. It says, supremacists, more bigoted and bold, leaders in high places ruthless and cold. Why do we keep on singing hopeful songs in the midst of hateful and brutal wrongs? What keeps our hearts and minds from sinking down while we are handcuffed and our spirits bound?
Do we know something others do not know? Why couldn't we give up when hate sank so low? Why didn't we stop protesting or cease to grieve when our eyes saw evil we couldn't believe? Why do we still march with justice demands, chanting and singing with uplifted hands? We sing because we know God's on the throne. At work in everything, known and unknown, though we won't win the battle every day, faith trust God to have the final say, whether we live or die confronting wrong, we shall overcome for sure. That's our song. I guess that's my answer to you, man. I guess my ancestors sent days of God and they used to say, may not come when you want them but is right on time, that's the gift of black spirituality when it is sustained,
hopefulness against hope and refusing sort of like Job, though you slay me yet shall I trust in you. I mean, what else have we got? What do you hope a white folks see when we see Juneteenth this week? I hope that white people can see there's no need to deny any longer, there's no need to lie any longer, there's no need to claim somebody else and blame somebody else for the evils of the past, they are part of our history. I hope that they would be able to see how great will be today when we having made peace with the evils of the past as our evils but accept the grace of God as forgiveness and
the invitation of God to be participants in building the new reality, the new world. I hope white people can see forgiveness is available if you decide you want to be a part of the human race in unity and justice and peace for us all. I hope they will see the prospect of living in the forgiving grace of God and walking toward the beloved community or as we like to say, the more perfect union. Thank you very much and I hope you have a great Juneteenth. All right, well thank you so very much. Thanks for listening to Moyers on Democracy. Find out more about this year's online Juneteenth celebration at our website, billmoyers.com.
- Moyers On Democracy Podcast
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- Schumann Media Center, Inc
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- Bill Moyers talks with Rev. Dr. James Forbes, a passionate advocate of celebrating June 19 as Juneteenth – the day in 1865 when the last of America’s slaves learned they were free. For the last five years Rev. Dr. James Forbes, senior minister emeritus of the city’s historic Riverside Church, has organized an acclaimed Juneteenth celebration in New York City, twice now at Carnegie Hall, and this year, online.
- Series Description
- Moyers on Democracy -- a podcast series -- cuts through the noise to get to he heart of what we need to be discussing as a country. Moyers takes a look at the threats our democracy is facing — voter suppression, dark money, corporate power, inequality, dwindling faith in our institutions — and talks to the people with the best ideas for saving it.
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: Toolajian, Loren
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Editor: Soiefer, Ben
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Producer: Miller, Kristin
Producing Organization: Schumann Media Center, Inc
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- Chicago: “Moyers On Democracy Podcast; Rev. Dr. James Forbes: Juneteenth,” 2020-06-17, Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 26, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-2eba2a34a15.
- MLA: “Moyers On Democracy Podcast; Rev. Dr. James Forbes: Juneteenth.” 2020-06-17. Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 26, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-2eba2a34a15>.
- APA: Moyers On Democracy Podcast; Rev. Dr. James Forbes: Juneteenth. Boston, MA: Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-2eba2a34a15