Last citizen; Churches, religious life, and church activities
Some people have argued that the negroes have a genius for religion. I'm not quite sure at all that Negroes are more emotional by nature are more religious by nature but they have certainly in this country been much more restricted in their opportunities. And this restriction means that in the channels that are open to them they have made full use of these channels. That was Dr. Paul Dietz of the Boston University School of Theology. From whom we shall hear more as we take up the subject of religion in discussing the Negro in America the last citizen. The last of us in the Negro in America a series of programs devoted to the extension of our knowledge of the largest minority group in the United States its problems and the problems that poses for all Americans. The last citizen is produced by Radio Station WBA a Purdue University under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in
cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The discussions are the producer of the series E-W Richter and Dr. Louis Schneider professor of sociology at Purdue University. Today's program the negro organized religion and the church. Here now is Mr. Rector the negro the American Negro has by criteria of church membership and certainly as devout a Christian as the American white man. But the House of Christianity itself is notoriously split on color lines. In his classic study of the social sources of denominationalism the theologian Richard Niebuhr made a remark to the effect that the various churches of Christendom have been unable to weave a single garment of Christ to fit the seamless vesture of his spirit. Surely if this comment applies anywhere it applies to the case of the heavily segregated Negro churches today we wish to examine some of the backgrounds of this segregation and in general to achieve an overview
of the religious situation of the negro in the United States. I think we might begin with a bit of history on the matter of the relation of the Negro to Christianity negroes were given Christian baptism from the beginning of their history in this country. There were some difficulties above Christianizing in the GRO because as we already know from previous discussion the numbers of men were uncertain about a combination of the statuses of Christian and slave. But these difficulties tended to disappear and it was soon a widely enough accepted notion that the Negro could be both slave and question. In the eighteenth century various Christian groups exercised influence over negroes including Presbyterians Quakers Catholics and Moravians. But it was the Baptists and Methodists who really made a powerful impression upon the Negro people. And this impression really began to be a considerable one after the Revolutionary War. The Baptist and Methodist groups of the great Negro denominational groups today. Well let me interrupt to ask about the relations of the negroes to whites in connection with this matter of
religion. During the slave period did negroes participate in the religious activities of their masters. There was a good deal of participation in the religious life of the ministers church services were often conducted to which even Negro house servants were granted admission. They were services therefore which were carried out for whites and negroes together. At the same time it's true that numbers of Negro preachers were allowed to conduct services among the slaves. There was some fear of the sort of thing on the part of whites. And it's worth remembering that the Virginia insurrection of 1831 was led by NOT Turner who was a Bible reader a mystic a Baptist. Whites wanted to make sure that nothing that might somehow lead to rebellion was generated within the all Negro church meetings. But this is somewhat by the way I started by saying in answer to your question that there was much participation on the part of negroes in the religious life of the white ministers less participation has been documented again very recently by Will as they were offered in the volume on American churches and the negro
one of our inclines to think that there was widespread deep sympathy and solicitude for the slave as a child of God. The negro was on the slavery according to God's plan but he was nonetheless a child of God. While the photo asserts the ante bellum white Christians looked upon the negro as a possible son of God who had a right to every privilege of the church and that did not offend them to see him partaking of all these privileges. But politically and economically the slave rested on the curse and had no standing. What if it goes on to say we of the present time have reversed the attitude we claim that the Negro has full rights the weaker gnomic civil and political freedoms. But we are sure that socially and religiously he must be completely separate and segregated. I'm not quite sure whom Weatherford means by we and I'm somewhat inclined to think if I may say so that his contrasts are too stark for one thing I believe the on the plays the force of the white man's motivation to keep the Negro in a submissive state
even if there was as without doubt there was some genuine sincerity in seeking to imbue the negro with Christian supplements. Yet what if it does remind us that there was an important practice and tradition among slaveholders of admitting the negro to the white man's worship. Well can we switch for a moment. What about the character of the negro's religion. Negro religion in the United States has been characterized by a good deal of emotionalism like ecstatic behavior by shouting by powerful contagion of feeling this once again is probably connected with the generally low educational and economic levels achieved by the negro. It has been a genuine tendency. Nevertheless it is often a joost as a reason for turning away from the role religion of Negro intellectuals. Another thing one might mention of those that come to mind is the circumstance that how shall I put it so much has been demanded and found by the Negro in his religion. Historically the church has been tremendously important in the Negro community and negroes have
looked to it not only for guidance in religious matters but in the thousands and one of the things of course this would be true to an appreciable extent for some white groups. But I think it's correct enough to say that in this matter of seeking for so much for so many kinds of satisfactions and outlets in his religion the Negro is in Myrtle's phrase an exaggerated American. Well interestingly enough we have some comments here by Dr. Paul Dietz of the school of theology at Boston University which bear pretty directly on what you've just said I think it's worth our while to listen briefly to Dr. Dietz some people have argued that the negroes have a genius for religion. I'm not quite sure at all that Negroes are more emotional by nature are more religious by nature but they've certainly in this country been much more restricted in their opportunities. And this restriction means that in the channels that are open to them they have made full use of these channel. And religion is offered them a tremendous opportunity for self-expression for recreation for release of their inhibitions in other areas
it offered them help in adjusting to crises. They were isolated from the general life of America and a lot of ways and one way in which they could assert their equality and deal with their problems was to do it in the churches. The other thing they organize separate churches following the civil war along about this period. One reason they did this because they found equality if they had a separate church they were separate members if they were members of a larger Methodist or Baptist Church. But they would had equal status if they were members of their own churches just as one way of protesting against white domination white leadership and the second one it seems to me is that this offered them the opportunity to find leadership expression in ways that were denied them in the general cultural life. You still find more Negroes turning to teaching and the ministry as you have for a great number of years. These are the two main avenues of professional life that are open to new
growth. And one reason you have it seems to me what you refer to as the wild religious movement has been that this is the one way that the aggressive leadership of the Negro could express itself in the resentment of the Negro could express itself as in the organization of new churches of new sects of new communities of followers of a particularly outstanding are. Maybe you want to say particularly frustrated individual and I believe that. It is helpful in understanding something of the character of Negro religion but I'd like us if we can to get a somewhat more intimate view of at least some aspects of it. We might for example touch on the matter of what the negro preacher has been like as you might expect on the whole Negro preachers have had very little education. They have traditionally been recruited on the basis of their capacity to feel a call rather than on anything resembling theological education. And the point is that the caller alone has tended to be emphasized. They have frequently very frequently preached a religion that fit in neatly with white desire that the negroes attention be fixed on the beyond
and the transcendent rather than on the inconvenient and frustrating things of this world. These again are not characteristics or tendencies peculiar to the negro preacher but if for example white southern preachers ministering to lower class people have some such characteristics like tendencies still once more the negro preacher may be said to have shown them an exaggerated form. Please note that I am generalizing there have of course been exceptions to the things I've said and certainly some of these traits tendencies characteristics I've been over are receiving very stringent criticism from numbers of negroes today. We get then a general historical picture of a negro preacher as an educator it is frequently pointed away from the hard problems of negroes on this earth and as accommodating himself consciously or unconsciously to the bias of whites that he should let this world alone. You would say I take it that this picture however generally true historically is is now changing. Yes I would say so there are definitely signs of change. Well let's defer those signs for just now and get a little balance out of the picture way thus far given as I
understand the matter. The so-called old time negro preacher had certain qualities at least some old time Negro preachers did that numbers of religious people would regard as redeeming. I think this is true. Well can we document it one way I can think of to document it as to time to a convenient little volume by James Weldon Johnson who titled God's trombones this is a volume of seven negro sermons and verse which Johnson wrote he has an informative preface to the sermons in which he says among other things the following. The all time leader Oh preacher of parts was above all an orator and in good measure an act that he knew the secret of oratory that at bottom it is a progression of rhythmic words more than it is anything else. Indeed I have witnessed congregations move to wax to see by the rhythmic intoning of sheer incoherencies. He was a master of all the modes of eloquence. He often possessed a voice that was a marvelous instrument a voice he could modulator from us a pope will whisper to a crashing from the clap. His discourse was generally kept at a high pitch of fervency but occasionally he
dropped into colloquialisms and less often into humor. He preached a personal anthropomorphic God. Well sure enough heaven on the red hot hell his imagination was bold and on foot he had the power to sweep us heroes before him and so himself was often swept away at such times as language was not prose but poetry and Johnson adds that it was from memories of such preachers that they grew the idea of a sermons in verse God's trombones. Well how about giving us a break sapling from this volume Oh I can't hope to duplicate the oratorical power which Johnson says some of the old time preachers had but here in the bus style I can summon awesome lines from the Sermon on the Judgment Day. In that great day people in that great day gods are going to rain down fire. Gods are going to sit in the middle of the air to judge the quick and the dead. Early one of these mornings Gods are going to call for Gabriel that tall bright angel Gabriel and gods are going to say to him Gabriel
blow your silver trumpet and wake the living nations. And Gabriel is going to ask him Lord how loud must my blog and gods are going to tell him. Gabriel blow a common Daisy then putting one foot on the mountain top and the other in the middle of the sea Gabriel's going to stand on blow as a pawn to wake the living nations. So you know where were you and that great day when God's going to rain down fire all you gambling and where will you stay. You whore mongering man where will you stand. Lie as a backslide as where when you stand in that great day when Gods are going to rain down fly up soon I'll soon know where audio stand and that great day when Gods are going to rain down fire. Well a number of old time Negro preachers that had eloquence and power and this needs to be said to give balance to the image we've gotten so far the image of the negro preacher as as a very poorly educated very often utterly accommodative person
accommodative to the white status quo that is. Will we agree that there are signs of change in the old time image. Let's turn now to some of these signs. Once again I suggest we listen briefly to Dr. Paul Dietz probably one of the most interesting things that's happened in the Negro church has been it's the way that it's moved out of the center of the Negro community over a period of years. This happened it seemed to me as Negro young people more and more had access to education as they found the revivalism the emotional expression when they grow churches They lack of training of the Negro preachers on appealing to them. And they also identified religion with their lower caste class status. So one way they could rebel against
the their feelings of inferiority is negroes one way that they could rebel against their identification as members of a lower socio economic class was to rebel against the church and to reject the church. And a lot of younger negroes particularly doing the late 30s in the 40s did this. I want of the things that's happened in the late 50s has been the or re-emergence of the Negro church and of the negro minister to a position of social leadership and social responsibility in the Negro community. Probably the most vivid symbol of this is Martin Luther King and Montgomery. But over the South the negro minister who is now no longer the foot shuffling obedient servant of the white community of the white church keeping his people quiet in order but is very often the aggressive leader of a minority movement seeking rights
for its own members. This gives the minister and the Church new relevance and it makes a real appeal particularly to the younger the better educated negroes. Just after the height of the crisis in the governor Alabama with the bus boycott that was participated in there by the McGovern Improvement Association. I happen to be at Fisk University with Martin Luther King. Here was a very sophisticated negro campus with a very sophisticated negro sociologists and they sat with real attention and listened while a negro minister talked to them about achieving change in racial attitudes in the south. And they had a new respect both for the church and for the ministry because of the new role that Mr. Shuttleworth that Martin Luther King and his associates were playing with in Montgomery and Birmingham and other cities across the
south. Now I'd like to reinforce the fact of certain changes which Mr. Deats has been over by words spoken by the Reverend William borders of the Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia at the prayer pilgrimage for freedom meeting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on May 17th one thousand fifty seven. Here we have an illustration of the combination of religious fervency with a militant stand on the matter of Negro rights. From the top of my head the bottom over here who should get justice for himself without extending that same justice to his brother. Go down Moses. Way down in Egypt plain. And tell the whole fairy Oh. To Let My People Go. I am the Lord not gone.
And to prove it I am going to be with you every step of the way. I'm giving you a round trip ticket Goodenough in movies. There is no my own pope. There are no rogue waves. You will get hungry. You will get fresh day. That will be the Red Sea. Oh yeah. Very Young will be against you but Go down Moses. Go way down in the end of each year. And telephone fairy Oh let my people go. And I declare unto you bish day May the 17th nineteen hundred and fifty seven celebrating this Supreme Court decision in the presence of the Lincoln Monument I declare unto you this day. That movies went down into the land of Egypt. Let the people out and came back went to the top of the mountain. And got a proclamation from God which began by saying I am done
not by God. Who have brought me out of the land of Egypt and I don't like London. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Die God am a jealous God. Visiting an equipage of the followers all of that. And a fourth generation from him that hate me. And showing loving kindness under 500 of them that you love me. And keep My commandments. A. Letter from our. Letter to my. Mom. How we are and how we are. And how. And higher. God Reverend borders outlook on the function of the Negro church and the negro minister. We later visit him in Atlanta in the summer of 1958 and he said to us well in the first place in the Negro church there is a freedom which does not obtain in any other organization in the south among
us. There is a supreme respect on the part of whites for the Negro church and it is a recognized organization. Good. It is a group of people who have already selected and that lead most of the religion at its highest and bass carries profound respect in the heart of even even an infidel and religion ought to be practical. It ought to be inspirational and talk about of the willingness and about their mortality. At one in the same time it ought to implementing the tenets which it professes Brotherhood fatherhood. Goodness and practical kindness in behalf of everybody so that that having been said as a background you can see that whatever problem arises the church has a responsibility a definite responsibility and sense the need grow as a person in the south has been violated because of
segregation. It becomes the duty and the nature of the case for the church as an organisation to make itself felt with reference to that problem. And since a Nigro preacher is the leader of the church it becomes his duty to the same extent to lead the people in the solution of that problem. What a contrast this makes with some of the older attitudes. Let me try to make it even more vivid by quoting a few lines from an experience that model reports. He says No wonder I once attended a Sunday evening service in a negro Baptist Church in one of the capitals of the office of the preacher develop a theme but nothing in this world was of any great importance. Real estate automobiles one called one of those prestige money. All this is nothing. It is not worth striving for but on humble peaceful heart will be remunerated in heaven. After the service we went up to the preacher for a talk we asked him if he should not instead try to instill more worldly ambition in his poor and disadvantaged group. The preacher began to explain to us as foreigners that this would not
do at all in the south. The role of the Negro church he told us was to make the poor negro satisfied with their lowly status. He finished by exclaiming We are the policemen of the negroes. If we did not keep down their ambitions and divert them into religion they would be our people in the south. This preacher is not typical in his philosophy of extreme accommodation or in his intellectual clarity. But it is significant that he exists. Well I think we've pretty well made the point of the changing function of the Negro church and the church leadership but let's return now to the background of religious segregation. We have to keep in mind that the basic thing in that background is the simple fact that very very often the negro was not wanted in the white church and knew it. The founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church around the end of the 18th century was accomplished by a negro who had experienced discrimination in the white church he had been attending so it has gone generally more or less in this fashion. Today there is some Farman going on in the white churches this seems to be an increasing wonder about the compatibility of
segregation policy and that he runs to Christianity. The Catholic Church has been taking a forthright stand on the matter frowning on segregation in churches the Federal Council of Churches now known as the National Council of Churches of Christ in America pledges to its constituent denominations in 1946 to work for a non segregated church in a segregated society which is surely some kind of indication of a Protestant bias at the national level leading Protestant theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr allow no doubt of this nine which is on ambiguously anti segregationist anti segregation literature is being written by clergymen who are well informed on various facets of the racial problem. A good example of this is a recent volume by Caro has all done on the racial problem in question perspective. You know this is all accompanied by great difficulties at local levels men do stand in danger of losing their pulpits if they come out forthrightly against segregation in the churches. And some have already lost their pulpits. The idea of desegregation in the
churches is now for many in the South and for that matter in the north as well. A relatively novel one. Also we've given some stress in this program to how much this church is meant to the negro. I don't think there's any doubt that the negro wants to feel free to go where pleases him to go wants to feel free to attend white churches if he is so inclined. And what at least at times welcome the opportunity to do so when the mood comes upon. Nevertheless I can conceive that the Negro may well continue for some time to show strong adherence to his own churches. I hope this won't be misunderstood and I trust I'm being perfectly clear on the point that the Negroes do not want prejudice or discrimination to be shown them in this area any more than any other. Again it's not so much the desire of the Negro to become a part an intimate part of the white community as it is his desire to meet no prejudice or discrimination from members of that community. At this point I'd like to revert to the comment by H Richard Niebuhr which I mentioned at the beginning of today's program to the effect that the churches have been unable to weave a
single garment of Christ to fit the seamless Vester of his spirit. This is sometimes brought home to us with special poignancy. I'd like us to listen for a moment to the reverend Diane Whitsitt an Alabama pastor with whom I spoke about the segregation problem in the church. In the summer of 1988 Reverend Whitsitt statement serves to remind us of something that I think we need to be constantly reminded of namely that American action in relation to the negro in any sphere is likely to be attended to by people in the most remote parts of the world. An annual conference met in Montgomery about three years ago and passed a resolution of holding segregation the very next day. That story was printed on the front page of one of the largest newspapers in Southern Rhodesia. I heard from that missionary she was from Alabama and she stated this in her letter that the people with whom she worked came to her with this news account and said Why is it that you tell
us about Christ and that we are one in him but your own church in Alabama has passed a resolution that our people cannot even worship with you. And the missionary said I I frankly had no answer. I had no answer. And then last one last February I had a return missionary from to speak from my in my pulpit here. He is now retired and come back to the States to lay out when he related an incident in a nearby state where there was a large settlement of Chinese but the nearest church would not allow one of the Chinese to come in and worship with them. And then he said in most of your churches you would not permit one negro to come in and worship with you. But what impressed me was when he bowed his head and said My God have I given my life in vain. I spent
17 years in China in the Far East and three years on Africa telling those people that God was the father of us all and that we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and then I come to my own home. And find that we do not practice what we preach. Now that's bound he related that story that's bound to be affective in our own minds and hearts when we see the inconsistency. There are reverberations in the world or in the United States itself there's undoubtedly an process of change in respect to the Negro problem. Perhaps we can do no better as regards this present program them to end it with a repetition of a phrase that Myrtle used in 1944 which most certainly has as much force today as when he employed it. It is very short and to the point. The negro protesters still rising when one hears a portion of a speech such as we heard a few minutes ago from the Reverend borders. The impression that this statement is true is surely reinforced today than it seems clear that the negro increasingly no more wants discrimination against him in the church than anywhere else.
His protest definitely extends to this field and the protest is receiving support at the very least at the level of the principles and resolutions of nationally important white church bodies. Once more it appears that major national agencies in this case not the government but the churches are in principle dedicated to the negroes cause. We invite you to join us again next week as we continue to discuss the Negro in America the last citizen. Let me ask a reality program Iraq Governor Rick Scott the last set of this program was produced on record right now would you put a university. Under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Shack. Again just for the good night.
- Last citizen
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Guest: Dietz, Paul
Guest: Borders, William Holmes, 1905-1993
Guest: Whitsett, Daniel
Host: Schneider, Louis
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