Black Alumni Association Newsletter: September 2021
Celebrate! But Remember!
BY LEONARD EDLOE
On June 17, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed the bill which made June 19th a national holiday, Juneteenth. Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, and Black Independence Day has been celebrated since 1866.
Juneteenth was chosen as a day of celebration because the Emancipation Proclamation only technically freed slaves in the states that were in rebellion. Unless Union troops controlled the land where Black people were enslaved, those Black people remained in slavery. Enslaved people in states like Maryland and U.S. territories also remained in bondage. Even Robert E. Lee signing the surrender documents on April 9, 1865, did not bring the end to slavery for many. News did not travel as quickly as it does today. There were pockets of armed resistance; and in some areas, there was no one to force slaveholders to free their slaves.
There are two schools of thought on the situation that occurred in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Some say that the enslaved did not know that they were free. Others say that the enslaved knew that they had been freed, however, there was no one to enforce their federally mandated freedom.
On that day Major General Gordon Granger, commander of the United States Army of the Federal District of Texas, arrived at Galveston and issued General Order #3 which stated that all slaves are free. The next part of the order, I feel, was not what God intended. For the freedmen were advised to remain at their homes, on the plantation, and work for wages. While the newly freed slaves had not been promised a “Physical Promise Land”, returning to the place where they had endured years of suffering, had to further compound the trauma they had experienced.
As slaves, our ancestors had embraced the Exodus story and prayed that God would deliver them, just as God had delivered the Hebrew Children from having been dealt with unjustly. The Hebrew slaves had been delivered from the whip; being forced to work from sun-up to sundown; from can see to can’t see! They had been delivered from having their bodies sexually abused while at the same time having been looked at with disgust and dread. However, the more they were oppressed, the more their numbers increased. A ruling went out from Pharaoh that all male children were to be killed. These are the acts that are recorded in the Bible. However, because people have a way of suppressing pain caused by trauma, there were probably many other atrocities the Hebrew Children endured that are not recorded.
God delivered the Hebrews so that they could go to a place called the Promised Land. And while our ancestors did not have a place to go, they should have had a peace of mind that could have served as their promised land. Going back to the plantation, in this writer’s opinion, was not deliverance.
When the Hebrews were delivered, these words can be found in Exodus 12:14: “This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation for all time.” Since our African American ancestors embraced the Hebrew story, we should celebrate. However, we should also remember.
Remember, because we were delivered from the same traumatic experiences, and more. Not just during slavery, but after we were freed our families were torn apart: husbands and wives were separated; children were taken from their mothers, and even for those who had paid for their freedom or were born free, they had their freedom taken away. Others lived in fear after Reconstruction and during the years from 1865 until the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Bills of 1964 and 1965; because of Jim and Jane Crow. Violence was inflicted upon anyone who dared to be free, or as a warning to anyone thinking about being free!
Our story is one that has been suppressed. Suppressed in institutions of higher learning and religious institutions, many of whom embraced a theology that endorsed slavery and marginalized and negated us as a people. Culture enforced what the institutions suppressed even though, in the 1800s, we had books that spoke to our struggles like David Walker’s Appeal. The 1900s produced many great thinkers, the likes of W.E.B. Dubois and Carter G. Woodson whose works were published. The 21st Century introduced a flood of writings on both our history and racism. However, as the resources that tell our story have increased, they have also given us more to remember. The truth-telling of the history of this nation and calling out white supremacy has resulted in attacks. Attacks labeling truth as Cancer Culture while Critical Race Theory has been turned into something that it is not and used to stir up the emotions of the uninformed.
This attack and the fact that while all 50 Republican Senators voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday, those same Senators voted against a bill that would have guaranteed voting rights. That contradiction makes me question their motives. Did they vote to make Juneteenth a national holiday so that in celebrating, we would forget? Forget what we, as a people, have gone through. Forget, what the Lord has delivered us from.
If so, this would not be the first time distractions have been used to keep our eyes off the prize. Emerson B. Powery and Rodney S. Sadler in their book The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation Narratives of the Enslaved, point out how some enslavers encouraged gambling, drinking, and organized fighting so that their slaves would not remember the pain of the preceding week. Albert J. Raboteau in his book Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South also points out how many slaves who had no religion showed up at the religious camp meeting to be merry. Even though these were religious gatherings, large amounts of whiskey was sold at these meetings, and people were allowed to play cards so that they would forget their pain. Celebration has been used for years to keep us from remembering.
Not only has celebration kept us from remembering, it has kept us from keeping our eyes on the prize. As we celebrated the election of the first black president, others were at work structuring procedures to block many of the planned initiatives of the newly elected Black president.
Celebrating without remembering disrespects not only our ancestors, it shows no respect for what God did for us as a people. Celebrate Juneteenth every year but remember.
For the One, many of us say we follow celebrated freedom from physical slavery when He celebrated The Passover just as commanded in Exodus. In His final celebration of Passover that has become what we Christians call the Sacrament of Holy Communion is our celebration of freedom from sin and death.
As Christians, let us on a regular basis, not only celebrate freedom from sin and death but the suffering of Jesus on a hill called Calvary!
Let us also celebrate Juneteenth and remember. Remember what our ancestors endured and how God delivered us. Remember by picking up one of the many books today that tell our story. Books like The Color of Compromise, The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby; After Whiteness, An Education in Belonging, by Willie James Jennings; White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, by Anthea Butler; and Lynched, The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror by fellow alumnus Angela D. Sims. Some should even do as I have done — placed many of these books in the library of the Church where I serve as pastor. We cannot wait for others to tell our stories. We must tell our stories ourselves. We must also teach our story to our youth and make sure our youth teach this same story to the next generation, no matter how painful the reading might be.
We must also embrace one other aspect of the Exodus story – The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were interpreted to our ancestors as a legal document – a legal document where punishment would be inflicted on them by both God and man. While I feel God gave the Hebrews these commandments as a tool to build community, God knows people who have experienced oppression have the custom of picking up the habits of their oppressors. The Hebrews built community, the same community that anyone who interacts with Jews still see today. So, as we celebrate. As we remember. As a people we need to embrace the Ten Commandments and build community; because regardless of our academic degrees or titles, or lack of degrees or titles, we are all in the same boat. Maybe in building community, we will stop doing the things we do to each other that are so destructive while we celebrate and remember!
BY AUDREY TODD
Never thought we’d be here
Forward, then backward
Fights on flights
Mental health jeopardized
Assaults to the soul
No one escapes
There are many on the street whose needs I would like to meet.
A little old lady struggling with bags feels threatened when someone extends a hand.
A man who’s hungry, why don’t we feed him?
A woman strung out can’t be approached, for fear of harm coming to you. A brother with a Glock and a package, killing another brother and innocent children.
The number lost who knows.
What has this world become?
A world where one has to question if it’s safe to be kind.
Hatred has a cost!
The cost is high
Why have we let so many die?
Erosion of safety, sensitivity and self.
The answer to many ills.
It’s not pills or powder or merely paid bills.
It’s One who died on a hill.
Wounded for our transgressions,
Bruised for our iniquities.
The cost of hate is high.
It’s He who said, love your neighbor as yourself.
The cost of love is greater
It was borne by the One who came, the One who died and rose again. Help us.
Love is the answer!
Present, active and bold.
Lord give us the courage to love. Love never erodes.
Often, we are confronted with persons and circumstances that literally blow our mind! It does not matter your station nor occupation in life – teacher or preacher, doctor or lawyer, ground transportation driver or airline pilot, restaurateur, or food truck owner. There are people or things that trigger situations that literally throw us off balance, but God! During this pandemic of more than one year, our physical health, emotional, psychological, and financial wellbeing have often been in jeopardy. This pandemic has impacted every nation and people, every socioeconomic stratum, the old and the young have all been impacted. This pandemic has also forced us to view, up close, the inequities experienced by the poor and disenfranchised, people of color, those living in food deserts, and those who cannot afford housing of any kind and are homeless; living on the rims of interstate highway systems and in tents in the woods. God is telling us something; the question is: “Are you listening?”
God through the power of the Holy Spirit steadies us, grounds us, holds our hand, and says to us: “Don’t’ worry; I’ve got you”, no matter the person, circumstances, or situation. We are not the first to have this experience; neither will we be the last. As the seasons and circumstances in our lives transition, we must hold on to the promises of God, and not just for ourselves and our families. What our eyes have seen cannot be unseen! Whether we close our eyes or look the other way, images of others suffering from hunger, lack of shelter, joblessness still exist…What must we do? What must I do? Moses addressed the people of Israel while preparing them to cross into the Promised Land. This 120-year-old leader had been told by God that he would not cross the Jordan River, but Moses gave explicit directives to the people of God, detailing who would lead and helping them to grasp the power, infinite love, and guidance of their God! “Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, Your God, is striding ahead of you. (God) is right there with you. (God) won’t let you down; (God) won’t leave you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 The Message) That same God is with us today, no matter the circumstances. That same God is with us, not just making our lives easy, that God is with us to strengthen us to serve and care for humanity, not just those we know and love; not just those who look like us, not just those who live like us, but we are gifted and blessed to care for all of creation. Seek God for direction and purpose in this season! “Are you listening?”
*M.Div., MACE, Union-PSCE, Richmond ‘06
Black Lives Matter: July 4th, 2021
BY WILLIAM R. FREEMAN
I just returned home from a Worship service at the local church where I serve as the part-time retired pastor. As a retired United Methodist Elder, this is the fourth local church that my wife and I have served in the twenty years since I graduated from Union Theological seminary in 2001.
As is my usual practice on Sunday afternoons, I fix my lunch, grab the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch, and try to relax by first reading the sports section. However, today being the fourth of July, as I separated the sections of the paper, the commentary & business section caught my attention with the headline, The Promise of Liberty. If that wasn’t enough, under that in bold black letters was: IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776.
Right there, on the front page of this Commentary and Business Section was an article written by Leslie Greene Bowman, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, followed by a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence that declared that from that date forward the thirteen individual states, which we now know as The United States of America included African enslaved persons.
Ms. Bowman begins her article with those immortal words penned by the 33-year-old Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Ms. Bowman also writes . . . “there were flaws in that promise of liberty that haunt us to this day. We know that Jefferson, like most of his contemporaries, did not envision a nation where enslaved African Americans, or women, or Native Americans, would live with him as equals.” To put this in proper perspective, 41 of the 56 who signed this Declaration of Independence were white male slave owners.
Reading this article caused me to remember the speech Frederick Douglass gave on July 5, 1852, at an event held in Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The heading of the Historical Document from which this information is taken is, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” in 1852. It was a biting oratory, in which Douglass told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Douglass asked those who had gathered, “Do you mean citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Then Mr. Douglass went on to give what historian Philip Sheldon Foner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.”
“What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-giving, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
The sad epilogue is that today, July 4, 2021, unless men and women of good faith in the Congress of the United States of America (House and Senate) act to pass corrective legislation, Black, Brown, Red and Yellow Americans are in the process of losing the rights won by our fore-fathers with their blood, sweat, tears, and deaths. At age 81 this preacher can remember as a young boy, tall clean water fountains in Alabama that said “white only”; and short dirty water fountains that said, “colored only!” Toilets, hotels, busses, and trains; everything was segregated. When I asked my grandmother, why? Her answer was, “That’s the way it is!”
Well, as a Christian pastor, I say, “I don’t believe “That’s the way it is!” And, I certainly don’t believe, God brought us this far to leave us now!”
To God be the Glory!!
* M.A. Goddard College; Union-PSCE, M.Div.,’01
BY VERONICA THOMAS
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Today’s passage comes from a longer section of Hebrews concerning the need for us to have faith. It defines what faith is, and shows some examples of faith in action. To have faith and to live by faith, we need to be clear about what faith is and what a life of faith looks like. God is looking for a faith that honors him.
Abraham demonstrated a faith that believed without encouragement from others (Genesis 18:9-15). The Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22-28) and Noah (Hebrews 11:7) demonstrated a faith that believed without previous experience. The Nobleman of Capernaum demonstrated a faith that believed without hurrying to prove (John 4:47-53). It is this calm, unswerving steadiness that marks mutual faith.
Faith does not mean merely believing that God exists. Faith does not mean holding on to what we know is not true. Faith does not say: “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.” There is no conflict between science and religion. Science deals with the questions of what and how, while religion deals with the questions of who and why. Faith is not mere wishful thinking. Believing something strongly enough doesn’t make it true if it is false. By wishful thinking, we cannot make things the way we want them to be.
Faith is trust in God. We take him at his word. What he says, he will do. Faith involves a personal relationship with God. Faith has nothing to do with something which is not there, but something which is there although we cannot see it. The incident that gave Andrew Fuller, the English theologian, his text for the famous sermon on faith preached to the Northamptonshire Association is full of illuminations. There had been heavy rain. The rivers were flooded, and at one crossing Fuller, who was riding on horseback, hesitated. A farmer watching him, shouted, “Go on, sir, you are safe.” Fuller urged his horse into the water, but when it rose to the saddle it stopped again. “Go on, sir; all is right!” came the voice, and Fuller found in a few places that the water shallowed. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” But our walk is on solid ground, though it is hidden from us. It is a particular interpretation we give to evidence we are dealing with which is consistent with the facts. For us to have faith means to live and die in the same kind of relationship that Abraham and Sarah had with God.
Faith in no way insults anyone’s intelligence, nor forces anyone to compromise his intellectual honesty. Faith asks nothing from us which a conscious person would need to hesitate to give. God’s kind of faith, unswerving faith is not based upon the senses, which yield uncertainty, but rather on the word of God. We have faith, because of the cross, that brought us eternal life.
There is an easy, practical way to faith. A minister said to an evangelist who was holding services in his church: “I have no faith in this matter, but I see it in the Word of God and I am going to act on God’s word, no matter how I feel.” The evangelist replied, “Why, that is faith! The Word of God is the secret of faith. ”Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” We do not attain or achieve faith; we simply receive it as we read God’s word. Many a child of God is failing to enjoy God’s richest blessings in Christ because we fail to receive the gift of faith. We look within ourselves for some quality that will enable us to believe, instead of “looking unto Jesus” who is “the author and finisher of our faith.” If our faith were but more simple, we would take him at his word.”
Little Charlie said, “Mother what is it to believe in Jesus?” Her response was, “To think that he loves you, that he died for you, that he cares for you.” Charlie stopped playing with his toys, and was still. His mother said, “What are you doing?” The child said: “Believing on Jesus.” Like little Charlie, let us often pause and reflect, believe on Jesus, his life and God’s blessings that we will maintain an unwavering faith in the triune God.
The songwriter declares: “Faith of our fathers living still, we will be true to thee until death.” Let us respond to the Word of God, Amen. So be it.
*MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University ’73; M.Div., Union-PSCE ’07
Stewardship, a Principle of Christian Living
BY HELEN BESSENT BYRD
When God created all humankind he gave dominion or power over all of God’s other creation (Gen. 1:28). God’s Word says, ”Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2), accountable and faithful. The idea of stewardship means showing responsibility to someone greater than we are. We are situated in this world in a place of responsibility. We are responsible to God. A person who works for an employer or company is responsible to that employer or company. The employee is expected to maintain the brand’s image, name and reputation. Similarly, a child is responsible to his family. He is not to disgrace the name; he is to keep the family name unsullied, unsoiled, and undamaged.
All things, every single thing on earth, really belong to God. These include all human beings of every variation of ability, all living things (all plants and animals), the environment, all material goods, currency, and other indices of value. All of these things belong to God and are simply entrusted by God to our care.
Stewardship is not only essential for the health and vitality of the church but stewardship is the number one component of our individual identity and spirituality. It is the principle of Christian living. The major element of stewardship is not only amassing and holding the goods and blessings of God; it is also, and more significantly, giving and distributing the goods and blessings of God. As Paul writes in his letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, God is not bogus or fake. He deals with each of us individually. And you reap what you sow. If you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly; if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so by always having enough of everything, you can always share abundantly in every good work. So church, whenever we have the opportunity, remember to work for the good of all (2 Cor. 9:6-9; Gal. 6:7-10). You reap what you sow!
See the Union website for giving opportunities. When you give, write BAA on the line with your name if you give online and on the memo line of your check for tracking purposes.
*M.Ed., Temple University ’65; M.Div., Union-PSCE ’07; Ph.D., UConn ’72