How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

How a heritage of black preaching shaped MLK’s voice in calling for justice

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March on Washington in 1963.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty images

The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama mentioned King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,

“[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial…to speak of his dream.”

Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.

King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of a present and active divine interventionist who summons preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression and neglect abound.
In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – the hopeful voice that begins in prayer and attends to human tragedy.

So what led to the rise of the black preacher and shaped King’s prophetic voice?

In my book, “The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching,” I discuss the historical formation of the black preacher. My work on African American prophetic preaching shows that King’s clarion calls for justice were offspring of earlier prophetic preaching that flowered as a consequence of the racism in the U.S.

From slavery to the Great Migration

First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural and political challenges that gave birth to the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the community’s blessing and beyond the church proper.

In slave society, black preachers played an important role in the community: they acted as seers interpreting the significance of events; as pastors calling for unity and solidarity; and as messianic figures provoking the first stirrings of resentment against oppressors.

The religious revivalism or the Great Awakening of the 18th century brought to America a Bible-centered brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early 19th century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.

This new movement made Christianity more accessible, livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status.

Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.

Rise of the black cleric-politician

Despite the development of black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans.

As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black ministers preached to their own. Some became bivocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as schoolteachers and administrators during the work week.

Others held important political positions. Altogether, 16 African Americans served in the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.

Others, such as former slave and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels and Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.

To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this era, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.

The cradle of King’s spiritual heritage

Many other events converged as well, impacting black life that would later influence King’s prophetic vision: President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917; as “boll weevils” ravaged crops in 1916 there was widespread agricultural depression; and then there was the rise of Jim Crow laws that were to legally enforce racial segregation until 1965.

Such tide-swelling events, in multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great “Black” Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to Northern communities between 1916 and 1940.

Records of immigration and passenger arrivals during the Great Migration stored at the National Archives in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern black churches were unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed preexisting operations.

The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration and the racial hatred they had escaped drove many clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible.

However, black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centers for black self-improvement focused on job training, home economics classes and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons. These sermons exalted the virtues of humility, good will and patience, as they had in the South.

Setting the prophetic tradition

Three clergy outliers – one a woman – initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task.

Baptist pastor Adam C. Powell Sr., the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) pastor Florence S. Randolph and the African Methodist Episcopal bishop Reverdy C. Ransom spoke to human tragedy, both in and out of the black church. They brought a distinctive form of prophetic preaching that united spiritual transformation with social reform and confronted black dehumanization.

Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s “silk-stocking church” Bethel A.M.E. – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.

Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious and social needs of blacks.

A March 9, 1965 file photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. King learned from these progressive black preachers who came before him.
AP Photo, File

Shaping of King’s vision

The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have profound impact on King’s moral and ethical vision. They linked the vision of Jesus Christ as stated in the Bible of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming liberty to the captives, with the Hebrew prophet’s mandate of speaking truth to power.

Similar to how they responded to the complex challenges brought on by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King brought prophetic interpretation to brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately invited his martyrdom. But through the prophetic preaching tradition already well established by his time, King brought people of every tribe, class and creed closer toward forming “God’s beloved community” – an anchor of love and hope for humankind.

This is an updated version of a piece first published on Jan. 15, 2017.

[ Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter. ]

Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to state that President Woodrow Wilson declared entrance into World War I in 1917.The Conversation

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Professor of Homiletics, Howard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MLK’s vision of love as a moral imperative still matters

MLK’s vision of love as a moral imperative still matters

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at interfaith civil rights rally, San Francisco’s Cow Palace, June 30, 1964. George Conklin

Fifty-two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the United States remains divided by issues of race and racism, economic inequality as well as unequal access to justice. These issues are stopping the country from developing into the kind of society that Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for during his years as a civil rights activist.

As a result King’s words and work are still relevant. I study the civil rights movement and the field of peace geographies. Peace geographies thinks about how different groups of people approach and work toward building the kind of peaceful society King worked to create. Americans faced similar crises related to the broader civil rights struggles in the 1960s.

So, what can the past tell us about healing the nation? Specifically, how can we address divisions along race, class and political lines?

Martin Luther King Jr.‘s understanding of the role of love in engaging individuals and communities in conflict is crucial today. For King, love was not sentimental. It demanded that individuals tell their oppressors what they were doing was wrong.

King’s vision

King spent his public career working toward ending segregation and fighting racial discrimination. For many people the pinnacle of this work occurred in Washington, D.C., when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Less well-known and often ignored is his later work on behalf of poor people. In fact, when King was assassinated in Memphis he was in the midst of building toward a national march on Washington, D.C., that would have brought together tens of thousands of economically disenfranchised people to advocate for policies that would reduce poverty. This effort – known as the “Poor People’s Campaign” – aimed to dramatically shift national priorities to address the health and welfare of working people.

Scholars such as Derek Alderman, Paul Kingsbury and Owen Dwyer how King’s work can be applied in today’s context. They argue that calling attention to the civil rights movement, can “change the way students understand themselves in relation to the larger project of civil rights.” And in understanding the civil rights movement, students and the broader public can see its contemporary significance.

Idea of love

King focused on the role of love as key to building healthy communities and the ways in which love can and should be at the center of our social interactions.

King’s final book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” published in the year before his assassination, provides his most expansive vision of an inclusive, diverse and economically equitable U.S. nation. For King, love is a key part of creating communities that work for everyone and not just the few at the expense of the many.

Love was not a mushy or easily dismissed emotion, but was central to the kind of community he envisioned. King made distinctions between three forms of love which are key to the human experience: “eros,” “philia” and most importantly “agape.”

For King, eros is a form of love that is most closely associated with desire, while philia is often the love that is experienced between very good friends or family. These visions are different from agape.

Agape, which was at the center of the movement he was building, was the moral imperative to engage with one’s oppressor in a way that showed the oppressor the ways their actions dehumanize and detract from society. He said,

“In speaking of love we are not referring to some sentimental emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense[…] When we speak of loving those who oppose us […] we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”

King further defined agape when he argued at the University of California at Berkeley that the concept of agape “stands at the center of the movement we are to carry on in the Southland.” It was a love that demanded that one stand up for oneself and tells those who oppress that what they were doing was wrong.

Why this matters now

In the face of violence directed at minority communities and of deepening political divisions in the country, King’s words and philosophy are perhaps more critical for us today than at any point in the recent past.

As King noted, all persons exist in an interrelated community and all are dependent on each other. By connecting love to community, King argued there were opportunities to build a more just and economically sustainable society which respected difference. As he said,

“Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community… Therefore if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavages of a broken community.”

King outlined a vision in which we are compelled to work toward making our communities inclusive. They reflect the broad values of equality and democracy. Through an engagement with one another as its foundation, agape provides opportunities to work toward common goals.

Building a community today

At a time when the nation feels so divided, there is a need to bring back King’s vision of agape-fueled community building and begin a difficult conversation about where we are as a nation and where we want to go. It would move us past simply seeing the other side as being wholly motivated by hate.

Engaging in a conversation through agape signals a willingness to restore broken communities and to approach differences with an open mind.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Nov. 16, 2016.

Joshua F.J. Inwood is a member of the American Association of GeographersThe Conversation

The association is a funding partner of The Conversation US.

Joshua F.J. Inwood, Associate Professor of Geography Senior Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Everyone Should Know About Reconstruction

What Everyone Should Know About Reconstruction

Many African Americans made education a high priority after the Civil War.National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six decades after the time of enslavement. To me, this comment underscored how closely Americans associate black history with slavery.

While shocked, I knew this mistaken belief reflected the lack of time, depth and breadth schools devote to black history. Most students get limited information and context about what African Americans have experienced since our ancestors arrived here four centuries ago. Without independent study, most adults aren’t up to speed either.

For instance, what do you know about Reconstruction?

I’m excited about new resources for teaching children, and everyone else, more about the history of slavery through The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” But based on my experience teaching social studies and my current work preparing social studies educators, I also consider understanding what happened during the Reconstruction essential for exploring black power, resilience and excellence.

During that complex period after the Civil War, African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. I share the concerns many writers, historians and other scholars are raising about the shortcomings of what schoolchildren traditionally learn
about Reconstruction in school. Here are some suggestions for educators and others interested in learning more about that time period.

Reconstruction amendments

As most students do learn, the U.S. gained three constitutional amendments that extended civil and political rights to newly freed African Americans following the Civil War.

The 13th, ratified in 1865, banned slavery and involuntary servitude except for the punishment of a crime.

The 14th, ratified three years later, granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all people born in the United States, as well as naturalized citizens – including all previously enslaved individuals.

Then, the 15th Amendment asserted that neither the federal government nor state governments could deny voting rights to any male citizen.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870. The anniversary is a good opportunity to learn about how the amendment was supposed to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

African Americans celebrated the 15th Amendment’s ratification.
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

African American politicians

What few history and social studies classes explore is how these changes to the Constitution made it possible for African American men to use their newfound political power to gain representation.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator, represented Mississippi in 1870 after the state’s Senate elected him. He was among the 16 black men from seven southern states who served in Congress during Reconstruction.

Revels and his colleagues were only part of the story. All told, about 2,000 African Americans held public office at some level of government during Reconstruction.

White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, black voters and legislators. They thus made the accomplishments of African American politicians even more impressive as they served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence.

The first African American members of Congress were elected after the Civil War.Currier and Ives via the Library of Congress

Black activist women

African American women technically gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. However, their constitutional right was limited in many states due to discriminatory laws.

Mary Church Terrell, an educator, fought for the rights of women of color.National Archives Docs Teach collection

Many black women were activists and women’s suffrage movement leaders. Through public speaking, prolific writing and developing organizations dedicated to racial and and gender equality, they fought for equal rights and dignity for all.

Among the black women who were activists during Reconstruction were
the five Rollins sisters of South Carolina, who fought for female voting rights; Maria Stewart, an outspoken abolitionist before the Civil War and suffragist once it ended; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper, one of the first black female lawyers in the country and an advocate for granting women the right to vote.

Other women of color who played key roles in the suffrage movement included Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights advocate who raised awareness of lynching, and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women.

Higher education

Before the Civil War, many states made teaching enslaved individuals to read a crime. Education quickly became a top priority for black Americans once slavery ended.

While northern, largely white philanthropists and missionary groups and the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, did help create new educational opportunities, the African American public schools established after the Civil War ended were largely built and staffed by the black community.

Many new institutions of higher education, now called Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs, began to operate during Reconstruction.

These schools trained black people to become teachers and ministers, doctors and nurses. They also prepared African Americans for careers in industrial and agricultural fields.

Public and private HBCUs founded during Reconstruction and still operating today include Howard University in Washington, D.C., Hampton University in Virginia, Alabama State University, Morehouse College in Georgia and Morgan State University in Maryland. These colleges and universities train a disproportionate share of black doctors and other professionals even today.

Morehouse graduates from the class of 2013 celebrated in the rain when President Obama delivered their commencement address.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Historical experiences

Storytelling, multimedia experiences and trips to historic sites and creative museums help get people of any age interested in learning about history.

Depending on where you live, you may want to embark on a family outing or school field trip.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has a new permanent exhibit on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, contains artifacts from the Reconstruction era. It’s also making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the names of formerly enslaved individuals following the Civil War, available online.

Another option is the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

I also recommend watching the PBS documentaries about Reconstruction by the scholar and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. and reading the young adult book Gates co-authored with children’s nonfiction writer Tonya Bolden about the era. Gates has also compiled a Reconstruction reading list for adults.

In addition, the organization Teaching for Change curates a booklist on Reconstruction for middle and high school students. And the Zinn Education Project Teach Reconstruction Campaign offers a variety of resources including readings, primary sources and even lesson plans.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.‘s documentary series delves into the history of what happened in America after the Civil War.

An incomplete transition

As the renowned black scholar W.E.B. DuBois observed, racist laws and violent tactics in many states actively limited black freedom.

“The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery,” he explained.

This was by no means voluntary. Intimidated and threatened by black enfranchisement and excellence in the era of Reconstruction, white supremacists attempted to enforce subordination through violence, such as lynching; and in systemic ways through Jim Crow laws. African Americans continued to assert their civil and constitutional rights as activists, politicians, business owners, teachers and farmers in the midst of white supremacist backlash.

With the latest voter suppression efforts restricting access to the ballot box for voters of color and the resurgence of racist violence and vitriol today, DuBois’ words sound eerily familiar. At the same time it’s reassuring to recall how quickly formerly enslaved African Americans made their way to schoolhouses and public offices.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies, West Virginia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Everyone Should Know About Reconstruction

What Everyone Should Know About Reconstruction

Many African Americans made education a high priority after the Civil War.National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six decades after the time of enslavement. To me, this comment underscored how closely Americans associate black history with slavery.

While shocked, I knew this mistaken belief reflected the lack of time, depth and breadth schools devote to black history. Most students get limited information and context about what African Americans have experienced since our ancestors arrived here four centuries ago. Without independent study, most adults aren’t up to speed either.

For instance, what do you know about Reconstruction?

I’m excited about new resources for teaching children, and everyone else, more about the history of slavery through The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” But based on my experience teaching social studies and my current work preparing social studies educators, I also consider understanding what happened during the Reconstruction essential for exploring black power, resilience and excellence.

During that complex period after the Civil War, African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. I share the concerns many writers, historians and other scholars are raising about the shortcomings of what schoolchildren traditionally learn
about Reconstruction in school. Here are some suggestions for educators and others interested in learning more about that time period.

Reconstruction amendments

As most students do learn, the U.S. gained three constitutional amendments that extended civil and political rights to newly freed African Americans following the Civil War.

The 13th, ratified in 1865, banned slavery and involuntary servitude except for the punishment of a crime.

The 14th, ratified three years later, granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all people born in the United States, as well as naturalized citizens – including all previously enslaved individuals.

Then, the 15th Amendment asserted that neither the federal government nor state governments could deny voting rights to any male citizen.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870. The anniversary is a good opportunity to learn about how the amendment was supposed to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

African Americans celebrated the 15th Amendment’s ratification.
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

African American politicians

What few history and social studies classes explore is how these changes to the Constitution made it possible for African American men to use their newfound political power to gain representation.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American senator, represented Mississippi in 1870 after the state’s Senate elected him. He was among the 16 black men from seven southern states who served in Congress during Reconstruction.

Revels and his colleagues were only part of the story. All told, about 2,000 African Americans held public office at some level of government during Reconstruction.

White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, black voters and legislators. They thus made the accomplishments of African American politicians even more impressive as they served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence.

The first African American members of Congress were elected after the Civil War.Currier and Ives via the Library of Congress

Black activist women

African American women technically gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. However, their constitutional right was limited in many states due to discriminatory laws.

Mary Church Terrell, an educator, fought for the rights of women of color.National Archives Docs Teach collection

Many black women were activists and women’s suffrage movement leaders. Through public speaking, prolific writing and developing organizations dedicated to racial and and gender equality, they fought for equal rights and dignity for all.

Among the black women who were activists during Reconstruction were
the five Rollins sisters of South Carolina, who fought for female voting rights; Maria Stewart, an outspoken abolitionist before the Civil War and suffragist once it ended; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper, one of the first black female lawyers in the country and an advocate for granting women the right to vote.

Other women of color who played key roles in the suffrage movement included Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights advocate who raised awareness of lynching, and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women.

Higher education

Before the Civil War, many states made teaching enslaved individuals to read a crime. Education quickly became a top priority for black Americans once slavery ended.

While northern, largely white philanthropists and missionary groups and the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, better known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, did help create new educational opportunities, the African American public schools established after the Civil War ended were largely built and staffed by the black community.

Many new institutions of higher education, now called Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs, began to operate during Reconstruction.

These schools trained black people to become teachers and ministers, doctors and nurses. They also prepared African Americans for careers in industrial and agricultural fields.

Public and private HBCUs founded during Reconstruction and still operating today include Howard University in Washington, D.C., Hampton University in Virginia, Alabama State University, Morehouse College in Georgia and Morgan State University in Maryland. These colleges and universities train a disproportionate share of black doctors and other professionals even today.

Morehouse graduates from the class of 2013 celebrated in the rain when President Obama delivered their commencement address.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Historical experiences

Storytelling, multimedia experiences and trips to historic sites and creative museums help get people of any age interested in learning about history.

Depending on where you live, you may want to embark on a family outing or school field trip.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has a new permanent exhibit on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, contains artifacts from the Reconstruction era. It’s also making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the names of formerly enslaved individuals following the Civil War, available online.

Another option is the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

I also recommend watching the PBS documentaries about Reconstruction by the scholar and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr. and reading the young adult book Gates co-authored with children’s nonfiction writer Tonya Bolden about the era. Gates has also compiled a Reconstruction reading list for adults.

In addition, the organization Teaching for Change curates a booklist on Reconstruction for middle and high school students. And the Zinn Education Project Teach Reconstruction Campaign offers a variety of resources including readings, primary sources and even lesson plans.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.‘s documentary series delves into the history of what happened in America after the Civil War.

An incomplete transition

As the renowned black scholar W.E.B. DuBois observed, racist laws and violent tactics in many states actively limited black freedom.

“The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery,” he explained.

This was by no means voluntary. Intimidated and threatened by black enfranchisement and excellence in the era of Reconstruction, white supremacists attempted to enforce subordination through violence, such as lynching; and in systemic ways through Jim Crow laws. African Americans continued to assert their civil and constitutional rights as activists, politicians, business owners, teachers and farmers in the midst of white supremacist backlash.

With the latest voter suppression efforts restricting access to the ballot box for voters of color and the resurgence of racist violence and vitriol today, DuBois’ words sound eerily familiar. At the same time it’s reassuring to recall how quickly formerly enslaved African Americans made their way to schoolhouses and public offices.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies, West Virginia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.

Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.

Then you work all day, come home, eat something, unwind, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.

The Drum Major Instinct

As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”

It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.

When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This is our purpose.

Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?


A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe


Lyle’s Story

Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.

When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.

Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.

One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”

Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.

She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”

It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.

Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.

It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.

We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.