By David W. Marshall | Trice Edney Wire
OPINION (TriceEdneyWire.com) – The first Gallup poll which measured church membership in 1937, resulted in 73 percent of adult Americans confirming they had some type of religious affiliation. While membership remained around 70 percent during the next six decades, those who claimed to have a church affiliation fell below 50 percent for the first time last year in 2020. It is now at 47 percent. And with the overall decrease, the relevancy of Christianity, including the Black church, is being questioned even more. But those who always expressed ill will against the Black community will never question the relevancy of the Black church or its pastors.
There are many reasons behind the burning of a Black church, past or present. In the year Alabama Gov. George Wallace made his famous “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech, he also gave a very alarming newspaper interview. Wallace made it clear that Alabama needed a “few first class funerals” to stop racial integration. One week later, four young girls were killed and more people were injured during the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham.
Hours after Barack Obama’s election as president, a predominantly Black church was torched in Springfield, Mass. Historically, Black men and women have shown a tremendous amount of resilience in the face of racial adversity. Even with the inhumane brutality of slavery, they endured and advanced.
The countless number of massacres occurring around the Reconstruction era were vicious assaults on Black lives and property. Most of them were meant to hold back Black men and women from full citizenship, voting rights, land ownership, economic prosperity, education, freedom of the press and labor rights. Despite the arsons, violent attacks and murders, as a people they were able to overcome the persistent obstacles thrown at them. Despite the lynching and social injustices suffered during the Jim Crow and segregation era, they still continued to prevail and achieve.
One generation after the next has experienced the ability to spring back after major setbacks. Through emotional pain, we have seen the ability to adapt and withstand cruel hardships. We also see the frustration and even desperation on the part of those who continue to resist any form of racial progress and equality. Throughout four hundred years, white supremacy in America has been intimidated by the strength and determination of Black men and women as well as the Black church.
The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina is one of the oldest Black churches in the United States. It has a historic past very similar to the 16th Street Baptist Church. During the nineteenth-century, the Black church was more than just a house of worship. Due to limited options resulting from segregation, Black church facilities were gathering places which served as community centers, temporary schools, political halls and concert halls. They played a major part in the political, social and spiritual life of the community. Therefore, the Black church facility became a target of hate based on animosity toward the Black race.
In 2015, Emanuel AME Church was the location of the Charleston church massacre. Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, walked into the church during Bible study and 45 minutes later he opened fire during the closing prayer. Nine church members were killed. Roof told one of the survivors he spared her life so she can tell the world he was killing worshippers at Emanuel AME because he hated Black people. Forgiveness is a core value of the Christian faith. During the bond hearing, several family members of the victims told Dylann Roof they forgave him. While everyone was not as forgiving, the powerful message of forgiveness united the community.
The murder trial in Brunswick, GA for three white men charged with Ahmaud Arbery’s killing is showing the nation a valuable lesson. Kevin Gough, a defense attorney in the trial understands the symbolism and tradition of the Black church and Black pastors. The same is true for Dylann Roof. Roof hated Black people and chose the church as the venue to kill them while making his cruel statement. Traditionally, the church is seen as the symbol of moral strength and support within the Black community.
So, it is no surprise that the presence of Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson was unwanted by Kevin Gough. The defense attorney stated we didn’t want “any more Black pastors” sitting in the courtroom with Arbery’s family. He claimed their presence was “intimidating” the jury. Who was really intimidated? The jury or the attorney?
The sight of Black pastors standing up for justice while giving support to those who need it will never be irrelevant. Kevin Gough should have known better. When you are wrong in your efforts to remove one Black pastor, one hundred more will answer the call and come to his aid. That will always be the legacy of Black pastors. Now, tomorrow and forever.
David W. Marshall is founder of the faith based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America”. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com