Category: “civil rights”

In Memoriam: Lawrence Guyot

Lawrence Guyot

By Alan Bean

I first learned about Lawrence Guyot from reading Taylor Branch’s celebrated Trilogy on the King Years.  His name came up again when I researched the background of the Curtis Flowers story.  Readers of this blog will know that Guyot, Fannie Lou Hamer and several other civil rights activists were beaten within an inch of their lives by men under the command of Sheriff Earl Wayne Patridge at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Winona, Mississippi in June of 1963.  Three decades later, Mr. Flowers was arrested on the basis of fabricated evidence for the 1996 slaying of four people at a Winona furniture store.

A little over a year ago, I had the chance to meet the man in the flesh when he spoke at an event in Cleveland, MS sponsored by the Samuel Procter Oral History Program at the University of Florida.  The civil rights icon seemed more interested in telling the students what they needed to do in the present moment than he was in sharing tidbits of civil rights nostalgia.  This September, my wife Nancy and I shared our story with the Florida students.

This New York Times story captures the essence of Guyot’s amazing saga.  There was nothing unusual about the man.  He was not particularly eloquent or brilliant; he just refused to back down in the face of injustice.  Without Lawrence Guyot’s brand of anonymous courage, the civil rights movement could not have succeeded. (more…)

A house divided still

By Alan Bean

Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” pulled in $34 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, third best behind the new Twilight and James Bond movies.  When I saw the film over the weekend, the audience  applauded as the credits rolled–something you don’t see very often.

The film,  loosely based on Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, is relentlessly historical.  Lincoln is portrayed as a bucolic Christ figure, but Spielberg stops short of turning The Great Emancipator into a comfortable citizen of the 21st Century.   Constitutional equality applied to Negroes, said Lincoln; that meant abolishing the slave trade in every corner of the Union and little else. (more…)

Haunted by America

By Alan Bean

It’s 3:41 am, but sleep eludes me.  I am haunted by America.

A few hours ago I walked from the Supreme Court building to the new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and back.  Along the way, I stopped by the Lincoln Memorial, wandering among the perennial tourists.  A pudgy white boy of nine or ten, stood on the steps beside me.  “Hey, Larry,” he called to his friend, “‘I have a dream.'”

Looking back across the reflecting pond to the Washington Memorial, I remembered that day, almost fifty years ago now, when Mahalia Jackson and Peter, Paul and Mary sang and Martin delivered his iconic speech.  The great divide in American politics and religion is between those who remember that day in 1963 with a aching veneration, and those who regard Martin’s Dream Speech with an odd mixture of respect, dread and discomfort.

I grew up with King’s speeches.  In my native Canada, the great civil rights leader was regarded as latter day prophet, a civil rights hero.  My generation of Canadian youth defined itself in opposition to America and its war in Vietnam.  We were impressed by America, a nation with ten times our population and fifty times our military and economic clout.  There was no sense that the great nation to the south meant us any harm.  But we were mystified by Jim Crow, and Vietnam, and cold war zealotry.  At the height of the civil rights movement, two teachers from my home town of Yellowknife in the Canadian Northwest Territories took a summer trip through the American South.  They told us of an encounter with a lovely woman in Georgia who made her Negro maids eat in the kitchen because it was improper for white and black people to share a meal.  Our teachers were appalled by such sentiments.

Canadians, of course, have our own species of bigotry but, like the woman from Georgia, we were largely blind to the sins that beset us. (more…)

Two conflicting explanations for the decline of the liberal Church

David Hollinger

By Alan Bean

The Christian Century has a fascinating interview with Berkeley Professor David Hollinger who argues that “ecumenical Protestants” (he intentionally avoids the word “liberal”) shifted American culture in positive directions because they were willing to go to the wall on issues like civil rights.

This view conflicts with Ross Douthat’s critique of liberal Christianity, expressed most recently in the New York Times’ Sunday Review that liberal denominations have declined numerically because they are “flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.”

Hollinger disagrees.  Ecumenical churches have suffered drastic numerical declines, to be sure, but for all the right reasons:

Ecumenical Protestants were way ahead of the evangelicals in accepting a role for sex beyond procreation and in supporting an expanded role for women in society. The ecumenical Protestants understood full well that the Jim Crow system could not be overturned without the application of state power, rejecting the standard line of Billy Graham and many other evangelicals that racism was an individual sin rather than a civil evil. The ecumenical Protestants developed a capacity for empathic identification with foreign peoples that led them to revise their foreign missionary project, diminishing its culturally imperialist aspects—and that led them, further, to the forefront of ethnoracially pluralist and egalitarian initiatives as carried out by white Americans. The ecumenical Protestants resoundingly renounced the idea that the United States is a Christian nation, while countless evangelical leaders continue to espouse this deeply parochial idea.

It could be that Douthat chooses to focus on the lame aspects of liberal Protestantism while Hollinger celebrates the heroic side of that tradition.  Both are certainly part of the mix.  The big difference is that Douthat describes Protestant Christians desperately trying to adapt to secular liberalism; Hollinger sees the ecumenical Protestant tradition establishing the foundations for secular liberalism on issues like civil rights, feminism, gay rights and a non-aggressive foreign policy.

Please read both articles and tell us what you think.