Category: Race and religion

Have we given up on the common good?

By Alan Bean

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War reminds us that America is as deeply divided now as it has ever been.  We can’t even agree about the basic meaning of the Civil War.  Was Robert E. Lee a hero or a villain?  

In the 1860s, and again in the 1960s, the federal government, albeit with deep misgivings, moved powerfully to defend the nation’s most vulnerable members.  Too marginalized to deserve the title “citizens,” 19th century slaves and the 20th century victims of Jim Crow segregation, were protected from the tyranny of the majority.  In the 1860s, the Republican Party controlled the process; by the 1960s, the Democrats were in charge–but the principle was the same.

As we wander aimlessly into the 21st century, the political divide is largely defined by the traumatic events of the 1860s and 1960s.  Conservatives are increasingly inclined to see the 1860s and 1960s as periods in which a tyrannical federal government crushed legitimate states’ rights.  In the liberal view, the demise of slavery and Jim Crow oppression are milestones in the long march to freedom.  To liberals, “states’ rights” is shorthand for state-sanctioned bigotry.

Tragically, neither conservatives or liberals give much thought to the ties that bind us together as a nation.  We are too fixated on the failings of our ideological opposites to examine what our side has lost.  As things stand, neither conservatives nor liberals have a narrative that all Americans, or even most Americans, can rally around. (more…)

Feeding the market for American mythology

By Alan Bean

Two articles grabbed my attention this morning.  The first deals with fairy tales about the Christian origins of America; the second addresses civil war fairy tales (hint: it had nothing to do with slavery).

Every trained historian, regardless of personal ideology, knows that America was founded by Deists and high church Protestants who were desperate to save their fledgling nation from European-style religious wars.  Hence the separation of church and state.

Similarly, you would be hard pressed to find a single person who has studied American history at the graduate level who would argue that Southern slavery was irrelevant to the civil war.  Unfortunately, the sentimental attachment to Christian-America and the confederate Lost Cause is so passionate that elaborate mythologies arise unbidden to satisfy the demand. 

Over at Talk to Action, Chris Rodda begins a jaw-dropping post thusly: (more…)

Caring for the stranger

By Alan Bean

Deuteronomy 10: 12-19

“So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.  Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the LORD your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the LORD set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Why must we love strangers?  Because we are all strange in one way or another.  With the exception of Native Americans, there are no homegrown Americans; we all came here from somewhere else. (more…)

What is Mission Mississippi?

I just came across this review of “Mission Mississippi” in the Christian Century.  Mission Mississippi was founded in the early 1990s to facilitate conversation between black and white Christians in the Magnolia State.  But there’s a problem: social justice and other systemic issues are off the table.  Mission Mississippi is a book-length evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach written by Peter Slade, an Englishman.  Why, you may wonder, can’t black and white Mississippians discuss social issues?  If you even ask that question, you haven’t spent much time in Mississippi; it remains, as the title of Slade’s book suggests, a closed society.  The good news is that people are conversing across racial lines; the bad news is that they can’t discuss the stuff that really matters. (more…)

Texas history texts ripped by conservative group

By Alan Bean

“If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”  – George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell learned how easily the past is misremembered as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War and during his years with the BBC in WWII.  Orwell is a hero to both the left and the right because he believed in relating historical fact as objectively and honestly as fallible flesh is able. 

As the culture wars rage, it is incumbent upon partisans on the left and right to police their own side of the conflict.  When 57% of Republicans believe the president is a Muslim, 45% believe he was born outside the United States, and 24% believe Mr. Obama may be the antiChrist, we’ve got a problem that only Republican leaders can effectively address.  We aren’t selling out when we critique our own people; we’re ensuring that the game is fairly played.

That is precisely what the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has done in its report on the historical curricula taught in American schools.  Their dissection of the Texas State Board of Education’s distorted historical vision is utterly devastating.  I have pasted some of the pithy highlights below, but I urge you to read the entire report. (more…)

When the Devil plays God

Byron De La Beckwith the younger

By Alan Bean

“The devil will sometimes play the part of God and let things happen.”  Byron De La Beckwith Jr.

The Jackson Clarion Ledger has published two articles stemming from an interview with Byron De La Beckwith Jr.  Byron II claims his father didn’t kill civil rights leader Medgar Evers in June of 1963. 

He said those behind Evers’ assassination belonged to the Citizens’ Council, which produced television shows in which “experts” declared that African-Americans were genetically inferior. He would not share the names of the men involved. He said they later joined the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, believed to be responsible for at least 10 killings in the 1960s.

 Jerry Mitchell reports that the FBI will be looking into De La Beckwith’s assertions, but I doubt new facts will emerge.  De La Beckwith, like his daddy, enjoys the limelight and intends to make the most of it.

More interesting, from my perspective, is Byron the Second’s description of his personal contribution to 1960s anti-civil rights terrorism and his sad reflections on the current status of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan.  (more…)

Faith and Mass Incarceration: An Annotated Bibliography

By Dr. Charles Kiker

I thought it would be helpful to list some works I have read which I feel would be helpful in understanding the topic and in working to end the New Jim Crow.

1. First would have to be the recent work by Michelle Alexander,

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Ms. Alexander argues convincingly that the criminal justice system at all levels, including the Supreme Court, especially in regard to the war on drugs, has effectively instituted a new Jim Crow by incarcerating young African Americans and those of Hispanic origin vastly disproportionate to their numbers. (more…)

Faith and Mass Incarceration

By Dr. Charles Kiker

Faith played a major role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and the concomitant dismantling of the old Jim Crow. To be sure, not all people of faith, maybe not even a majority and certainly not a majority in the South, held the Civil Rights movement in high regard. I remember hearing one active Baptist layman say shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, “He was a dadblamed communist, and somebody should have killed him a long time ago.”

But the faith and the liberation songs inspired by the Exodus from Egypt helped to sustain the civil rights movement through fire hoses, police dogs, beatings, and murders. And the civil rights movement insured the demise of Jim Crow I. The progress of the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement created an officially color blind society. (more…)