In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I decided to begin reading Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery. As a white man, I cannot even begin to comment on the devastation of slavery and the putrid nature of racism and prejudice that lasted after the abolishment of slavery; into the civil rights era where King stood his ground and fought his fight; and even in various forms into today. It is very enlightening to get into the mind of one who lived through one of the darkest eras in American history and witnessed its immediate aftermath. The following is an excerpt from chapter one of Washington’s autobiography. It is truly amazing to see the heart of Washington in this excerpt as he fights bitterness with confidence in the providence of God. Without condoning slavery or absolving those who took part in it, he demonstrates his hatred of slavery’s existence while showing love for those who essentially dehumanized him (even though he writes that his slaveholders were very kind to him).
I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extent that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not to justify slavery— on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive— but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose. When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a good Providence has already led us [Washington, Booker T. (2012-05-12). Up from Slavery: an autobiography (pp. 6-7). . Kindle Edition].
The ultimate cure to the disease of racism is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the gospel, God reconciles sinners from every tribe, race, and tongue to himself and to one another through his Son. In fact, the more racially diverse a local church is, the more biblically accurate they image the people of God. Christ died to unite racially diverse sinners to himself and to unite racially diverse sinners to one another. Though the elements of the sin of racism will plague us until Christ returns, we must fight this with the satisfaction that comes from loving people of all races and nationalities as Christ loves them; with a love that desires their joy in God through faith in Christ.
I encourage you to reflect on the necessity of racial harmony in the church today and to ask yourself whether enough progress has been made since the time of Booker T. Washington or at least since the time of Martin Luther King Jr. Keeping with the theme of racial harmony, the horrors of racism, and the power of the cross of Christ to reconcile sinners vertically and horizontally, here are some modern books to check out:
Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (John Piper)
Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. (ed. Bryan Loritts) (releases April 1, 2014)
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Trillia Newbell) (releases March 1, 2014)