Two Black Ministers: Two Divergent Views

Now that both the Republican and Democratic Conventions are over and all the speeches tucked away in the storage bin of patriotic rhetoric about just how great this  country happens to be, it is time to take a closer examination of the messages delivered by over 300 spokespersons for different constituent groups throughout the country.

Alexander_CrummelFor Black Americans two of the more interesting speeches were delivered by two ministers, one at the Republican and one the Democratic Conventions. Some may argue that 1) the two were not speaking for the majority of African Americans, and 2) it is an erroneous assumption for me to assume they were more important to Blacks than any other spokesperson. I will respectfully disagree because for centuries, Black ministers have assumed to role of spokesperson for the race. Alexander Crummell in the 1800’s as well Howard Tsharptonhurman in the 1930’s, to Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., in the middle 1950’s and the 1960’s, Reverend Jesse Jackson in the 1970’s and 1980’s and Reverend Al Sharpton from the 1990’s to the present serve as proof to support my position that Reverend Darrell Scott at the Republican Convention and Reverend William Barber at the Democratic Convention were fulfilling a long historical tradition, as spokespersons for the interest of Black America.

We as a race, are so deeply immersed in our love of God that we often fail to assess the person delivering the message. We seem to assume that they have been given a special anointment from above to be our spokesperson, and what they deliver is straight from God. However, these men and women who wear the cloth are no more anointed than any of us. But we listen to them and internalize their words, and that is what happened at both conventions.

What is critically important for Black America, is how divergent are the views of these two ministers; and if they do represent the race, it is an indication as to how bifurcated the culture is today.  A close examination of their speeches will substantiate my assertion. Let’s begin our analysis with Reverend Scott at the Republican Convention.

DrScottReverend Darrell Scott of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, extolled the virtues of Donald Trump while attacking the eight years of leadership under President Barack Obama, and what Scott alluded to as the President’s legacy of leaving the country “spiritually empty and  divided, now more than ever before.” He was careful not to mention the President by name, but instead aimed his attack at the Democratic Party stating, “The truth is the Democratic Party has failed us. At home our growth is lethargic…This is their legacy, and we need to make a sharp turn. We need to put into practice the great ideals and principles that our country was founded on and which, after God, are the source of our strength that has made this nation great.”

If I had only the audio of his speech and not the visual also, I would have assumed this to be a European American and not an African American. His words about great ideals and principles coming out of the Constitutional Convention, definitely didn’t apply to our ancestors. What is great and principled about a compromise that in effect considered our ancestors as 3/5ths of a human being? His final attack on the President makes a mockery of Obama’s “Audacity of Hope,” when he refers to the last eight years as nothing more than the “rhetoric of hope.” Reverend Scott ends his peroration with a claim that Donald Trump will become a President that everyone can be proud of. And just as if he was one of the many at the convention longing for a return to the past, he shouted to the audience that, “we can become great again.” Scott essentially spoke well of Donald Trump and ill of President Barack Obama, despite the fact that Trump made what I consider a blatant racist proclamation, when he referred to Obama as “the most ignorant president in the history of the country,” therefore leading me to wonder if he really does represent a legitimate Black perspective on the state of affairs, as we approach the national election.

Barber_Headshot_OfficialOne week later, Reverend William Barber, President of the state NAACP in North Carolina and Pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina, took to the podium and immediately refuted Scott when he said, “I’m troubled and worried by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed.” He went on to not applaud the brilliance of the founding fathers, but to state, “now to be true, we have never lived this vision perfectly, but it ought to be the goal at the heart of our democracy.” This appears to be a much more correct assessment of the history of this country. Again, taking direct aim at Scott he goes on to say, “And when religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know that we have a heart problem in America.”

What I consider a legitimate Black perspective on the state of affairs was articulated by Reverend Barber as he suggested that “We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy. When we fight to reinstate the power of the Voting Rights Act and we break the interposition and nullification of the current Congress we in the South especially know, when we do that, we are reviving the heart of democracy.”

Most Black Americans recognize, with the exception of Scott and his ilk, that there has been a concerted effort to disenfranchise the Black vote, especially eight years ago when the Trump supporters recognized what could happen when President Obama won the election two  times. In the image of the great Social Gospel preachers of the 20th Century, Barber went on to say, “When we fight for…universal health care and public education and immigrant rights and LBGTQ rights, we are reviving the heart of our democracy.” The Reverend ended his speech with words that best symbolize the nature of the Black culture with, “We must shock this nation with the power of love and the power of mercy.”

No doubt that the two ministers delivered contrasting messages to the country. Just how deeply entrenched Scott’s message is a part of Black America is questionable. I would argue that President Obama is still the most loved and admired Black in this country and will remain so well after he leaves the White House. The fact that Scott attacked him for the benefit of the Trump lovers, probably left a bitter feeling among the mass of Blacks and he definitely failed as a spokesperson for the race. On the other hand, Reverend Barber addressed those issues of importance to the Black community. He did not extol the virtues of Hillary Clinton, but instead talked of the problems that must be addressed by the Congress and the next President, as well as the Supreme Court if this country ever expects to live up to what Scott claimed are the ideals and principles of the United States, and make it the greatest nation in the history of the world.

These are the two divergent views articulated by two of our Black ministers. You be the judge of who best represents the interest of the Black race.

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Trump’s Code Word Appeal—“Make America Great Again!”

Richard M. Nixon, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is seen arriving at the airport in Atlanta, Ga. with his wife, Patricia, on May 31, 1968. A crowd of about 350 people greeted them as Nixon visits the South to meet with delegates from various states. (AP Photo)In what has become a rather famous or some may consider infamous interview in 1981, leading Ronald Reagan political strategist Lee Atwater, discussed plans of the Republican Party to win the white Southern vote over to the Republican Party. His approach was for the party to appeal to those issues most closely identified with Southern Conservatives who abhorred the changes that occurred in the South during the 1960’s. It was called Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The idea was for the candidate to be only lukewarm in his duties to implement those policies passed in the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Bill. This could be accomplished if the candidates simply pledged strong support for states’ rights. That term became the first in a number of codes to the Southern whites, that assured them the candidate was firmly entrenched in their corner for a return to the good old days.

Reagan took full advantage of the strategy when he coined terms such as “Welfare Queen.” And practically every Republican politician since has used the code word “Big Government” to express their support for cutting back on programs that have essentially protected the rights of Blacks and  other minorities in this country.

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Now in the political year 2016 we have the Republican candidate for president playing that same old game with codes. Donald Trump has coined the term “Make America Great Again,” and it has resonated well with a certain segment of the white male population, especially in the South and it carried him through the primaries to a victory. The term “Make America Great Again” creates visions of the past that excites Trump supporters like they have not been since Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.”

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The problem is that the population enamored by Trump’s promises, consists of those white Americans whose beliefs and practices are inimical to the continued growth and development of our country as a totally integrated and fair society. This particular segment of America, under the tutelage of right wing conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, dream of a return to a time when America was not great, and that is the irony of their efforts.

9b53cfe968a9afc85f26c5f1f26915bf_crop_northNo doubt this crowd longs for the days when white supremacy reigned economically, socially and politically. In their world, Rocky, the Great White Hope, really did beat Apollo Creed and the statue at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is real. In their world, a Larry Bird led Boston Celtics could easily defeat a Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls, and Tiger Woods couldn’t even carry Jack Nicklaus’ golf bag and there is no way that Serena Williams could tie Steffi Graf’s modern day record of 22 major tennis victories. And most important, in their world President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and never should have been able to serve as President of the United States, and no way Michelle Obama should be First Lady and as gracious, poised and beautiful as any other First Lady to include Nancy Reagan and Jaqueline Kennedy.

hbz-obamas-gettyimages-84379057This is the world that Donald Trump promises his followers and it is their perception of the code “Make America Great Again.” The problem with that particular America is that its premise for greatness is predicated on the color of one’s skin and not the content of one’s character. It paints all other people in a negative light, the Mexican drug lord who wants to come to America to rape and pillage, the Muslim who has to be a terrorist simply because of his religious affiliation, women who have forgotten their place in society, and of course Black Americans who don’t want to work or raise their families and have lost all semblance of a decent and honorable culture. To Trump and his followers all that is necessary is to eradicate these negatives and they will have accomplished their goal to “Make America Great Again.”

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A Father’s Day Salute

On February 13, 1996 a very special man passed away in his sleep. He was 80 years old and had lived a very productive and eventful life. Most important, he had been a dedicated husband to his wife of 58 years and was always there for his four children. Some would consider him unique because he was a Black man and many in society will argue that those kind of men don’t exist within the Black culture. We have been conditioned through literature, music and movies to view the Black man as an irresponsible, unfit husband and father. Too often when we think of the Black man, we have visions of Danny Glover’s character, Mister, in The Color Purple or the ingrate men in Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale. Since McMillan’s publication and movie, there has been a flood of novels about the “Dawg” brothers. Even the Black man playing the role of a policeman was cast as a villain in Training Day. One would be led to believe that good Black men do not exist as husbands, fathers or men.

billwilliamsAs we approach another Father’s Day celebration I want to take issue with the perceptions that have plagued Black men over the years. I want to take issue because the man I described in my opening was my father, Bill Williams.

50thAnniverdary_parentsHe married my mother when he was 22 and she only 17 and they spent their entire life together, and one can surmise at the time of his death they shared a love just as special and beautiful as could be expected.  After my father had passed on, I once asked my mother who she would like to have meet her on the other side. Without hesitation she gave me this look as if to say, “who do you think” and then said, “My husband.” Now that is a love that will transcend time and they will always be united as one. He made my mother feel very special and she did the same for him. He was an excellent husband.

Bill Williams took a very special interest in his children. His advice, at least to me, was always precise and correct. When considering the wisdom that my father shared with me while growing up, I often think of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” My father was not a rich man but he was a wise man. When I reached the age when girls became very important in my life, he told me that, “your lover should also be your best friend.” After many disappointing relationships I finally got it right when I incorporated his advice and now have married for nearly 25 years. He also told me, “Always pay the IRS a little money and never get a large refund.” I learned that lesson the hard way, and now make sure I don’t get a large refund.

He provided his two boys and two girls with a foundation that led to our successes in life. We all learned the importance of a strong work ethic through his example. He would get up early in the morning and often walk to his job at the United States Post Office in Saginaw, Michigan so that my mother would have the car at her convenience during the day. After peddling mail in freezing weather (and anyone who has visited Saginaw in the winter knows just how cold it can get) all day, he came home, took a nap and then went to his second job as a waiter at the Saginaw Country Club. And he never complained in front of his children, because to complain would leave the impression that something might be wrong with work. He was an excellent father.

Bill Williams loved his family, was loyal to his friends and never complained about his life. He was a Black man who grew up when it was very difficult to be black in this country. But he never succumbed to the temptation to use discrimination and bigotry as an excuse for him not to achieve. He was the first Black man to work in the United States Post Office in Saginaw, Michigan. He became a union leader for the letter carriers when he transferred to Pasadena, California in 1957. He never told his children that they had to be twice as good in order to succeed. He simply told us to be the very best I could, and that worked well for me because to believe you have to be twice as good was to give credence to bigotry and prejudice. As his child, I never thought I had to be twice as good because it would admit that we begin from a position of inferiority.  That word did not exist in our household. No one can define your worth as a human being was his message to us. It is the same message that Black fathers over the century have shared with their children and continue to do so today.

Contrary to what many commentators proclaim, the Black father is not a replica of the past. He still exists and for that reason I extend a very heartfelt Happy Father’s Day greeting to all my fellow dad’s, who have been and are still the pillars that hold up our culture. And to my wonderful and fantastic Dad I say on behalf of my siblings and me.

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