Black Pastors Urge Social Change

After Charlottesville

by: Hamil R. Harris Special to the AFRO
/ (Zach D. Roberts via AP) /
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The recent display of White supremacy in Charlottesville, Va.—which left three dead and several seriously injured–has not only left the American population stunned and divided, but it has also put local Black ministers in a bind, because even though they know change is needed; they have no solutions to give. However, ministers agree that Black youths need more education on social change.

On Aug. 13, Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville was filled with several politicians when Pastor Alvin Edwards joked, “It must be political season.” But, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stood at the pulpit of the 150-year-old church and reflected on the Rev. Edwards’ words to offer a more sober perspective after a White supremacist frantically drove through a crowd of counter-protestors gathered in opposition of a Neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville.

In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 photo, DeAndre Harris, bottom is assaulted in a parking garage beside the Charlottesville police station after a white nationalist rally was disbursed by police, in Charlottesville, Va. (Zach D. Roberts via AP)

“This is not about politics. This is about who we are as American citizens. How we treat one another,” said McAuliffe, whose comments were televised nationally. “Rev. Edwards is right in one regard, the political rhetoric in this country today has breaded bigotry and hatred.”

The media descended on the Charlottesville church in the aftermath of a White supremacist rally that turned tragic after a man, who is currently being held without bail on second degree murder charges, fatally mowed down Heather Higher, a 32-year-old White woman. On the same day, a police helicopter that was monitoring the violence crashed killing two Virginia State Troopers.

In the wake of the tragedy, several Black pastors told the AFRO that the best thing they can do is educate a new generation of activists that while they witnessed an old nasty chapter of American history last week, in some respects things are worse.

“As a minister, it is incumbent for this country to come to grips with its history and its disturbing past in terms of racism and slavery. There had been a silence before Trump but we have to see the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and what is going on today as being all connected and the church has to be the vehicle for honest discussions to take place,” the Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Md., told the AFRO.

In the ’60s Browning learned firsthand about protests as a child growing up in Hampton, Va., because his father, Grainger Browning Sr., led the protest that integrated the Woolworths Department store.

Browning said one of the keys to Martin Luther King’s success was organization. “He used the church as a resource. In Alabama, the churches were the resources and there were many powerful organizations.”

Geneva Mays, 80, founder of the Prince George’s County Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. “I was a marshal for the Congress on Racial equality,” said Mays, who has been watching events of Charlottesville from her home in Suitland, Md. “We are at a point when things are in such disarray. It is a complex problem and people are going in different directions. We have to teach children that we know to reach out to other communities and ethnic groups.”

The Rev. Henry P. Davis, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Highland Park in Hyattsville, sang much of the same tune, that the youth need more education. “We realized last weekend that racism is alive in 2017 and today the KKK doesn’t feel the need to wear hoods anymore,” Davis told the AFRO. He said in the wake of the Charlottesville incident, the young protesters of today need a tutorial on how to go about social change.

“The Civil Rights movement addressed moral issues and the access to opportunity,” he said. “We have to educate and inspire young people today. We want to whitewash the prejudice of the past. You take down the flags, change the name of the schools and even the streets but all of these things don’t change racial attitudes. You are looking at eight years of bottled up racism and it’s bursting out. In Charlottesville, you are looking at the other book end of Black Lives Matter. But they understand they are saying this from a position of power.”

On Aug. 15, Trump released statements that condemned protestors who were advocating for the removal of Confederacy General Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville and he also blamed the violence on Aug. 12 on both White Supremacists and counter-protestors who he described as the alt-left. The remarks appeared to equate the opposition to neo-Nazis with supporting neo-Nazis, which is a stunning remark for a sitting president to make.

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