Some Standard Wisdom for Converting Blacks

Less than a month into this series, I already feel the need to sound the reminder that in quoting some of these articles, my intent is not to endorse or make light of or even to stand in judgment of some of the darker sides of late nineteenth century thought. This warrants particular restatement with the following article by J. W. Crenshaw. It would be easy to read the below and assume either that my intent is racist or callous or anarchonistically judgmental. It is none of these. Instead, the following article sounds, among other things, a pair of themes that I have tried to reiterate here in various ways. The first is the need to complicate the narrative of the Civil War that we all learned in school: the North invaded the South to free the slaves and give blacks their rights. Historians have almost entirely abandoned this carefully constructed fiction, but the public still casts the Civil War in these terms, failing to see the stark racism and paternalism that dominated in the North no less than the South. The other is the sinister overtones that education often takes on in the hands of progressives. It’s a message that has ongoing merit.

Even if neither of these themes were present, however, the following is important to read both for those in the Stone-Campbell Movement because it is part of our collective history the consequences of which we continue to live with in the de facto racial segregation of our churches and for Americans in general who need to be forced to read chapters of our history which serve neither to glorify US nationalism or to provide the starting point in a narrative of national redemption. What follows in “Difficulties in Christianizing the Colored Race” is precisely the shades of grey that we all need to grapple with in the formation of our historical consciousness.

As to what the future of the colored race of America is to be, socially, politically or religiously, we do not believe any one can conjecture with any degree of accuracy. Naturally superstitious and with their race prejudices to contend with, we approach them more from a sense of Christian duty than from any hope of achieving grand results. To succeed in our mission work among them we must agree upon some decided policy. If properly approached, we do not believe that there is a better missionary field in the world.

Experience has proven that we can not reach them through the preaching of white men. The colored leaders now, excepting a few, are ignorant and superstitious. In what direction, then, does hope lie? Certainly not in this shouting generation. The hope and the only hope, speaking from experience, is in the children. And when we educate a few colored men, as we have been doing for this work, we must not measure their success by converts made. The children, who are just learning to read, are the ones most benefited. Those whom we send out must be impressed with the importance of continuing to sound into the ears of the auditors that Christianity is something more than shouting the clothes off in the first part of the night, and serving Satan the balance of the night. We need to select young men of good character to educate them for this work. There are brethren among us who have the means to help build such a school as we need for this purpose. With the plain gospel plea that we have, if loving liberal hearts, could be interested in this work, in the next generation many of the difficulties that now so hinder our progress could be surmounted, and thousands of this unfortunate race could be Christianized.

Brethren, this is a question worthy of the attention of every Christian.

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