As America prepares to return to the polls for mid-term elections amidst racial tensions, continued economic inequities and a president that appears to embrace racism and shun truth, thousands of Black church leaders and parishioners answered a ‘Call to Conscience/Day of Action’ last week intended to send a message to the White House and beyond.
“Racism is not dead in America. As a matter of fact, it’s not even sick. It doesn’t even have a cold,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chair of the Conference of National Black Churches, preaching at a worship service the night before a mass rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House Sept. 6. “We live in one of the most racist times in the history of this country—in spite of the fact that we’ve come through slavery. There’s nothing good about slavery. But slavery provided a forum wherein our oppressors were visible and we could see them. They were touchable. What makes the difficulties of this time is our oppressors are invisible.”
The worship service, intended to stir up those planning to attend the rally, was held at Reid Temple AME Church.
“Tomorrow at Lafayette Park, we not only want the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (who is living in the house that Black hands built) to see us, we want him to hear us,” Bishop Reginald T. Jackson told the congregation. Jackson, president of the Council of AME Bishops, is the visionary who called the ‘Day of Action.’
The high-spirited two-day event drew hundreds to a daylong issues symposium before the worship service that drew more than a thousand. After the rally the next day, bishops and church leaders traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with senators and representatives. The activities recalled a 1960s type movement, an awakening of sorts.
“There’s one thing that’s worse than slavery. That’s to adjust to it. A slave should be maladjusted,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson at the worship service. “It was hard to wake us up until Trump came along. Trump is nothing but a wakeup call.”
Richardson, the keynote speaker at the worship service, agreed that Trump is only temporary. But he warned: “He speaks for the oppressors. He speaks for the haters. We need to be aware that the nature of our battle. We will eliminate 45. But there’ll be some young aspiring 45s.
They will be inspired by his conduct and will want to grow up and be like him. We must watch for those who are on the horizon who must come this way.”
Franklyn pointed out that African Americans are statistically worse off than any other racial group in every social category in America. He then paralleled the current pains of Black people to those suffered by the Children of Israel in the Book of Jeremiah as they suffered an economic crisis.
“The spring harvest has past and the summer has ended and though we have planted, there has been no harvest,” he paraphrased the Prophet Jeremiah. “When you do not plant it is unreasonable to expect a harvest, but when you plant you ought to expect a harvest. We, African Americans, have planted. We didn’t just show up here and volunteer. We have been planting,” he said citing how Black people led in building America through fighting in wars and even building the White House and U. S. Capitol buildings.
“Seems like the harvest has come but we didn’t get any of the harvest. It was enough harvest for everybody, but the harvest was inequitably distributed. The folk who got the harvest, took the harvest and passed it on to their children,” he said to the applauding and shouting congregation.
“We as pastors, we must focus on what our people are going through. I don’t mean the members of our churches. I mean the collective African American people!”
The next day, Lafayette Square was filled with prayers, songs of praise and calls for social Justice Sept. 6 as the Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church hosted a rally across from the White House to persuade President Trump to change his political ways.
The event, entitled a ‘Call for Conscience/ Forward to Action,’ featured leaders of the AME church and other national church leaders, young and old. They made it clear that they are organizing a massive get out to vote campaign that they hope will oust Republicans in Congress who simply have rubber stamped the president’s efforts to turn back the Civil Rights clock in many areas.
“We are here today because our cause is right, we are here today because we are sending a message, we are here today because we want to let this country know we ain’t going [to] let nobody turn us around,” said Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, prelate of the 1st Episcopal District who opened the rally with prayer and statement of purpose. “We are here today because we have gone through so much, we have prayed too long, we have walked too far.”