I wish to thank Pastor Sara Burress and the Session of Trinity Presbyterian Church for making these wonderful facilities available to us this evening. To my brothers and sisters who are ministers of the Gospel, Greetings: Grace to you. I am honored to be on the same platform with you. To Ms. Dancer: I only hope to live up to a fraction of the hopes you have established in that graceful introduction. To the brothers and sisters in Christ and the congregation: Grace to you. Thank you all for your kind attendance. To be given the trust by the NAACP to present this message is a great honor. Thank you.
To my church family at Fellowship Baptist Church and our Interim Pastor, Cornell Daughtry, I did tell them I am not a Reverend, and not an officer of the church, but it still came out that way in the paper. I do not officially represent Fellowship Baptist Church in any capacity. I am just a member and one of several Sunday school teachers there. When Dr. Tryman was putting the program together, he started the “reverend” business, and I corrected him, and he said I needed some title, and I reluctantly agreed to “minister,” but only in the Latin sense. The word in Latin means “servant.” I am here as a servant of the Lord.
The theme of this program is “The Dream: 50 Years After Brown II,” and I hope to demonstrate that the dream is still, only a dream, and to point to some causes and cures.
Fifty years ago, the legal case, Brown vs. Board of Education declared that “Separate, but Equal” was a Lie. Second Baptist Church has given Dr. Mfanya Tryman and me a mission: Our goal is Racial Reconciliation-Harmony-Unity in the churches of Oktibbeha County. Tonight, I will try to relate that mission to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the state of education in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi.
In his famous “Dream” speech, Dr. King said:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day ‘every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’ [Isaiah 40] This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
“This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
(Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968, via http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html.)
The child in the back seat always asks, “Are we there, yet?” The answer is still, “Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.” But we are closer than we were 50 years ago. There is some hope. But let us look at the realities, right here in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi.
My search for information on schools in Oktibbeha County and Starkville revealed two dichotomies: County vs. City and Public vs. Private.
County vs. City
The Oktibbeha County School District has a web page (http://www.oktibbeha.k12.ms.us/), and the so-called “Starkville Separate School District” is also advertised in some places (http://cityofstarkville.org/lifestyle/public_ed.html) but it is called the “Starkville School District” on its own official web page (http://www.starkville.k12.ms.us/). We still have separate and unequal school systems in public education in Oktibbeha County!
My wife and I live inside the Starkville School District. Our school taxes are at least $600 more per year than the neighbor in the same subdivision who lives a hundred yards away, but is outside the district. That monetary distinction is made even more concentrated when you consider that there are many more taxed properties with greater property valuations inside the district, than in the county. How can the county schools be equal with such disproportionate funding?
The county schools are predominately black. The city schools are integrated. Many white families who live in the county and can afford it, send their children to live with relatives or rent a second home in the city so their children won’t have to go to county schools that they consider to be of lesser quality. (Personal communications.)
The people who talked to me about this claimed it was not because the schools were predominately black, but because the quality of education was poor, that they made the sacrifice for their children. They pointed out, in their defense, that they could have put a child in the academy for the same price of renting the second home, but they wanted them in Starkville High School because the quality of education was so much better than at the county schools.
Oktibbeha County and Starkville have used political boundaries and taxation policies that promote racism and separate, unequal schools. This is not to say that they intended to do this. Their intent was likely to have the best schools for as many children as possible. Sometimes, what we intend has side effects that were not intended. That did not stop the side effects from happening and causing the inequalities for the innocent bystanders, i.e., the children in the county schools. Awareness of the problem should be step one in solving the problem.
Many families, both black and white, have objections to a so-called “godless, statist,” public education system and elect to send their children to private schools. In Oktibbeha County, there are not many private school alternatives.
Starkville Academy (K – 12)
“The mission of Starkville Academy is to provide quality educational programs in a Christian enviroment (sic) that will challenge students to excel academically, physically, socially and spiritually.” (http://www.starkville.pvt.k12.ms.us/)
“The basis of many students (sic) reasoning for going to Starkville Academy is our ability to pray at school. We have many active prayer groups here at SA . . . .” (http://www.starkville.pvt.k12.ms.us/Prayer%20Groups.htm)
Percent Minority (Asian) 1% - Percent White 99% (http://www.privateschoolreview.com/school_ov/school_id/15537)
Starkville Christian School (PK – 8)
Percent Minority (Black) 19% - Percent White 81% (http://www.privateschoolreview.com/school_ov/school_id/15538)
My personal feeling is that the burden of proof that they are not racist is upon any private school established between 1950 and 1970, especially if they are in a racially mixed area, are more than 90% white, and if they provide essentially the same education, i.e., use the same textbooks and have the same course offerings, as the public schools. Good evidence of non-racism would be affirmative action recruiting programs, minority scholarships, and other good-faith efforts to increase minority enrollment.
Christian schools that have the word “Christian” in their name, that have a Christ-centered curriculum, use explicitly Christian textbooks such as Abeka Books and the McGuffey Readers, and offer scholarships to encourage low-income and minority students to enroll, can be exempted from the charge of “assumed racist unless proven otherwise. Maybe . . . . but look at the Christian churches.
The most segregated time of the week in Oktibbeha County is Sunday morning at the morning worship service hour in Christian churches.
I have a dream, but my dream is still, just a dream.
Why is it only a dream? And what can we do to make it happen?
The scripture lesson is titled, “Brothers and Mothers—All in the Family.”
Since the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin, the entire creation has been under a curse.
Genesis 3:17-19. 17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
The earthquakes, tsunamis, mud slides and all the catastrophes happening in our world, today are, according to these verses, part of the curse (“cursed is the ground”), part of the justice of God administered to Adam, upon the entire creation, and to Adam’s progeny, as a result of his sin.
Genesis 4:1-10. And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
The verses about Cain and Able demonstrate that the curse extended to Adam’s offspring. His sons inherited his sin nature and, therefore, the necessity that offerings be made to the LORD. I would posit to you this evening that every problem people have between them is, at its root, a brother problem. It is the problem of envy and anger demonstrated by Cain.
In our day we have lost track of who our brother is. Geneticists tell us that part of our cellular sturcture, the mitochondria, comes through the ovum from our mothers, and the nuclear DNA, from which we get our uniqueness, is a mixture from our four grandparents. Unless there is genetic damage, our mitochondria is identical to that of our maternal grandmothers. If one carries this relationship back from a grandmother to the grandmother’s grandmother, etc., for generations, he must conclude that all humans living today have a common female ancestor. This fact does not scientifically prove the existence of Adam and Eve, but it does parallel the Biblical evidence: We are all brothers. “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the children of the world.” (– Child’s hymn) We are all brothers by birth.
Most of us have good reasons to hate the siblings in our nuclear families. My older brother always picked on me. On Sundays, we would be in competition for the piece of fried chicken containing the wishbone. And how we would cut each other down with words! When I am honest, I will admit I hated him. I was, at best, angry in my heart. I am just like Cain—I just didn’t carry my thoughts to their logical conclusion, as Cain did.
I have a friend who is a very light-skinned African American. His older brother was only slightly a shade lighter. In the sixties when the swimming pools were segregated, they would go to the park together. One time, the attendant let his brother in, but kept my friend out because he was “colored.” His brother laughed and jeered at him through the chain-link fence. I can imagine the anger he must have felt in his heart.
If we have anger and envy in our hearts for our immediate family members, is it any stretch of the imagination to see that we could easily envy and hate others? It comes naturally, i.e., it is part of our inherited sin nature.
The movie South Pacific includes a song called “You’ve got to be taught.”
“You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught. You've got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a different shade. You've got to be carefully taught. You've got to be taught before it's too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You've got to be carefully taught. You've got to be carefully taught.” (--Oscar Hammerstein, II (1895-1960). From the 1949 musical South Pacific by Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein II Copyright © 1949, Renewed.)
But you don’t have to be taught all of those things. Many just come naturally. Another show tune from Oklahoma! “Doin’ what comes naturally,” is just as apropos for hatred. It doesn’t have to be Either/Or; it can be Both/And. We naturally hate, but we are taught whom to hate. The comedian, W.C. Fields, is quoted as saying, “I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally.”
In Matthew 5:21,22, Jesus likens murder to anger and indicates that anger is a precursor to murder. You don’t murder people unless you are first angry with them. Cain just acted out his anger for his brother Abel.
James said, “1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war.” -- James 4:1-2.
I still have a dream, but it is only a dream. I find in my heart an angry desire not just to get even, but also to get ahead of my brother. And I find that everyone is my brother. How wretched I find myself.
Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.” Do you realize that those of you born in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s are the people he had immediately in mind? If, today, you are between 35 and 45, you were the children in his vision. How many people of a skin color different from your own do you hold hands with and walk together? If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Since when will brothers and sisters not associate with each other?
Hold on to the dream! But determine to love your brothers and be a part of the implementation of the dream.
Genesis 16:1-16 1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. 3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. 4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. 5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. 6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thine hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face. 7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. 8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. 9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. 10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. 11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. 12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. 13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? 14 Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. 15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. 16 And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.
Genesis 17:20-21 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
Genesis 21:1-13 1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 2For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. 6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. 7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. 8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. 9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. 12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
These passages teach us more about families. Having multiple wives was something a wealthy man could do in Abraham’s day, and in some cultures, today, but it has its problems. Not sibling envy, like Cain and Abel, but mother envy. In our day and time with serial monogamy replacing polygamy, this translates to the step-mother problem. The children of the second wife are treated differently than the children from the first marriage. My children are more important to me than your children!
Note how that, in the passage about Abraham, the problem has become global, instead of familial. Who are Isaac’s descendants, today? The nation of Israel. Who are Ishmael’s descendants? The Arabs, Palestinians, and other Middle Easterners who are primarily Moslems. A problem of mother’s envy within a family has become an international, worldwide terrorist issue scores of generations later. Oh Mothers, love all the children!
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, says, “7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”—Galatians 3:7-9
That means that Christians, Moslems, and Jews are all not just brothers, but also Abraham’s offspring, in one way or another. We are all brothers! Black, White, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: I have a dream.
Brothers and Mothers, envy, anger, and hatred. It’s all in the family. I still have a dream, but it is only a dream. I am messed up, and my family is messed up. What can I do?
The solution begins by recognizing the problem. The problem is that we hate each other. Stated differently, the problem is that we love ourselves more than we love others. What is the solution for that?
Jesus gives the answer, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Mark 12:31) We don’t have to love others any more than we love ourselves, but just as much. He said, “34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34,35)
In honesty, you say, “I can’t do that.” Jesus says, “Ye must be born again.” (John 3:7) If you come to God admitting you can’t do it, yourself, and put your faith in Jesus to do it for you, He will give you a new heart! You can be born, again, as a spiritual being. Then you can do it.
What agency did God institute for solving that problem? He gave the command to his disciples, now represented by the Christian church. And He gave his church the mission, “8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
I only pray that the war in Iraq will result in a society where the truth of the gospel can be freely proclaimed so the physical descendents of Abraham can also become the spiritual descendents of Abraham.
But we Christians must admit that the mission hasn’t changed for almost 2000 years, and the dream hasn’t happened. The church has failed. But the power is there. We must press on towards the dream. We must not stop.
What about Oktibbeha County?
I think the power to change Oktibbeha County is in the individual, and in the Christian church. We as individuals must stop envying and hating our brothers. We must stop looking for how we are better. We who preach are going to have to become ministers who are the servants in their congregations, not the peacocks who strut our talents before them.
We must see the person of a different race as a person, not a color. In the movie, No Time for Sergeants, Gomer Pyle saw his first black soldier and went to the Sergeant and said he had seen a colored man. The Sergeant informed him that he was not to make such distinctions; everyone in the Army is green. There is no black, white, or colored. Coach Croom, similarly, tried to refocus those who were making a big deal of his race, by saying, “At MSU, maroon is the only color that matters.”
We have used phrases like “Black is beautiful!” and promoted awareness of Black people’s contributions to society with Black History Month. We have organizations at school that focus on our black identities such as the Black Student Alliance.
My identity should not be derived from the color of my skin.
For the future, I am suggesting that we should focus on a time when our identity and our dignity are not derived from the color of our skin, but from the character within. Remember, that was Dr. King’s dream for his children.
When we raise a child, we do something paradoxical. When they are just babies, we will praise them for every new thing they learn. “You did it all by yourself!” An important milestone is, “You can potty all by yourself!” Every diaper-changing, mess-cleaning parent longs to say that! It is important for children to learn this positive self-esteem. “I can do it all by myself.”
There comes a time, however, when self-esteem turns to sinful pride. When we cross that line, we think, “I can do it myself without anyone and without God.”
There were necessary things to help black people win back their self-esteem stolen from them when they were robbed from their families in Africa, herded like animals and transported in ships to America to be sold as slaves, nobodies in the new world. Once they perceive their dignity, especially the dignity that comes from Christ, they need to change their focus to avoid sinful pride. Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:11, “11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
All the “N-words” used to describe people of color have been some form of the Latin root word for the color black. Some “black-words” are unacceptable and some accepted, but they all mean black. Lets just call each other what we are: brothers and sisters, not white brothers and black sisters, but brothers and sisters.
The goal to set for ourselves, the revised dream, is to focus on those things we have in common, and not those things that divide us.
For example, why is this audience mostly black? If we change focus of our annual celebration from Dr. King the black man to Dr. King the southerner, who came back to the south to help our nation solve a social problem, we will have more in common that white southerners can identify with. Dr. King was a Christian, a preacher, a godly man, i.e., characteristics all people (black and white) can identify with. That is what he wanted, not a focus on a man’s skin color, but on his character.
Don’t rub white peoples’ noses in their mess. We used to house-train our puppies by that technique. Rub their noses in it and say, “Bad dog!” That might work with dogs, but we don’t do it with our brothers.
My wife is always telling me to “leave a ladder for them to climb down.” I am competitive, especially in debating and arguing. She has taught me that even when I am right, I need to stop pushing the point and give them a way to climb down. When I did it my way, I only made them cling to their point and argue harder. Leaving them a ladder allows them to climb down with dignity. They are your brothers, whoever they are, and they need to be treated with respect and love.
We can also show white people that it is in their practical self-interest to accept and identify with the accomplishments of Dr. King. When the baby boomers die in the next ten to twenty years, who will be in the majority, and who will be in the minority, in our country?
When the shoe is on the other foot, white people will be in the minority, and they will be glad Dr. King won these civil rights for us all. In my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, for example, white people no longer form a majority.
Those who have taken seriously God’s creation mandate to “fill the earth and multiply” will be in the majority. Those who have aborted their own flesh and blood will be in the minority, and will have no one to help them when they are old. Those who have been in homosexual unions which can produce no offspring will, likewise, be in the minority. It is the faithful Christian church that will be in the majority.
Didn’t the Lord describe the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed that grows until it fills the garden, or leaven that grows until it fills the entire ball of dough? (Luke 13) So God’s people, if they have faith and persevere, will fill the entire earth, and the Dr. King’s dream will come true.
I am asking that the Christian churches in Oktibbeha county work on this problem of educational equal opportunity. But that may mean that we have to form our own school system. If little girls and little boys, black and white, can go hand in hand into a classroom, ought they not also be allowed to pray there?
Only by the teaching and authority of God’s word can an argument for brotherhood stand. If we don’t have Cain and Abel, and we don’t have Isaac and Ishmael, we can’t prove brotherhood. Will we take that same word that undergirds our argument and ban it from classrooms and the public arena? Only schools that acknowledge God and his Son can be equal. Are we, as Christians, willing to take the dream to the next level?
Solo Dei Gloriam.