2020 has been a historic year. We have all witnessed the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: interruption of daily activities and social interaction once taken for granted; billions of dollars lost from our nation’s economy; and the devastating consequences in the healthcare industry including the widespread loss of life and the severe strain on our medical personnel and facilities. On top of all this we have experienced a global outcry for racial justice unlike anything in modern history.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is, in some respects, novel, the issues of racial inequality that have been crystallized by the recent tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, to name a few, are not new. Sadly, they are emblematic of the history of slavery in America. To fully embrace our calling to pursue justice and to walk in unity in the present, we need to understand something of the painful injustices of our past.
The United States’ slave trade began in 1619, when approximately 20 enslaved Africans landed in the British Colony of Jamestown, VA. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, during the 341 years of “slave trading,” approximately 388,000 Africans were taken from their homeland and brought to North America to work as slaves. By 1860, the U.S. had a population of 3.9 million enslaved people of African descent. Slavery was legally abolished in the U.S. with the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865. Thus, for 246 years slavery was legal in this country.
Even with the passage of the 13th Amendment, however, the daily conditions of life for African descendants in America remained unjust. For example, in 1857, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, that the Constitution was not meant to include citizenship for Black people. That did not change until the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 granting citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States--including former slaves. Though now citizens, African-Americans still could not vote in the nation they were forced to build. It was not until 1870 and the ratification of the 15th Amendment that Black people received the right to vote.
After the passage of these crucial amendments many states, especially in the south, enacted purportedly “race neutral” laws aimed at perpetuating the oppression of Black people. These included the infamous “Jim Crow” laws which were enforced from 1877 through the mid-1960s. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality – a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal.” In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure mortgages in and around African-American neighborhoods, a practice known as “redlining.” This incentivized White people to avoid buying homes in these areas and caused Black-owned homes to lose value. The result was deeply segregated neighborhoods and a loss of wealth for African-Americans in both the north and the south.
It was not until 1954, when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Bd. of Ed. Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, that “separate but equal” was determined to be inherently unequal and discriminatory against Black people. Legislative efforts continued throughout the 1960s including: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which legally ended the institutional segregation of the Jim Crow era; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, aimed at undoing systemic efforts to keep minorities from voting; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which made it illegal to discriminate against Black people in renting and selling homes.
This is just a brief sketch of the legal background to the issue of racial inequality in America. Our Black brothers and sisters in Christ also have countless painful stories of their own personal experiences with injustice based solely on their skin color. We must stand together and act against racial injustice in the name of Jesus. Based on the extensive history of this issue we know that our task is formidable, but we also know that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength! As a starting point, we have adopted the following Race and Justice Goals for Freedom Church:
- To address the race-related barriers that prevent the people of Freedom Church from worshiping together, serving together, and embracing Christ’s mission together in genuine love, understanding, and unity.
- To mobilize the people of Freedom Church to serve the people of Philadelphia and the surrounding region who are underserved or suffering (at least in part) due to past or present racial injustices in the United States.
- To promote justice and sacrifice for the benefit of our brothers and sisters as fundamental values of our church community and Spirit-empowered witness to the world.