The Black History Month Series
First Concession, Last Concession?
BY VINCENT L. HALL
As we approach the shortest month of the year and the one reserved to celebrate Black History Month, the time for reflection is again at hand. Rather than center on personalities and prominence, we can delve into the philosophies and wisdom that “got us over!”
If “how we got over” missed you, you must’ve missed church, so let us start there.
The Black Church was hewn from the Black pulpit. Liberation theology was our only hope. The Reverend Dr. Freddy Haynes continually reminds us that America is full of churches with Black folk, which do not represent the “Black Church” tradition.
The “Black Church,” which was Black by law and Black by necessity, used scripture to liberate rather than incarcerate. The Black Church did not always have walls and floors. No ceilings, just skies!
The early Black Church met in brush harbors, barren cotton fields, and “Down by the riverside!” The mission of the Black church was to repeal and replace the God of White slave-owners. The Black church moved us from coerced obedience to conscientious objection.
Preachers John Marrant, Peter Durrett, Richard Allen, Jarena Lee, and others were tasked with leading slaves from silence and submission to rightful defiance and self-actualization.
Black preachers would not grant their consent to the evils of chattel slavery. “Thirty pieces of silver” goes a long way today, but not in the Black Church.
The Black preacher was forced to stand tall and resist the Christian capitalists who professed “Liberty and justice for all” while consigning a 3/5 share of that modest liberty to men and women of the darker hue.
When Charles Pinckney offered the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” he faced no measure of challenge from the “White Church or its avowed clergymen.” Black preachers faced terrorism and personal ruin alone.
Richard Allen and Absalom Jones pastored in Philadelphia, where the Constitutional Convention was being held. Allen and Jones had a moral obligation to fight Pinckney. Even when social and moral compromises are in order, concessions must be strategic and just. Three-fifths was a costly concession.
Dallas’ “Archbishop Emeritus” Dr. Zan Holmes often made this point about costly concessions using one of “Aesop Fables.”
“The Trees and the Axe” has been repackaged by several philosophers. However, George Tyler Townsend’s sounds closest to the Reverend Holmes’s recitation.
“A man came into a forest and asked the Trees to provide him a handle for his axe. The Trees consented to his request and gave him a young ash-tree. No sooner had the man fitted a new handle to his axe from it than he began to use it and quickly felled with his strokes the noblest giants of the forest.
An old oak, lamenting when too late the destruction of his companions, said to a neighboring cedar, “The first step has lost us all. If we had not given up the rights of the ash, we might yet have retained our own privileges and have stood for ages.”
My father was not a preacher, but he had a similar word of caution. Daddy used to say, “Give a White man an inch, and he’ll take a mile. Give him a rope, and he wanna be a cowboy!”
And whether you are stuck with the image of the ax handle or the cowboy’s lasso, the effect leads us back to Zan’s sermonic title, “Our first concession, became our last concession!”
Unveiling “Hidden Figures” is always apropos; however, we also need to survey our trees. We must admit that we provided some of the axes that destroyed our forest. Concessions have consequences!
Have we conceded our children and the Black Church? Have we conceded our futures to America’s body politic? Did we consent to the inch of convenience that turned into a mile of misery?
No answers this Black History Month, just questions! You need to study for yourself. Ignorance is the worst concession!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Both of the above mentioned Faith Leaders, Drs. Zan Wesley Holmes and Frederick Douglass Haynes III make no concessions to their faith and community commitment. There are two schools in the Dallas Independent School District named for each of them.