Third Sunday after Pentecost; Honoring Juneteenth
Message: "The Third Reconstruction"
Scripture: Luke 10:25-37
Preacher: Michael Martin
My fellow Epworthians, I am, once again, honored to be here, addressing you on the Sunday before Juneteenth. And, again, the “here” to which I refer is the desk in my home office. And, within just a year, everything I had to say last year about the strangeness of delivering a spoken message virtually has been rendered obsolete. When it comes to adjusting to a zoom oriented existence, and, for that matter, how the pandemic has changed everything about everything, we have all, I am sure, heard it all. So let me spare you all that and simply say that I am, once again, honored to have the opportunity to address you, my beloved congregation on this, the Sunday before Juneteenth. I keep saying once again because, for those who weren’t “here” (again in quotes) I had the same honor last year. And, Kristin asked me back. So, if any take issue with what I have to say today…take it up with Pastor Stoneking.
I want to talk today about the nature of the struggle against racism in America and where it might go now, a year after the widely publicized video of the murder of George Floyd changed the mood of a nation already struggling through a pandemic and the closing days of a mad presidential administration. I spoke last year of movements, describing the movements to destroy slavery and the movement to end Jim Crow. Wrapping my hopes around the empathy for others so eloquently described by Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan, I concluded:
I have hope. I hope, long, indeed pray for another movement, a movement akin to the now revered, increasingly ancient civil rights movement. The urgency of now is what that movement embodied, with white people participating as avidly as their black siblings. We, you and me, could be part of such a movement. We, you and me, must be part of such a movement.
White America, I said, had to realize that, in the words of the Statue of Liberty poet Emma Lazarus, “until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
What I’ve seen since, generally, is a lot of abruptly-raised consciousness on the part of white people and the white institutions they run. Everyone, from my college roommate to the NFL, the film industry, and, most recently, even the Journal of American Medicine, has acknowledged either active or passive participation in the institutionalized motors that drive racism in our society, and promised to do better. Consciousnesses were raised and the insidious, powerful, and persistent presence of racism in so much that we do was acknowledged.
For Black people there has been an enormous feeling of vindication. Vindication resulting from truth telling. It is impossible to describe the many levels of betrayal a Black person feels when confronted, as he is so frequently, with racism during a given day. I would venture that one of the worst elements of racism is the gaslighting, the insistence that it is not even taking place. After all, it is illegal, immoral, and socially unacceptable, so it couldn't be happening. To have the world recognize the cruelty that the now convicted Officer Chauvin’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck represented to all of us was vindication.
I realize now, I think I read it somewhere—in fact my fellow congregant Diane Rush Woods told me the Poor People's Campaign had already conceived of it—that what was wishing for was a Third Reconstruction. We had the long evil of slavery finally denounced, and destroyed by the Civil War, a terrible trauma. It was followed by a period of Reconstruction. The first. Then we had the long evil of Jim Crow, emboldened by the demise of the Reconstruction Era. It was broken by the trauma of the Civil Rights Movement during which the sight of marchers being attacked by police dogs, and crushed by high pressure fire hoses was brought into American living rooms. That was followed by a period of Reconstruction. The second. Then we eventually found ourselves in a nation that could tolerate the murder of Trayvon Martin, the murder of Heather Hyatt in Charlottesville, the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, and the televised murder of Eric Garner. We needed a Reconstruction. The third.*******
I love the parable of the Good Samaritan. As you recall, in response to a lawyer challenging him on God’s law of loving one’s neighbor, Jesus told the parable. It is about a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a Jewish priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Although Samaritans were definitely others, traditionally despised by Jews, the Samaritan helps the injured man. He tends his wounds and takes him to an inn where he leaves him with instructions to the innkeeper to take care of him and put it on his tab. What I find so instructive in the parable is the insistent lesson that we must become one, truly one, in order to ever, ever reach our goal of racial justice. For a white person in America, becoming truly one with one’s fellow black person almost surely requires dedication and sacrifice, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.
It is significant first that Jesus is relating the parable to his fellow Jews. The Samaritans were, I understand, not mere outsiders, but considered by Jews to be a despised enemy. And here, Jesus tells a story where a Samaritan is the hero.
What I really like, though, is the degree to which the Samaritan gives of himself help the injured man, who the whole point being, is not one of his people. I mean, he really puts himself out there: he uses his own oil and wine to dress the man’s wounds. He puts the man on his own ass, takes him to an inn, where he pays for his lodging and leaves him with an open tab. It is made clear here that truly loving one’s neighbor involves significant cost and risk. He leaves the man with instructions to the innkeeper to care for him until he is well, no matter what the cost. *******
Last year, I spent a lot of time explaining the nature and significance of Juneteenth, originally a Texas observance, transplanted to California with all the Black Texans that came here during WWII. Since last June, Juneteenth has received more attention and explanation than ever, even becoming an official holiday in some jurisdictions. But, just to be sure, and because it is significant to my hope today, let’s hit it once more.
Juneteenth celebrates the day, June 19, 1865, when the slaves of Texas were officially freed, about a year-and-a-half after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863. There was a war on, and it didn’t end until two months before Juneteenth. It was June 19,1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived by ship at Galveston with 2,000 United States troops and announced that “the people Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
The reason I wanted to touch on this anew is that the fact that the General showed up with a couple thousand troops is significant. To Texas, this was the beginning of Reconstruction. ********
Reconstruction, generally thought to have begun with the federal Reconstruction Act of 1867 was intended to reintegrate the states of the Confederacy and their 4 million newly-liberated slaves. It had the backing, obviously, of many Congressmen and, mostly northern, citizens. For a brief period, in most cases backed by federal troops like those traveling with General Granger, there was Black voting and the election Black people to local, state, and federal offices. Then, by 1878 political shifts in Congress and the Executive Office (as the White House was then known) resulted in the withdrawal of federal troops and the literal end of an era. Hence the frequent announcement of “the first black—fill in the blank—mayor, Congressman, senator, etc. Since Reconstruction.” That’s what that means. The abrupt withdrawal of the federal troops to enforce federal laws, a compromise reached under the Hayes administration, southern states took over their own governance, the Klan was born, anti-black legislation grew and flourished. It gave birth to Jim Crow, the version of the south that I grew up with, with “whites only” and “colored only” signs all over the place. Reconstruction was over.
The United States was born with what has been termed often this past year the “original sin” of slavery. After a centuries-long movement culminating with the growing crescendo of the Abolitionist movement, the conscience of the nation was sufficiently moved. A bloody Civil War was fought and that original sin was erased. It was further erased by treaty, then by statute and regulation. Its abolition was recognized by the courts.
But slavery, and particularly the racism that had always been used to justify its existence in a free nation had become a way of life. It had not been erased from the hearts and minds of the people devoted to its sinful existence and the money it produced. To enforce the principals for which the Civil War was fought and won, the United States Army had to make its presence known. The former Confederacy was, perhaps, on its way to Reconstruction. A new nation might have emerged from the mid-nineteenth century carnage. The Compromise of 1878, followed by the Supreme Court’s holding in Plessy v. Ferguson, however, put an end to it.
What followed was the Jim Crow era, and widespread terrorism and violence inflicted, usually with impunity, upon Black Americans. We are just recently becoming aware, for example, of the horror that took place a century ago in Tulsa. There was similar horror in Rosewood, Florida. There were similar riots in Chicago and other major cities. Lynching was epidemic.
Then came the Second Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Movement. Growing from the constant, persistent efforts of W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century, The Civil Rights Movement, somehow, captured the imagination of America. The Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference pushed the movement into the American consciousness. Emmitt Till had been lynched in Mississippi. Four little girls were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham. American households saw televised news accounts of Alabama police forces quelling demonstrators, women, children, with attack dogs and high-pressure firehoses. Something about that was too much to take.
The mood of the American public shifted. In the wake of that shift American public shifted. In the wake of that shift
came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This legislation, and the court cases that followed, formed the basis of much of the incursion on racism in America since. These laws are the recourse the black people have had to defend our rights since then.
1968, an incredibly turbulent year that saw everything from the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and the police riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. It also saw positive changes across the nation, as colleges and corporations decided that racial diversity was in their best interests. Black people were seen in places that were previously all white, like Congress, elite colleges, and the Supreme Court. Yes, Thurgood Marshall who had argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court had been appointed to that very Court in 1967. Cities with large Black populations elected Black mayors for the first time. The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1969. It was a promising new era, during which I attended a fancy college and a prestigious law school and entered a profession that made my mother proud. Promise abounded. And why not. Because of Brown v. Board of Education racial discrimination has been illegal all my life. The integrated schools we attended would make for a happily integrated society, right?
Living in the real world, of course, I could see that things were not exactly turning out so happily.
I could speculate, and we could discuss, forever, the reasons for the apparent failure of the Second Reconstruction. It seemed that the furor, faith, and energy for change that seemed to flow out of the banner year of 1968 was gone by the 1976 bi-centennial celebrations of America’s historical greatness. I recall remarking to a classmate when I arrived at law school in1978 that when I had left the Bay Area in 1972, blatant racism had become unacceptable. I could not help but notice, I told him, coining a phrase, “the new blatancy.”
Disco had arrived, taken hold, and become trivialized. Frat row was back in all its pre-sixties glory. Corporate law was at the forefront of most of my classmates’ minds. During a post-exam celebration I, with a group of my Chicano classmates, were asked to leave Larry Blake’s. (Remember Larry Blake’s? Remember me? I was too rowdy for Larry Blake’s).
I got to Washington, D.C. to start my law career at the beginning of Reagan’s first term of office. Thurgood Marshall died. Clarence Thomas, viewed widely as his Black replacement on the Supreme Court, was confirmed…in the ugliest manner…to date. The crack cocaine epidemic and the urban decay in which it flourished hardened America’s attitude toward its less fortunate people, its poor people, its Black people. Forward-looking, relatively progressive network television like Barney Miller, gave way to such foolishness as That’s My Mama!
For me, my heart sank when I realized that raising innocent little children was not to be. My daughter, barely four, had apparently been discussing race and color one day in pre-K. She asked me that evening in a quiet moment, “Daddy, Is I’m veige?
Well, after some back and forth I figured out that she had talked to a classmate who had informed her that she was not Black, but, indeed, beige. I had hoped, vainly, it seems, for better, but it looked like racial education was going to have to continue for still another generation.
By the end of the second decade of this millennium, America had grown accustomed, inured to, news of, even televised evidence of the regular seemingly routine killing of Black people and, occasionally Brown people, by various police agencies. The Second Reconstruction, it seemed, was over.
Then, the George Floyd murder emerged on the video that made it famous and changed the world. In my message last year, I described, somewhat emotionally the effect it had on me as a person who had been, shall I say, under police control more than once. I also described the reaction of the rest of America and looked forward the positive change that boded. What I described, I realize now, is a Third Reconstruction.
Here is where Luke’s description of Jesus’s teaching comes in. *******
Central to my message last year was the point that the only anti racism movements that have historically gained any traction in America are those wherein everyone, white people included, joined the cause.
It is difficult, near impossible it seems, for white people in their hearts, minds, and souls to actually feel the pain borne, on a constant and daily basis by black people. Don’t get me wrong. I do not throw blame, but merely acknowledge the degree to which racism, and blindness to racism, is at the core of our very culture. Our culture has been carefully and efficiently constructed to make the occurrence and acceptance of racism comfortable. We also live in a world carefully and efficiently constructed to make the fighting of racism by white people uncomfortable.
As a result, it seems that an unseen, unnamed force in society historically keeps its metaphorical knee on our neck, battled by wave after wave of movements toward justice, some more successful than others. It seems, upon casual observation, that the more successful movements are those that ca