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"The Charge Which I Make Against the Anglo-American Pulpit Today"

From the sermon by Reverand Francis J. Grimke, “The Negro Will Never Acquiesce As Long As He Lives” on November 20, 1898:

Another discouraging circumstance is to be found in the fact that the pulpits of the land are silent on these great wrongs. The ministers fear to offend those to whom they minister. We hear a great deal from their pulpits about suppressing the liquor traffic, about gambling, about Sabbath desecration, and about the suffering Armenians, and about polygamy in Utah when that question was up, and the Louisiana lottery. They are eloquent in their appeals to wipe out these great wrongs, but when it comes to Southern brutality, to the killing of Negroes and despoiling them of their civil and political rights, they are, to borrow an expression from Isaiah, “dumb dogs that cannot bark.” Had the pulpit done its duty, the Southern savages, who have been sinking lower and lower during these years in barbarism, would by this time have become somewhat civilized, and the poor Negro, instead of being hunted down like a wild beast, terrorized by a pack of brutes, would be living amicably by the side of his white fellow citizen, if not in the full enjoyment of all his rights, with a fair prospect, at least of having them all recognized.

This is the charge which I make against the Anglo American pulpit today; its silence has been interpreted as an approval of these horrible outrages. Bad men have been encouraged to continue in their acts of lawlessness and brutality. As long as the pulpits are silent on these wrongs it is in vain to expect the people to do any better than they are doing.

Rev. Grimke is a new figure to me. I came across him by tracking down a footnote in the fantastic biography of Ida B. Wells I’m reading. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day I’m thinking about those like Grimke and Wells who, during the years of reconstruction and Jim Crow, laid much of the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement that came decades after their deaths. These were leaders who, like Dr. King, drew deeply from their Christian faith to challenge the dehumanizing systems during their lifetimes.