In the era of slavery, some voices used the Bible to justify the capture and sale of human beings, arguing that “God set different Orders and Degrees of Men in the World … some to be High and Honourable,…some to be born Slave, and so to remain during their lives.”
But others, like former slave Harriet Jacobs, drew upon their religious faith in proclaiming this idea “a libel upon the heavenly Father, who ‘made of one blood all nations of men!’”
In the era of segregation, some voices justified Jim Crow laws as the embodiment of God’s will, agreeing with a preacher who said, “When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”
But countless others were inspired by their faith to join the Civil Rights Movement and pray, sing, march and demonstrate for racial unity. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it, their ultimate goal was reconciliation, redemption, and “the creation of the beloved community.”
Today, we can still find people who use religion to defend the indefensible—but we can also still find those who are compelled by religious conviction to fight injustice and strive for “the beloved community.” In recent months we have seen people of faith assume leadership positions in the protests against police abuse that have taken place in Ferguson and other cities across the country. These leaders have been credited with preventing violence and providing opportunities for healing while reminding the nation that “black lives matter.”
This Black History Month teach your students about the role religious belief has played in America’s struggle for racial justice.