Author Compares Jesus’ Crucifixion to Black Lynchings During Book Signing and Discussion at Howard University

By Nick Westbrooks

Panelists from Howard University sat down with Dr. James Cone on Nov. 11 at the Andrew Rankin Chapel to discuss and critique the author’s latest book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

The panelists included Howard University professors Dr. Greg Carr of the Afro American Studies department, Dr. Ronald Hopson from the School of Divinity and Dr. Dana Williams of the English department as well as student Krystal Leaphart, the president of Howard’s NAACP chapter.

Cone discussed the premise of the book, which compares the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the historical lynchings of African Americans in the United States and the ironic relationship between the two. For certain Whites, religion justified the lynchings of Blacks, and in the midst of the terrorism, Black people used their faith and the symbolism of the cross to endure those distressing times, Cone asserted.

“Whites used Christianity to lynch Blacks, and Blacks used it to survive,” Cone said.

Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, describes the odd relationship as “the great paradox,” and he said it is the source of his passion and inspiration for writing The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The author grew up in Arkansas, a southern state where lynchings were prevalent during the early and middle twentieth century. Although he was aware of the terrorist acts, further study peaked Cone’s curiosity.

“After examining history, I asked myself how Blacks survived and remained sane despite the terror,” Cone said. “Paradoxically, it was the cross.”

Cone further connected the crucifixion and lynchings to the present by likening Jesus to African Americans, the Roman government to the United States government and identifying the “Prison Industrial Complex” as a form of lynching. Dr. Carr identified the death penalty as the method of execution saying, “The lynching tree is today’s electric chair.”

Characterizing the cross as a symbol of judgment rather than affirmation for the oppressed, Dr. Hopson argued that Blacks should worship Christ instead of the object of His crucifixion, and he told Black Christians to “imagine a noose or electric chair at the front of the church instead of a cross.”

“My concern is that we have transformed the veneration of the victim to the veneration of the means of execution,” Hopson said. “It is really time for us to loosen our grip on the veneration of the cross.”

Leaphart spoke from a student’s perspective addressing the need to close the “intergenerational communication” gap between older African Americans and the youth. Although the Howard senior said she’s well read, she admitted a lack of knowledge concerning the Black experience as it relates to theology.

“I think the intergenerational gap was caused by us [youth] and our parents, because they didn’t tell us the stories, and we didn’t ask them to tell us, so we aren’t sure of how to move forward,” she said.

Dr. Williams praised Cone for making people aware of “the great paradox” and providing readers and scholars a space to discuss and critique his thoughts and findings. She also credited the author with positing the Black experience as a legitimate viewing of God and challenging the Black church to recognize its own Black experience.

The book signing and discussion was a part of the Black Presbyterians United and the Howard University School of Divinity’s “A Liberation Theology Weekend.” The programs included a discussion on “The Future of Black Theology” and a class on “The God of the Hip Hop Generation.”

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Celebrating the Foundations of the Future: Florida Avenue Baptist Church’s 100-Year Anniversary

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” –Isaiah 58:12

This week, the historic Florida Avenue Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. celebrates its centennial anniversary. During my summer stay in the District, I’ve had the privilege of visiting the church and being a part of the momentous occasion under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Jr. Many institutions observe anniversaries, but very few can say they’ve been around for 100 years, especially those established by the hands, heads and hearts of African Americans.

FABC was founded approximately four decades after Reconstruction, a time of illicit racism and segregation all over the United States. Already facing the problem of the “color line” in addition to scores of other challenges, the faith of the founders and members allowed the holy institution to thrive in the midst of those trials.

The 1919 Red Summer gruesomely afflicted Blacks across the country, including the nation’s capital. An exorbitant number of Blacks were violently attacked and killed at the heels of arguably America’s bloodiest race riots circa post-World War I. Despite the riots and the youth of the newly founded establishment, FABC survived the unrest.

In the late 1960s, FABC would also survive the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Some of the church’s congregants would faithfully serve and bravely fight in each of America’s conflicts overseas. Through all of the major events–positive and negative—in America’s history, FABC is still standing strong.

It’s a blessing to see three and four generations of families congregating the pews and completing the Lord’s work at FABC. Members rearing their children and their children’s children in the church teaches them to love Jesus and live righteous lives, but it also maintains the church’s rich legacy.

As the Rev. Jeremiah Wright noted when he delivered the centennial Sunday service message on July 8, African Americans are the only group of people that doesn’t document its history or revolution, which is detrimental to our livelihood.

“Failure to write down your revolution means it will die when we die.”

One of the key points Wright had for the FABC family was that people have to teach their history to the youth, because they don’t know it. This isn’t necessarily the church’s history, but Black history in general. Unfortunately, Black children learn distorted and destroyed history from their oppressor; HIStory instead of OUR story. In turn, this disempowers Black children and negatively affects their perceptions of themselves.

With teaching the youth our story, both the good and the bad must be taught. Wright calls this repentance. Despite our achievements, there are many things that we are ashamed of as a people. On many occasions, we’ve turned our backs on our African past, but we have to tell all sides of our story.

Most importantly, the 100-year anniversary is a moment of celebration. It’s a time for the church to rejoice at its wealthy history and the faith that has brought it this far as it optimistically looks toward the future.  The centennial also serves as a reminder that much work remains to be done, and more laborers are needed now more than ever to spread the Gospel and tackle the many issues facing Washington, D.C.’s Black community.

Congratulations to Florida Avenue Baptist Church on achieving 100 years of stewardship, evangelism, missions, social justice and education. You’ve come this far by faith feeling no ways tired. And with that steadfast faith, there’s no limit to where you can go. I wish you 100 more years of continued blessings and success.

Memorial Day: Remembering Our Service People at Home

Every year at this time, Memorial Day is observed. It’s a time when Americans remember the service people who fought and died in the country’s various wars from the birth of this nation through the present day.  The United States habitually involves itself in wars and conflicts abroad, declared or undeclared. In history classes, students learn about these battles and acknowledge the entirely too many lives lost in combat overseas.

Unfortunately, the history books and Memorial Day observers fail to acknowledge and memorialize the soldiers who lost their lives fighting in wars at home and quite inexplicably, against home. I don’t mean the government and mainstream media-spawned “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror,” although this message is also dedicated to the victims of these illusory wars.

In essence, I’m referring to the wars declared against individuals who merely wanted to enjoy their so-called irrevocable human rights but were denied such by the powers that be. During World War II, Black people across the country championed the Double V campaign in which African Americans committed to victory over totalitarianism abroad and victory over racism and discrimination on the home front.

Since the 1940s, the reasons for America’s involvement in conflicts abroad have changed on the surface from combating communism to suppressing terrorism. Nevertheless, Americans pay homage to those service people who gave their lives fighting in America’s wars, whether justifiable or unjustifiable.

Although the Double V campaign was probably the only official campaign waged, Blacks and other marginalized minority groups have always fought against ostracism at home and against home. Just like the conflicts abroad, an exorbitant number of lives were lost on America’s soil. The sources of death have transformed from lynchings to trigger-happy law enforcement, capital punishment and vigilante oppression.

On Memorial Day, we remember the deceased soldiers killed in other countries at the expense of “politics as usual” and America’s greed. Why can’t we salute our deceased freedom fighters who shed blood in the struggle for our God-given rights?

This is not to discount the contributions of the men and women of the U.S. armed services, and it’s not a critical analysis of foreign policy and defense. I appreciate our service people for sacrificing it all, but this is a call to recognize—on Memorial Day—soldiers of another sort who paid that same ultimate price.

Remembering Professor Mark E. Mack

If it were not for a medical hold on my account preventing me from registering early for classes, I probably would have never been exposed to professor Mark E. Mack’s biological anthropology class. Nearly all of the classes I needed for my first semester at Howard were filled. With hardly any options, I chose biological anthropology as my general elective. Let me emphasize that journalism majors only get ONE elective. My academic adviser told me it would be a difficult, but interesting class. That course would not only be challenging and mentally stimulating, but it would be life changing.

Regardless of who the professor was, the class would have been interesting, but having Mack as an instructor was an experience in itself. Mack was unquestionably passionate about the subject. He not only taught us the material, but he allowed space for self-learning, urging us to read the text prior to class.

In addition to teaching us diligence in preparing for class, Mack taught us discipline. Certainly adamant on punctuality, he started class on time and had a low tolerance for tardiness and poor attendance. I recall a specific lab day towards the end of the semester in which I had arrived to the lab about five minutes before the official class time, and Mack had already locked the door.

You did not want to earn low grades on exams. Yes, students are concerned about what grade they will receive in the class and how it will affect their GPAs, but if you had Mack for class, you would be afraid of his reaction. Upon grading a particular exam, Mack verbalized an expletive-filled rant and dismissed the class for its unsatisfactory performance. I feel sorry for that afternoon class, but luckily it was not my class.

His reaction was a bit extreme, but as I mentioned previously, Mack was passionate about anthropology and wanted his students to grasp the material and succeed. Mack was tough and strict, but it was in good reason. In essence, biological anthropology is about US! When we are learning anthropology, we are learning about ourselves, and I believe professor Mack taught his classes with this in mind.

We learned through archaeological evidence that humans originated from Africa. This was an important lesson in debunking the myth of White superiority and Black inferiority. Mack exposed us to historical racism within the field of biology, how Eurocentric scientists have attempted to promote Black inferiority through science. Some of these examples can be found in one of my previous posts, “Race, Racism and Science.”

We learned the differences between race, ethnicity and nationality as well as the dilemma of choosing your race/ethnicity on the census form. Mack used our class’s inability to fill out maps of Africa with the continent’s countries as a point that we should not classify ourselves as “African American” if we do not know anything about Africa. And unlike other biology professors, teachers, etc., Mack taught us about evolution, but he stopped short in suggesting that we believe evolution. A supporter of the creationism theory, he would say, “I ain’t going to hell y’all.” And, I’m not going either.

Mack was definitely a contender in his field. Along with teaching, he was the curator of the W. Montague Cobb Biological Anthropology Laboratory at Howard University. He served as the Osteological Supervisor for the Foley Square New York African Burial Ground project, and he worked on the Archeological Survey of the Walter C. Pierce Community Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Most importantly, Mark Mack was a loving husband and father who took pride in his family. His daughter was born during the semester that I had his class. I remember the smile on his face and the joy he had when he told us the good news. Last October, I had the chance to see her on campus with her father.  Around this time, President Obama apologized for the Guatemala syphilis experiment. Standing next to the football field, Mack and I briefly discussed the craziness of this revelation.

Outside of class, Mack was a cool brother. He would “dap me up” in Douglass Hall or express love while posting up outside of the building. Mack wanted his students to succeed and to make change in the global community. Anthropology has nothing to do with my major, but the class taught me about myself. It was one of the most difficult classes I have taken at Howard, and it is the ONLY class I got a C in. But, I do not regret taking the course. It was one of the best choices I made, but I do regret earning that C. Mack left his legacy and mark at Howard University and will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace Professor Mack

Race, Racism and Science (Written in 2009)

Howard University

Race, Racism, and Science

Submitted to

Dr. Mark E. Mack

For

Introduction to Biological Anthropology

By

Nick Westbrooks

12/2/09

Race has always been an issue that affects everyone in some form. Whether it is social, political, or economical race is something that is a concern to all. Throughout history up to the present day, race has also been an issue in relation to the field of science. Because race has some biological foundation, scientists have used it to explain certain phenomena and open up new doors for scientific research. In the articles “Bred in the Bone” by Alan H. Goodman and “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ‘A Moral Astigmatism”’ by James Jones, the close correlation between the topic of race and the field of science is discussed at length.

In “Bred in the Bone,” Goodman discusses the effectiveness and accuracy of physicians and forensic anthropologists using race to identify human remains. The article opens up with the story of rescue workers discovering a human left leg in the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after the Oklahoma City bombings. Clyde Snow was a forensic anthropologist whose job usually involved identifying victims in such crimes as this. After reviewing the individuals that survived the bombing, going through autopsy records, pathology reports, and photographs, Snow and the other forensic anthropologists couldn’t figure out who the leg belonged to. After measuring the leg and categorizing the leg bone through the use of technology, Snow eventually concluded that the leg belonged to “a darkly complected Caucasoid.”

The problem of using race to identify human remains came up after the discovery that the leg actually belonged to 21 year- old black female by the name of Lakesha R. Levy. Misidentifying people based on race has been a common mistake committed by forensic anthropologists. Without a skull to observe, identifying people accurately becomes even more difficult since the skulls provide more clues about a person’s race.

Over time, scientists have formulated different concepts of race. One concept that comes from the Greek idea of the great chain of being and the ideal types has been deemed anti- evolutionary, and it should not be used to explain race. In fact, anthropologists believe that race should have been eliminated several decades ago. After Darwin published Origin of Species, physical anthropologists used the theory of evolution to help explain human variation rather than the Greek scientific concept of race. Many believe that race itself is a myth, but the idea of race still exists.

Other scientists believe there are three main races: Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasoid. These races in turn are ranked according to intelligence and procreative ability. The Mongoloids were ranked the most intelligent, Negroids had the strongest sexual drive, and the Caucasoids were placed in the middle. For people who disagree with this idea and believe race is a myth defends that races do not exist, and sociopolitical policies should not be based on race. Others believe that social policy does not need a biological base, and racism does exist even though true races may not exist. The remainder of the people includes public health/medical professionals and anthropologists who are confused about the existence of race. They believe that racial biology is political, but at the same time they do not see race biology as bad.

Several anthropologists defend the argument that forensic anthropologists are good at identifying humans by race. They argue that racial variations correspond with regional differences. Along with the existence of race and using race to identify people, pre- World War Two physicians use to associate certain health disparities with specific races. All of these tactics have been proven to be inaccurate, and Goodman provides reasons why using race explain human variation is inaccurate.

First of all, race is skin deep. A person’s height, weight, eye and skin color cannot be accurately determined by using race as the identifier. Next, variations in genetic traits occur within the individual races rather than among different races. After that, Goodman states that racial analysis should not be based on the mix of genetics with culture and class with lived experiences. Lastly, race cannot be defined in a stable, repeatable way because race biology varies with time and place. In other words, the color line is always changing so there are a lot more than merely three main races in existence. Goodman also offers alternatives to classifying humans by race, and these include focusing on specific traits and describing human remains as well as possible. It may be true that race is a myth, but the issue of racism still exists.

Personally, I have been exposed to a concept of race that is similar to Philippe Rushton’s idea that there are three main races. Another source expresses that the races of the world originated with the Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasoid races. In Blacks In The Bible, James H. Warden Jr. explains that Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth became the fathers of the Mongoloid, Negroid, and Caucasoid races after the Great Flood. All of the other races came about “from mixing and mingling of the progeny of Noah’s sons.” As a believer of the Bible, I generally agree with this story about the origin of races. In a way, this biblical explanation supports Alan Goodman’s argument that there are various races and the color line never stays the same. Anthropologists usually do not address religion, and religious believers usually do not address science, but a connection can be seen in this discussion.

As far as using race to identify remains, I agree that using race is inaccurate. For example, the leg that was found after the Oklahoma City bombing had to have belonged to woman but it could have belonged to anyone in regards to race. In examining race, the differences I notice are more visual than physical. Underneath the skin, humans are the same for the most part.

In the article “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” James Jones discusses exactly what the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was and the morality of the group that conducted the study. 399 men who had syphilis were denied treatment so doctors could observe the effects of untreated syphilis during the late stage of the disease on black men. An additional 201 men who were free of the disease were used as the controls. The Public Health Service conducted the study and the results were high rates of mortality and morbidity among the syphilis victims than the controls. No treatment was involved, and the study was done solely for data.

Next, Jones explained what syphilis is. It is a contagious disease that can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or sexual and other bodily contact. The three stages of syphilis are the primary, secondary, and tertiary stages. Syphilis at its worst results is death. With this in mind, the question of ethics arose.

The public could not understand why these men agreed to participate in this study assuming they knew the risks of leaving syphilis untreated. One explanation was that the subjects did not know they had syphilis nor did they know what syphilis was. Also, the men were offered incentives for participating in the study. They were given such benefits as free meals and physical examinations. These factors questioned the morality of the experiment.

After being questioned, Public Health Service officers denied that the experiment was unethical. PHS officials also defended themselves against not giving the subjects treatment by claiming that penicillin would affect them negatively. The subjects may suffer from allergic drug reactions. Others argued that the immorality of the study was evident well before the men were denied treatments with penicillin. The disease could have been controlled at an earlier stage rather than reaching the life- threatening stage. The Public Health Service did not appear to be remorseful about using human beings as laboratory animals.

In the eyes of the public, the value of human lives outweighed the scientific merits. Some even found the study severe enough to be labeled as genocide. Some classified the experiment as racism, but the PHS denied both claims. Others associated the subjects with their social class instead of their race. Americans felt that anyone who was poor and helpless could have been a victim. The claim was that the men were tricked into participating in the study, and they were incapable of giving an informed consent to be a part of the experiment. After seeing this horrible display, Americans came to the realization that they need to protect society against scientific pursuits that ignore human values.

I find it no coincidence that all of the subjects were black males. If the PHS wanted to do an honest study, they would have mixed different ethnicities into the study to use as a comparison. This experiment is obviously racism because the article fails to mention any record of the effects of syphilis amongst any other ethnic group. If any black person questions why it is important to be aware and educated about what is going on around them, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is the answer. This is a prime example of how the dominant culture takes advantage of the ignorant. People don’t need to be scientists but they need the knowledge of what’s going on.