Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America


How is it that in America the image of Jesus Christ has been used both to justify the atrocities of white supremacy and to inspire the righteousness of civil rights crusades? In The Color of Christ, Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey weave a tapestry of American dreams and visions--from witch hunts to web pages, Harlem to Hollywood, slave cabins to South Park, Mormon revelations to Indian reservations--to show how Americans remade the Son of God visually time and again into a sacred symbol of their greatest aspirations, deepest terrors, and mightiest strivings for racial power and justice.
The Color of Christ uncovers how, in a country founded by Puritans who destroyed depictions of Jesus, Americans came to believe in the whiteness of Christ. Some envisioned a white Christ who would sanctify the exploitation of Native Americans and African Americans and bless imperial expansion. Many others gazed at a messiah, not necessarily white, who was willing and able to confront white supremacy. The color of Christ still symbolizes America's most combustible divisions, revealing the power and malleability of race and religion from colonial times to the presidency of Barack Obama.


In a world filled with images of Jesus, this one made headlines. He stood in a stained-glass window wearing a simple white robe and a dark tunic. He held a staff in his left hand and with the knuckles of his right tapped gently on a large brown door. Wavy auburn hair fell to his shoulders, while his feet were bare. When sunlight struck the glass just so, kindness radiated from his white face and warmth from his brown eyes. This was a comforting Jesus who forgave sinners, blessed bread for the hungry, and promised peace to the anxious. For decades he had been with this black congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. But on one Sunday morning in September 1963, terror struck. Dynamite set by white supremacists outside of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church just after 10:20 A.M. exploded, and the face of Jesus shattered into a thousand shards of glass. In the blink of an eye, the prince of peace was made a casualty of race war.

At Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that morning, the children had heard a Sunday school lesson on “the love that forgives.” Four little girls were then in the basement lounge to freshen up. Denise McNair was the youngest. She was eleven years old and had thick straight hair that fell below her shoulders. Addie Mae Collins was fourteen, wore glasses most of the time, and kept her hair short. Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were fourteen too. Carol’s hair was longer, like Denise’s; Cynthia had a smile that beamed with joy.

But on that day, they died. Their lives were cut short because segregationists despised the aspirations of African Americans to vote, purchase homes, protect themselves, and receive fair treatment in the courts. They died, too, because they were at church that morning to worship Jesus.

Jesus had lived in the window for decades. He had listened as the congregation sang about his love, his sacrifice, and his triumph. He had been . . .

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