Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox/Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox/Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Article excerpt

The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox. By Stephen Budiansky. New York: Viking, 2008. 322 pp. $27.95 (cloth).

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. By Douglas A. Blackmon. New York: Doubleday, 2008. 468 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

This past semester I taught a course at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary on the anthropology of the cross. By a strange and powerful confluence of events, the session on "the crucified as innocent victim"-for which I had assigned reading from the recent work of theologian James Cone on the cross and the lynching tree-took place on Friday night, April 4, on the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. s assassination in Memphis, right down to the hour of the day. I showed the class a DVD of a conversation with Cone prior to this year's Trinity Institute, the theme of which was religion and violence. Cone took issue with King's uncritical assimilation of American Christianity and its implied white Jesus, asking: "How are you going to get a European white Jesus in Palestine? You can't get that. But with white theologians you can get almost anything out of Jesus. They . . . reinterpreted Jesus so he looked like them." The statement was clearly more than an aesthetic observation. White European imagery, ideas, assumptions, and politics were synonymous with the version of Christianity planted throughout the world by European armies and missionaries during the age of empire. Today, non-European theologians and minority voices within the European tradition testify to a rapidly changing global Christianity, but in many if not most American seminary classrooms their contributions are included for the sake of diversity while the hegemonic legacy remains firmly in place.

The fact that white Americans are encouraged from birth to view their privilege as normative and thus invisible has broad implications for the way Christianity is taught in American seminaries. Even well-intentioned white professors may not see the way their upbringing and education have formed (or deformed) their ideas about God and the teaching of theological subjects. The current presidential campaign has made clear the degree to which the United States in particular has delayed its confrontation with racism for more than a century. As race makes its first tentative forays into the public discourse in this country, theological education might do well to stay abreast of the developments, or even take a proactive role in forming leaders who can foster the difficult conversations that may soon be occurring with some regularity.

Information is an important first step toward overcoming white privilege in the theological classroom. As I moved more deeply into my presentation on the history of lynching in the United States, I soon learned that neither the white nor the black students knew very much about it. The Civil Rights Act of 1871, which allowed federal troops to supersede state law enforcement in responding to the widespread outbreak of lynching of newly enfranchised blacks and their white supporters, drew a blank from these well-educated men and women, as did the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, defeated by a Senate filibuster in 1922 and never revived, or the name of William Alexander Guerry, Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, assassinated in 1928 by one of his priests shortly after he called upon the diocesan convention to elect a black man to succeed him. Seeing a photograph of three black circus workers lynched in downtown Duluth in 1922 was the first some of my students knew that the practice was not limited to the South.

Two recent books from the field of American history provide an excellent starting point for anyone interested in shedding a white racist agenda for theology. Both are written by white men and, while both devote a great deal of space to the experience of blacks in the South, each makes clear the way the entire United States benefited from the repression of blacks throughout the country. …

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