Raphael Warnock Quotes Howard Thurman

Senator Raphael Warnock

At the end of Inauguration Day, I heard the new Georgia Senator the Reverend Raphael Warnock being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. At one point in the interview, Rachel pointed out how some Republicans had tried to hold Warnock's religion against him. As part of his response, he quoted the words of American philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman:

"By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst."


The words went by so fast that I had to pause and rewind, and listen to it several times. 

While contemplating these words, I thought of how slave owners had used biblical text to encourage passivity and obedience in their slaves. The church was the only legal gathering place for slaves, precisely for that purpose. So how were formerly enslaved people able to claim this religion after emancipation?

I do have a rather unique perspective as I was first introduced to biblical text through the words of the "Negro Spirituals" as sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which my father directed. These songs originated on the plantations, and became the clarion call for conveying these words to other enslaved people. And now those same words are the lyrics to the songs sung in all black churches. Adding melody to these words was an essential part of the redemption process, and many of the melodies came from Africa.

The lyrics of these songs were infused with double-meanings, such as announcements of a scheduled departure on the Underground Railroad, or of secret gatherings, etc. And it is no coincidence that the King James English translation of the Bible was commissioned around the same time as the onset of the slave trade.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers directed by Matthew Kennedy

Now Senator Warnock continues in the tradition set by Dr. Martin Luther King as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. I was saddened and frightened, however, to hear him say to Rachel that he will continue to serve as pastor now that he is senator. "Some of our sick brothers," as Dr. King stated, now know where he will be every Sunday morning. I certainly hope the security at the Ebenezer Baptist Church is sufficient to protect him.


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