Saturday, September 15, 2012

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions

On James Baldwin's Artistic Confessions: When Baldwin wrote "All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique" in Esquire magazine in April 1960, he captured the essence of the artist's soul. But being black in mid-twentieth-century America certainly challenged Baldwin's artistic intellect. First, how was he to be taken seriously as an African-American writer? And second, did the United States even have a future purpose for African Americans? The last question, in particular, haunted Baldwin, as he could not envision an America where blacks achieved full democratic equality in the midst of a modern industrial society, i.e., affordable (suburban) homes, good (integrated) schools, middle-class jobs with fringe benefits, and access to public accommodations. In his 1963 essay collection The Fire Next Time, Baldwin offered his diagnosis of American race relations, which contained many elements of Du Boisian integrationism. He stated, "And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it." And although the prospects for racial integration were slim under Jim Crow, a black acceptance of whites (and their history) seemed the only plausible path toward equality. For most middle-class whites were still trapped in a history that they did not yet understand.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Early Black Church

On the Early Black Church: In April 1787, Rev. Richard Allen and Rev. Absalom Jones co-founded the Free African Society (FAS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As two of the earliest African Americans to become ordained Christian priests, Allen and Jones used the FAS as a community outreach organization to help black Philadelphians satisfy some of their basic needs with education and employment opportunities. But after the turn of the nineteenth century, the FAS grew into separate African-American church groups. Jones and many FAS members joined the Episcopal Church, while Allen considered starting an independent Protestant denomination of his own. In 1816, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Pictured above is the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, which served as the first black church in the United States. It specifically appealed to Afro-Christian free men and women who understood Allen's theology as a force of liberation. In other words, Allen saw his purpose in the pulpit as two-fold. First, he advocated abolition in his weekly sermons, and second, he spoke against the vitriol in antebellum race relations, especially in cities such as Philadelphia. Across town at the African Church of St. Thomas, Jones too condemned the evils of slavery in his sermons. In fact, Jones' congregation even petitioned Congress about the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which kept runaway slaves living in constant fear of being re-enslaved.