Clarence B. Jones is the former personal counsel, adviser, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. His personal, insider’s account of the 1963 March On Washington, Behind The Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation, was released last January by Palgrave Macmillan. Originally published in The Huffington Post.
by Clarence B. Jones
In commemoration of Black History Month, I want to share my thoughts about the historical influence of major black religious figures on the movement for freedom and participatory democracy, without regard to race or color, in our own country.
What’s the relevance or connection? The movement for transformative change of those institutions and policies in our country supporting racial segregation was fueled by young people with core values and ideals of freedom and democracy. The same core values for participatory democracy and equal access to opportunity motivating the youth in the Middle East.
Black and white young people, principally college students, in the late 50s and 1960s in our country did not have the benefit of instant communication with one another by use of the internet and companion social network technologies of Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones. The tools of communication they had were only television, radio, and next-day newspaper reports by journalists on the scene reporting their stories.
The determination and persistence of their non-violent peaceful protests opposing racial segregation or the War in Vietnam were influenced by the religious teachings of their “elders”: persons who formed the basis or backbone of the protest religious theology. A theology that constituted the philosophical foundation of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement in our country.
As our nation commemorates Black History Month, it is fitting that we pay tribute to contributions of such “elders” to our own nation’s struggle for participatory democracy and the influence such philosophy and political doctrines had not only on the youth in our country, but also on those university students, especially English speaking and reading young people, in the Arab world.
Bishop Richard Allen
Widely considered to be the “Father of the Black Church”, Richard Allen (1760-1831) founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).
Born into slavery in Philadelphia, Allen was allowed to buy his freedom at the age of 20. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1784, he became increasingly put off by the racist segregation of the white Methodist community. He responded by founding the AME, first as a local congregation and then uniting with a group of churches from surrounding cities to form the first black denomination in the United States. Elected as the institution’s first Bishop, Allen was a major influence in the development of black cultural identity and an inspiration for future generations of leaders who would use the church as major force for organization and unification in the black community.
Bishop William J. Seymour
From 1906 to 1909, William J. Seymour preached his radical form of Christianity from a run-down building in Los Angeles. His church was the host to thousands of visiting ministers, many of whom incorporated Seymour’s teachings about experiencing the Holy Spirit when they returned to their own congregations. The event became known as the Azusa Street Revival and is largely credited as the origin point for the modern Pentecostal or charismatic movement.