I remember the black smoke. Only being 8 I can’t recall all the intimate details but I remember the smoke. Billowing high into the air, etching it’s choking sting into the minds and hearts of a people rejected and despondent, forever. Not only that, but it’s continuing effect has wafted through urban centers putting at odds families, neighbors, and dare I say, friends. That’s the Los Angeles I grew up in.
In 1860 the sentiment wasn’t much different. Thursday, November 29, B.M. Palmer stood atop his pulpit at First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans and proclaimed to his, probably predominantly white congregation, “With this institution assigned to our keeping, what reply shall we make to those who say that its days are numbered? My own conviction is, that we should at once lift ourselves, intelligently, to the highest moral ground and proclaim to all the world that we hold this trust from God, and in its occupancy we are prepared to stand or fall as God may appoint. If the critical moment has arrived at which the great issue is joined, let us say that, in the sight of all perils, we will stand by our trust; and God be with the right!”1
Of course Palmer was talking about the institution of servitude which had made the South so prosperous. He goes on to to tie up so inexorably the life of a Southerner with that of the slave so as to consider the destiny of both as one. In seeking to understand his thought pattern on slavery we need not look far. He goes on to explain that the trust of slavery was a biblical commandment not expressly condemned. This he does, or tries to do, with a simple logic. God doesn’t condemn the institution so neither shall we.
So how does this tie into how we view our African American brothers today? There are several relations I see in the attitude of Palmer to that of White America today. First, I see an attitude on part of White men an attitude of superiority, whether they know it or not. Secondly, I see an attitude of inheritance of that Southern sentiment, though we did not ask for it. This not only holds true for other White men, but I must say I fall in with the group which I claim to speak against.
Only when we have a fully-realized eschatology will some of the attitude of superiority melt away. Only when we see with fresh vision the revelation of John and the multitudes from every tribe and tongue can we move beyond ourselves. When we realize that we ourselves were once alienated and cut off from God can we begin to share in the wonderful inheritance which is not only ours but theirs as well, and that through faith which is a gift of God.
In inheriting the Southern attitude I mean that we try to take the moral ground that as a White race it is our ancestors who made this nation great. A brief look past textbooks written from a biased standpoint can reveal to us that our nation was built, not only by White men, but some of our deepest thought came from those whose backs bore the heavy hand of ruthless slave owners. Here I’m thinking of guys like Frederick Douglas, Lott Carey, and those like them.
I’m not the first White guy to apologize to my friends, nor will I be the last. I’m also not the only White guy who didn’t fully understand what to apologize for. When I see the faces of Michael Brown and those who followed in his wake, my heart is utterly destroyed. I weep, I’m angry, and I hate what our depraved brains have done in the name of justice. We have enslaved an entire race in the name of justice and equality. I don’t know how many more lives it will take to make a cultural shift but I do know that one day God will make all things new. Black lives still matter today but on that glorious day the smoke will no longer carry the same sting it did in 1992. There will be only purity and we won’t have to weep over our slain brothers anymore. Oh what a magnificent day that will be.
1. Palmer, B.M., The South: Her Peril, and her Duty. 1860.