Archives for posts with tag: race


Here on Arsenal Street I am observing our Temple House candle and prayer hour.

Each Wednesday our Temple House community lights a candle in a window at 8 PM.  For an hour we take time to pray for peace in our St Louis neighborhood.

This week I pray with the memory of 4 evenly spaced gunshots two nights ago.  The day before, Miss Gigi shook her head at our Sunday evening meal when we talked about how warmer weather means more shooting.  She pointed to the alley behind us.  They shoot back there.  Yup.


Last week I took this photo walking home from Sara’s place.  We had finished our Tuesday meal together hosted in her home.  Over plates of enchiladas Stephen, Jessica and I had discussed how individuals who are people of color (Stephen and me) become the spokesperson for all those who look like us.  At least in the eyes of people who are not of our color.  I don’t mean just white people.  All of us tend to this simple-mindedness.  Our conversation made us more aware of our tendency.  More aware of what to overcome.  Then it was time for banana bread and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

The weather has been great here in St Louis.  I’ll soon begin my fourth summer here and after years of Chicago summers can’t say that it’s any stickier, hotter here.  The sky over St Louis can be dramatic with cumulonimbus clouds and storm fronts that rush through.

Drama.  Living in a neighborhood with gunshots a regular feature causes a person to take the shooting a little less seriously.  A few months ago during an early Sunday morning run I heard gunshots, listened carefully, gauged them to be from one direction several blocks away, and corrected my running course in another direction.  Simple.

A little less serious.  Cavalier?  That, among other reasons, is why on Wednesday evenings we light a candle and pray.


Sunday evening in Temple Gardens for a grand cookout and potluck.  Behind us to the right is the alley about which Miss Gigi just shakes her head.


Tonight I’m reading the summary placed online this week by the Equal Justice Initiative of its report Lynching in America:  Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.Lynching in America

It reports on the ongoing project of tallying up “terror lynchings” (nearing 4,000) which took place in the twelve most active lynching states in America (1877-1950) and the effects this social phenomenon has had on America’s way with African Americans.

What I think of is the specific effect it has had on how African Americans relate to those of us who are not African American.

Sometimes it is expressed by ‘yes, sir’.

In many places and certainly in younger generations it’s a fading practice, perhaps one that has been gone for a few decades.  But in some places and especially with those of a certain age with close roots in the South it has persisted.  It can make a person uneasy, feel uncomfortable.  It doesn’t feel right.  It seems to challenge the notion that all men are created equal.  And at times it has defined relationships in a way that runs contrary to what I believe, what I want them to be.

But the Equal Justice Initiative Lynching In America report makes clear why it is a social practice not so easily discarded.

In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police
officer by his name without the title of ‘mister’.

Socio-cultural memory persists in keeping ‘yes, sir’ as part of the African American way to relate to white Americans.  This kind of memory lasts for a long time.


This memory with its many other nuances creates the backdrop for a saying Dr. William Bentley of the National Black Evangelical Association was fond of repeating.  I recall it going something like this –

If you’re white, you’re alright.  Yellow, you’re mellow.  Brown, stick around.

Black?  jump back!

Even when ‘yes, sir’ isn’t spoken, it isn’t necessarily absent.  There are silent ‘yes, sirs’ yet present in interactions, relationships.  Even friendships.

Care in navigating interracial relationships means being careful.  Ready to jump back.  Stay close to the door.  Mistrust, suspicion, guardedness, uncertainty often come with it.

This means that I have a responsibility, as a non-African American person. To acknowledge a long season of wrongs and power structures.  To memorialize it in ways such as Equal Justice Initiative plans to place markers where lynchings took place.  To disavow and disassemble the apparatus built on all of that.

Yes, sir.

It was the end of the meeting.  The Captain walked to the pulpit.  It was time to pray.

We had prayed, sang, spoken of our faith in a God who calls us to be peacemakers in a world where great forces are at work to exclude, separate, marginalize people.  Based on race, religion, class.  Now we felt good.  It was time to close in prayer.

But the Captain had something to tell us first.

He told us that God had spoken to him this afternoon.  The God who calls us to go.  To places we would not choose for ourselves.  The God of Abraham.  Moses.  Jeremiah.  Of Jesus, the only begotten Son, who came to earth from heaven.

The Captain told us of a time when he worked in Kirkwood MO.  Kirkwood is one of many communities ringing St Louis.  The Captain lived in St Louis at that time.  He is African-American.  He did not have a good experience in Kirkwood.  It was an experience of prejudice and bigotry.  In Kirkwood.

But now he lives in Kirkwood.  Irony.  The Captain was assigned by the Salvation Army to a living quarters in Kirkwood.  No, not the Army.  The hand of God.

The Captain told us that he now sees.  Racism, or open arms?  Smiles, or hard looks?  God has called him to be in Kirkwood.  Welcomed or not.  He sees what God’s doing.  God loves to send his people to go confound this beloved world.  Challenging it.  Inviting it.  Changing it.  And when we follow where he leads us we are changed, too, the Captain said.  He knew.  He had been changed.

He invited us to join him as he prayed.  We were quiet as we bowed our heads and he prayed.

After the meeting a woman came and asked me about the Captain.  She lives in Kirkwood, has for many years.  She’s white.  She wanted to speak with him.  She wanted to talk with him about what had happened years ago in her town.  It bothered her that Kirkwood meant what it did to him.  She wanted to find out what she could do.  And to let him know that she considered him her neighbor.  In Kirkwood.

I pointed to him over on the other side of the crowd.  I watched her walk toward the Captain.  Someone else came up to ask me something.

The meeting was over.  A band had played.  The Territorial Commander had preached.  Eloquent young men and women had spoken.

But I believe that the meeting of the Captain and the woman from Kirkwood made the angels sing in St Louis that afternoon.

ARC Chapel - Copy

We agree.  Let’s go see.

First, lunch.  The Hardee’s drive-thru near our office.  Charbroiled chicken sandwiches.  Neal’s driving so I get to eat mine first.  Neal wanted to try the jalapeno something-somethings, which look something like batter dipped french fries.  I try one.  Neal munches while he heads the car onto westbound I-64.

People, some people, around here still insist on saying “Forty” when referring to I-64.  US 40.  It is.  But after a year in St Louis I know it’s the old-timers.  Some of those old-timers really aren’t old.   It’s more a frame of mind.  US 40.  It hints back to a day before the federal interstate system.  Pre-Eisenhower.  I guess that when I was a kid someone was starting to build these interstate roads.

When I was a kid.  That would have been the days of Kennedy, Nixon.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North on I-170.  East on I-270.  Exit and then south on Florissant Ave.  We turn left into the drive for a community center where Salvation Army and a few other agencies set up last Saturday, will again tomorrow, to serve people of Ferguson MO.  Park.  Go in.  Talk to a couple of the staff.  Who commiserate with us about the troubles.  Back in the car.  I drive so Neal can eat his now cold sandwich.

We continue south on Florissant.  It is a suburb that looks like a suburb.  Businesses, not close together.  Just enough space to give them the look of eyes a little too far apart.  We are seeing police cars everywhere.  St Louis County cruisers.  At about every corner.  It looks like the President could come through.  Not today.

We also see homes.  Neat, definitely not ostentatious.  Tidy neighborhoods.  Closer together than Florissant Ave. businesses.  Humble homes huddling together, still.  It’s early afternoon and they look very quiet.

Now, lots of police.  Cars, but now standing, small groups walking.  I notice the older policeman who seems to be represented in each group of county brown.  How they are described, they look, in their uniforms.  Yes, mostly white.

We have joined dense slowly moving traffic.

Somehow it reminds me of the tourists who visit Paris to see Notre Dame at Sunday vespers.  Worshipers sit.  Around them slowly circulate the tourists there to see the cathedral, hear the organ.  Not engaged, not worshiping.  Just came to see the thing.

On the left.  The burnt-out Quik Trip which is a landmark for these times of trouble in Ferguson.  Dramatic, how the burnt front and center is skeleton like, structural metal bare, swooping upward.  Now it reminds me of Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.  I have an overactive associating mind.

On the right, the McDonald’s which is not burnt but has seen its share of troubles.  Lots of people and dozens of police.  Later in the day we hear it’s because Jesse Jackson was in there.

We see the Schnucks and Target stores and the ominous dark law enforcement vehicles in their lots.  I think Neal said ‘FBI’ and I think I saw SWAT on one.  Here and there, traffic lanes and drives blocked off.  Some shoppers.  All who we see, police and non-police, are in slow motion, not unpleasant.  Even the few protesters with signs seem to have that certain je ne sais quoi.

August night clouds 2014

I’m driving and Neal’s trying to take photos.  When he holds the iPhone up some give us looks.  Not real hard looks, just that squinty ‘hey, what …’ look.

We drive around the Schnucks/Target lots, back to Florissant Ave.  North to I-270.  The yellow then red traffic signal abruptly catches me and we joke about getting pulled over by the police.  We both give little nervous laughs.  We are out of here.


A newspaper began appearing on my desk once a week soon after I arrived last summer in St Louis.

You do know that I am old school.  I do appreciate a real newspaper.  One that you can spread out on the table while munching Grape Nuts.  Coffee spills.  No problem.

The St Louis American.  “Missouri’s largest, most widely read weekly newspaper.”  Started in 1928.  The African-American community in St Louis is it’s target population.

I am liking James Ingram’s columns.  The most recent on our breakfast table titled Lynchville, Illinois in honor of this year’s 200th anniversary of a town just across the river from St Louis.Lynchville

If really in luxury mode I like to spread a print newspaper over my head as I grow drowsy and doze.  The microclimate around me is warm, soothing.  Dampening noise.  Dimming light.

Lynching is perhaps the ugliest thing about America.  It is product of a period in American history between slavery and the civil rights movement.  The nation shifting uneasily as it tried to wrap its centuries-of-slavery attitude around the new reality.   America, 1870s to 1960.  Almost a century long American tradition.

Lately I’ve driven some of the roads in Missouri.  People are pretty decent.  but then I’ll see the stars and bars.

The Cross and the Lynching TreeMuch smaller and useless in creating a warm soothing microclimate is my copy of James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree.  Instead of drowsiness, innervating.  I am awake.  I feel mournful, eloquent, hopeful.  As Good Friday approaches us, dark and silent, Lynching Tree accompanies.

How long and how much and how will justice get done?  

Oh, my.  Read this.

What a breathtaking analysis of a topic which undergirds much current discussion on race and class in America.  Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld write about what drives success in today’s New York Times.

Chua and Rubenfeld present the Triple Package:  superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control.  How this package of traits has operated to dramatically benefit some groups in America.

Now, it’s all more nuanced than that.  But understanding how these traits come about and can be useful could guide us who serve others in what we have long been led to believe is an exceptional nation.

Wm Joseph Simmons founder of the KKK

The smug looking man seated at the table is Col. William Joseph Simmons, founder of the ‘second’ Ku Klux Klan.  The Colonel was present at the October 1921 House committee investigation of the KKK.

Today is our national holiday commemorating the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.  Take a few minutes today to check out the Digital Archive of the King Center.

MLK smiling  1967



Let me suggest a synthesis of Simmons and King in James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree.  I read it as part of Mary Veeneman’s theologies of liberation course at North Park Seminary.  It challenges and inspires.  Readable yet deep.  I highly recommend it for your 2013 reading list.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Late yesterday I posted the Detroit Free Press’ editorial view of the consent agreement being proposed for the City of Detroit by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.  Here is a helpful overview from Steven Yaccino of the New York Times of this very sensitive issue for Michigan and its largest city.  Yes, it is money, but it’s also autonomy.

Detroit is legend as a metropolitan area painfully hit since at least the 1970s by turns in industry and the economy.  NY Times reports that the city will run out of money this spring if something isn’t done, and by something is meant something substantial unlike the lacksadaisacal approach Detroit’s leaders seem to have taken over past years.

But Detroiters also know their history of race and politics.  Riots of 1967.  Coleman Young as the city’s first African-American mayor who would lead for twenty controversial years.  Eight Mile Road.  Attitudes and perceptions both in the city and surrounding suburbs of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties.  yeah.

The PBS Eyes On the Prize Detroit riots page displays a quote from those days.  Reverend Albert Cleage‘s observation about what happened five hot days in late July 1967 also informs us 45 years later.

This is a racial incident… it represents one simple thing: black people want control of black communities.



If Governor Snyder and Michigan, if Detroit’s suburbs, and anyone else for that matter in America who wonders what it’s all about, are going to ‘get it’, this must be understood and accepted.  How it is worked out will be the job of people in Lansing as well as metro Detroit, God bless and help you all.



But without seeing and hearing how the people of Detroit, as in its plus 80% African-American population, sees and hears?  well, good luck.

It would be like trying to fix a problem from a distance, in the dark.  Pretty dumb.

An article in today’s Chicago Tribune reports on the attitudes of Chicagoans on race, and especially regarding next month’s mayoral election. A map and charts show the racial profile of all the city’s 77 community areas. There have been changes since the fractious ‘Council Wars’ of the 1980s, but dangers exist depending on what happens in the election.

“Race and Politics” in the Chicago Tribune, January 23, 2011

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