Black History is Our History
(February 23, 2023)
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. ” ― Alex Haley
It’s always struck me as odd. We have designated every month of the Calendar for one important cause or another. There’s National Parkinson’s Month (April); National Men’s Health Month (June). Heck, there’s even National Hot Dog Month (July) and National Pickled Peppers Month (October).
But when it comes to something as important as the heritage of the people without whom this country could never have been built, it is celebrated in the month with the fewest days to honor them.
I’m talking about Black History Month that we observe this month of February. That’s not exactly fair. But then again, so much of black history in America isn’t fair.
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Our Denomination’s Role in Black History
For some reason, some of us who are other than black think that this incredible history is something we can just skip over because, you know, it’s not about us. But IT IS about us, in every sense of the word. It also turns out that if you’re a part of this denomination that today we call the United Church of Christ, our participation in one of the most important notes in black history comes from our own backyard.
Lemuel Haynes was born in West Hartford in 1753 to a black father and a white mother. When they abandoned him, Lemuel went to live with a Deacon in the Congregational church. His new family loved him like all their children, provided him with the best education they could, and in that household he developed an interest in religion.
The little boy started writing his own sermons. During the Revolutionary War he became a minuteman. Lemuel was offered the chance to attend Dartmouth, but he chose instead to study Latin in New Canaan in preparation for the ministry. In 1785 he was ordained a Congregational minister -- the first man of color so recognized in the entire United States.
First preaching in Torrington, where he was rebuffed, he was called to Vermont, where he was pastor for a total of 40 years, caring for and loved by his mostly white congregations. This little abandoned boy had grown to be one of the brightest minds of his era.
Persistence and Black Courage
This Sunday as we read the Gospel, we will not only be peering in on the Devil tempting Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. We’ll be looking at the recent history of the ways this country began to wake up to the persistence of black courage throughout all the sins of racism, and the ways all of us interacted with a history that is too rich to fit into 28 February days.