“I’m here because somebody marched,” Obama said in a speech in Selma, Ala. “I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.” (Barack Obama, Selma, Alabama, March 2007)
During his first run for president, Barack Obama seemed poised to achieve many of the goals that activists like the Greensboro Four had first set. It was a mantle that he explicitly took up, calling himself a member of the “Joshua Generation.” As in: Moses got the Hebrews out of Egypt and nearly to the Promised Land, but he couldn’t cross over the Jordan. That task was left to Joshua.
“The previous generation, the Moses generation, pointed the way. They took us 90 percent of the way there. But we still got that 10 percent in order to cross over to the other side,”Obama said in Selma, Alabama, in March 2007. “So the question, I guess, that I have today is what’s called of us in this Joshua generation?” (David A. Graham, The Atlantic, October 12, 2016)
In one of the ironies of ironies, whites brought the gospel of the kingdom of God to the blacks. Some heard about Jesus from Moravian missionaries that boarded slave ships to the West Indies. There on the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix they preached the good news to the slaves.
But most black slaves received the gospel with the backing of their Southern white plantation owners who were mainly Baptists. These same owners allowed certain black men to receive a little schooling so they could read the Bible and become pastors to the slaves.
These black pastors who could read studied how God delivered Israel from Egypt. This became the slaves’ hope – “if God delivered Jewish slaves, He will do it for black slaves, too.
Negro spirituals, such as “We Shall Overcome,” “Go Down, Moses,” “Wade in the Water,” and others gave voice to the slaves’ faith in God and encouraged other slaves. The songs were acts of faith and prayers at the same time.
There’s not much good which can be said about the evils of slavery, except that it produced a depth of the spirit in black Americans. This spiritual depth brought forth the Civil Rights marches and men like Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and others who were determined to see the blacks set free.
The importance black churches played in the Civil Rights Movement and the years afterward can not be overstated. They focused their communities on the long-held promises of freedom and kept them moving toward their goal.
Yet, I believe Barack Obama spoke prophetically that black Americans “still got that 10 percent in order to cross over to the other side.”
How will this be achieved?
(Continued in Part 4…but if you want to read all of the parts to date, you can go here.)