In 1918 and 1919, black and white U.S. servicemen returning from World War I encountered tight job markets, unjust working conditions, and a deep distrust about their roles in society. The instabilities that followed, combined with a history of racism in the U.S., exacerbated racial tensions throughout the nation. Race riots broke out in cities around the country in 1919; white gangs pursued, beat, and sometimes killed black people and many predominantly black homes, churches, and places of business were destroyed. James Weldon Johnson, a black lawyer (and the writer of the hymn “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”) referred to the time as “The Red Summer” and, in his role as an NAACP organizer, coordinated peaceful protests against the abuses faced at that time.
In 1968 and 1969, partly in response to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there were race riots in over 125 cities throughout the U.S.
In 2018 and 2019, we have seen elevated levels of racial unrest and suspicion, the use of race as a wedge to divide society, and open advocacy for white supremacist positions on the part of public figures, including prominent celebrities, televised talking heads, and elected officials, up to and including the President of the United States.
Racism in the U.S. is not episodic; it has been and is a pervasive part of American culture. The intensity of race-related unrest one hundred years ago, fifty years ago, and today, though, offers an opportunity—or at least a handy heuristic—to think about the role of racism in the U.S. and the church’s engagements with it.
This edition of @ this point focuses on a hard, complex, and uncomfortable topic, but one that we must continue to attend to. Exploring racism—the varied experiences of it, the political and social structures that sustain it, and the failures (and, sometimes, successes) of the church to deal with it—is neither easy nor, generally, hope-filled. It is, though, necessary.
We are fortunate to have Dr. Will Coleman of the Interdenominational Theological Center as the lead writer for this edition. Will’s work and his ministry have been important to many over the years and we’re glad that we can offer @ this point as a platform for him to continue to help us think about race, racism, and white supremacy. Will’s respondents (Nikki Young of Bucknell University and Melissa Browning and William Yoo of Columbia Theological Seminary) offer wise and engaging reflections upon/responses to Will’s opening essay—as his reply to them makes clear. Our thanks to all of them and to all of you who take up this edition with the kinds of critical and charitable engagement that they model.
On behalf of the editorial board of @ this point, we wish you the best as we all find our footing in our present and sources of hope for our future by looking back at our past.