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Like I asked before, DG, what is the colour of brains? Deny people learning or opportunities makes you superior or does your ability to inflict death or injury do that? Sh*t, they go back to heaven, the spirit or energy world, before you and unlike you, they are no longer concerned with the physical demands of a body! No need for food, drink, clothing or shelter or fing or jealousy! And you're still here looking on, interfering to help only where necessary!

Hooray for death! It's unappreciated!

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Illuminating the Whole American Idea

This article is part of β€œInheritance,” a project about American history and Black life.

This article was published online on February 9, 2021.

In 1862, an abolitionist from Philadelphia named Charlotte Forten decided to go south to the Sea Islands of South Carolina. She was taking up an important mission: teaching Black children, newly liberated by the Union Army, how to read. Two years later, she would describe for readers of The Atlantic the exhilaration she felt as she traveled to her post.

Charlotte Forten (Interim Archives / Getty)

We thought how easy it would be for a band of guerrillas, had they chanced that way, to seize and hang us,” she wrote in our May 1864 issue, β€œbut we were in that excited, jubilant state of mind which makes fear impossible, and sang β€˜John Brown’ with a will, as we drove through the pines and palmettos. Oh, it was good to sing that song in the very heart of Rebeldom!”

Forten’s writing is vivid and modern and beautifully descriptive. She takes her readers to a remote and brutal stretch of the Confederacy, and she renders her subjectsβ€”the persecuted, resilient people of South Carolina’s rice and cotton plantationsβ€”Β­fully human. (Forten, in fact, was one of the first to call the melancholic state of mind that she discovered among the formerly enslaved β€œthe blues.”)

For us, Forten is notable not only for her moral urgency but because she was the first Black woman to write in our pages. In the first decade of The Atlantic’s existence (the magazine was founded in 1857), it was the abolitionist Brahminsβ€”Emerson, Lowell, Stowe, Holmes, Longfellowβ€”who were most publicly exalted. And then, of course, came the giant, Frederick Douglass, who did immortal writing for The Atlantic. But Charlotte Forten, a Black woman who deserves to be remembered, has been mainly forgotten.

She came to my mind, though, during a conversation with Gillian B. White, one of our managing editors. Gillian was describing to me an idea, a way to use The Atlantic to fill in the blank pages of Black history. One of the questions that arose was Are we doing enough? Historically, this magazine has made many contributions on matters of race: Not only Douglass but W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington found a home for their writing here. When Martin Luther King Jr. sought a national audience for a letter he wrote while held prisoner in the Birmingham jail, he turned to The Atlantic. And The Atlantic featured on its cover the most influential article published in America in the past decade, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s β€œThe Case for Reparations.” But if we are to live up to this legacy, we have more to do. Gillian’s idea was to revive what we began to call β€œlost Black history.”

β€œFor so many Black Americans, history is a dead end,” she told me recently. β€œI look at my daughter and my niece and my nephew and wish I had more of their history to share with them. I really want them to see themselves represented in the story of this country and to know that America has always been ours, too. And yet Black people are left out of so many commonly shared American histories.”

Out of these conversations, and conversations across our staff, The Atlantic’s β€œInheritance” project was born. The articles in this issue of the magazine represent the first fruits of this continuing effort, which you will see manifest itself in print, on our website, and everywhere The Atlantic makes journalism.

We open this issue with a legend (and an Atlantic contributing writer), Anna Deavere Smith, who recounts her own coming to consciousness on a sheltered, mostly white college campus in the 1960s. Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard and a regular Atlantic contributor, revives the memory of one of the nation’s earliest and most dogged abolitionists (Allen’s article will be published on February 10). Clint Smith, one of our newest staff writers, and the author of a forthΒ­coming book, How the Word Is Passed, offers a close study of the ways in which America reckons with slavery, and guides us through the archives of a New Deal–era initiative focused on preserving the memories of the formerly enslaved. And our senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II writes movingly about the history of the Voting Rights Act through the prism of his mother’s own experience of American democracy (Newkirk’s essay will be published on February 11). These stories, and other stories being published on our website, are part of an ambitious, never-ending effort to fulfill The Atlantic’s mission: to illuminate the American idea, and to help build, through our writing, a more perfect union.

Vann Newkirk’s mother died in November at the too-young age of 56, as Vann was working on the article that appears in these pages. Vann’s colleagues and friends are honored to dedicate this issue of The Atlantic, one devoted to the importance of memory, to the memory of Marylin Thurman Newkirk.

This article appears in the March 2021 print edition with the headline β€œThe Atlantic and Black History.”

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi;center,top&resize=980:*These three women (Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi) are the founders of Black Lives Matter. The organization, which was started in 2013 as a recation to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, has put a global name to the ever-evolving cultural movement that Black lives deserve the equal respect, human treatment, and level of livelihood that is experienced by their white counterparts. They act as an inclusive, nonviolent space to enforce these ideals on both a national and local scale through protest, policy, and social media campaigns. Cullors, Garza, and Tometi were each named on Time's 2020 most influential people in the world list.


Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870 - 1940);0.0306xw,0&resize=980:*

Without Abbott's creative vision, many of the Black publications of todayβ€”such as Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise, and Upscaleβ€”wouldn't exist. In 1905, Abbott founded the Chicago Defender weekly newspaper. The paper originally started out as a four-page pamphlet, increasing its circulation with every edition. Abbott and his newspaper played an integral part in encouraging African Americans to migrate from the South for better economic opportunities.

26 Black Americans You Don't Know But Should, --These hidden figures deserve to be celebrated.


Music and Television;center,top&resize=768:*

Entertainer Nat "King" Cole poses for a portrait in circa 1950.
Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images

26 Little-Known Black History Facts You May Not Have Learned In School

These span various topics that will inspire you to take your research beyond Black History Month.


1 Althea Gibson

18 History-Making Black Women You Probably Didn't Learn About In School

By Ayana Lage and JR Thorpe, Updated: - Originally Published: -

Althea Gibson

Unless you're a longtime tennis fan, you may not be familiar with Althea Gibson, who was the first Black woman to compete at Wimbledon in 1951, according to the International Tennis Hall Of Fame, opening doors for Black athletes everywhere. And she didn't just compete β€” her victories are legendary. She went on to win singles titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, and the Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year those same two years in a row.

In 2016, Serena Williams recognized her accomplishments when she tweeted, "Althea Gibson paved the way for all women of color in sport." And though Gibson is most famous for her tennis skills, that wasn't the only sport she played. Gibson became a professional golfer in 1963, just years after winning her tennis titles.


18 History-Making Black Women You Probably Didn't Learn About In School

Any time of year is an excellent one to learn about Black women in history who accomplished incredible things, but have been neglected by historians β€” particularly those who've been excluded from your high school or college curricula. Beyond Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, there are thousands of Black women who broke barriers β€” in sport, medicine, literature, politics, and every other sphere β€” and deserve much greater recognition.

According to the National Council for the Social Studies, not knowing about these extraordinary Black women is common. "Only one to two lessons or 8–9 percent [sic] of total class time is devoted to Black history in U.S. history classrooms," the organization says. They recommend curriculum "from a Black perspective with topics specifically geared towards the Black experience" to help improve the superficial knowledge many kids are left with after Black history lessons.

History isn’t fixed in textbooks; it’s a continual process of discovery you can take part in no matter what your knowledge base is. Even if you're done with school, you can still learn, which where this list of 18 Black women you should know about comes in. From civil rights activists, to poets, sports stars, and state leaders, knowing these women’s stories is essential β€” and long overdue.


18 History-Making Black Women You Probably Didn't Learn About In School

By Ayana Lage and JR Thorpe, Updated: - Originally Published: -
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Cardi B & Mariah Carey Call Out "Prejudice" Against Black Artists In Fashion Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis Entertainment/Getty Images

Cardi B may be raking it in through endorsement deals and collaborations with brands like Amazon, Reebok, and Fashion Nova, but she's also not afraid to call out how the industry has been biased against her. In a new interview with the one and only Mariah Carey, Cardi B discussed how Black artists are treated differently in the fashion world, and even pointed out how she has sometimes been paid less for doing the same work as her white counterparts.

For their Interview story, the Grammy-winning artists discussed everything from their New York childhoods to Cardi's stripper days and the "prejudice" that they have felt compared to white artists in the music industry. "I have been involved in endorsement deals, and then I found out that certain white people got more money for their deals from the same company," Cardi explained. "I do my research. I know how much money I made that company. My fans buy my sh*t. So it’s like, 'When you’re not paying me what you’re paying these other people, why is that?' It’s kind of insulting."

When it comes to the fashion world, Cardi said that she and fellow Black artists have a harder time getting accepted by high-profile brands despite being a huge driver of sales and trends. "Hip-hop is a big influence," she said. "And yet, Black artists have the hardest time getting pulls from designers and the hardest time getting seats at their fashion shows, and barely get endorsed by big fashion brands that we literally make trend."

Cardi's claims did not just come from her own experiences. A 2018 study showed that Black musicians, artists, and other personalities of color were more often overlooked for endorsement deals than their white counterparts. The issue became even worse for celebrity endorsers outside of the U.S. "My instinct is that many decision makers at brands and agencies may simply identify subconsciously more with white celebrities," Spotted's co-founder Janet Comenos said, per The Drum.

Carey agreed with Cardi's sentiment, adding that her own biracial heritage complicated how people have treated her. "I have it a different way because people don’t know how to categorize me sometimes, and that sucks," she said. "But I think people should listen to the words you say, because you’re saying it from firsthand experience. You’ve gotten less than other artists who are not artists of color, and yet your influence has been way broader. So let’s fix that."


8 Black Beauty Gurus On The Generational Rituals That Inspire Them

"I always wear a lipstick as my main look because of my mom."

Alisia Ford, By Annie Blay

For Black women, many beauty practices come from traditions that evolve over time yet never lose their cultural significance β€” think sacred rituals like wash day and deeply rooted ingredients like shea butter. In honor of Black History Month, Bustle spoke with influential Black women about the generational beauty lessons that have shaped their current routines.

"We're all connected by our relationship to Black beauty and our identity, so it's important to celebrate it and take pride and ownership in that," Chloe Hall, Elle's beauty director, tells Bustle. Other beauty industry pros β€” like Naked Beauty Podcast host Brooke Devard, who loves trying bold looks because of her grandmother; MAC global editorial manager Khalea Underwood, who uses Sundays as a day for self-care, as inspired by her family; and Buttah Skin founder Dorian Denaud, whose own brand was inspired by generational skin care rituals β€” share the key sentiments and beauty practices that they've adopted from their families.

Through observing the key figures in their lives, these women have cultivated their own routines inspired by those who came before them. Whether it was through watching matriarchs do their hair or having Vaseline lovingly rubbed onto their skin before school, these are the self-care lessons that have shaped who they are today.

1 Khalea Underwood, MAC Global Editorial Manager

Former beauty editor and current global editorial manager at MAC, Khalea Underwood grew up immersed in the joys and intricacies of Black beauty. She spent her formative years watching her grandmother, a cosmetologist, make women look and feel beautiful. β€œI was mystified just watching her apply a relaxer, styling rows of curls with a roller set, and pulling [out] the at-home hooded dryer,” she tells Bustle.

Growing up in a religious family, Underwood spent her Sundays as a day of rest, and she remembers watching her grandmother get ready for church service in front of her vanity and spritzing on her Liz Claiborne perfume.

Now, Sundays are the most important day in Underwood’s beauty routine: She maintains the importance of rest by making it a self-care day. β€œIf I have the time, I’ll do an at-home facial, or wash and twist my hair if I need to,” she tells Bustle. β€œIt’s a day of restoration and renewal so I find myself doing a lot of my beauty routine on Sundays, and that is because of my grandmother."

2 Brooke Devard Ozaydinli, Host & Creator of Naked Beauty Podcast

Brooke Devard grew up with an incredibly stylish grandmother and a mom who worked at Revlon, both of which set her up to become the beauty guru she is today. Her mom would bring home lipsticks and nail polishes that Devard would play with, and she credits her experimental energy towards self-care to those days of swiping on all different colors. She and her mom still share beauty tips today. β€œI recently did this one long braid and [my mom] was like, 'this is very Sade energy',” Devard tells Bustle.

In her childhood, Devard also took part in common Black beauty rituals like spending long days at the hair salon, where she would listen to women talking to each other. β€œI have a podcast now, and what I love more than anything is to hear women talk about beauty and self-care," she says, noting that a lot of the conversations she has today on her podcast are reminiscent of these chats she heard in the salon as a child.

3 Dorion Renaud, Founder of Buttah Skin

Dorion Renaud named his skin care brand "Buttah" as an ode to his southern roots. He grew up in the small town of Beaumont, Texas, where access to luxury beauty was rare. Consequently, most of his early perceptions of beauty were informed by home remedies like using Vaseline for dry skin. β€œMy grandmother was one of the first people I saw put Vaseline on her face and really take care of her skin," he tells Bustle. These early memories sparked Renaud's love for nourishing skin care.

While working as a young model in Harlem, Renaud discovered the moisturizing powers of shea butter, which inspired him to create his brand. β€œEvery time I'm in my Buttah lab, I'm reminded of my family," he says.

4 Abena Boamah, Founder of Hanahana Beauty

"My parents always used to say that cleanliness is next to godliness," Abena Boamah tells Bustle. From that sentiment, she learned to take care of her skin at an early age. Boamah was raised on her family's Ghanian beauty staples, namely using natural ingredients like shea butter, the star of her skin care brand.

Her everyday look consists of a pop of highlighter on top of glowy, dewy skin paired with mascara and a lip balm β€” the simplicity of which is a nod to her mom's minimalist beauty routine. "She had her one look and she didn't move from it, and now I have my signature look that I stick to," Boamah tells Bustle.

Boamah's family also taught her the importance of knowing exactly what goes on your skin, a lesson that's shaped her brand, Hanahana Beauty. "My parents they used shea butter because they knew what it was," she says, adding that she hopes to continue the importance of transparency in the beauty industry for generations to come.

5 Chloe Hall, Elle Digital Beauty Director

The women in Chloe Hall’s family emphasized the joy of beauty during her childhood, a sentiment that she still carries with her today. "My mom and aunt always made the notion that taking time for your hair, nails, and skin was OK and wonderful, and it's part of why I have my job now," she tells Bustle.

Hall's mom also instilled in her a love for body care. β€œMy mom will joke that ever since I was six, as soon as I get out of the shower I would get deep into my body moisturizing routine,” she says.

6 Kayla Greaves, InStyle Senior Beauty Editor

Beauty editor Kayla Greaves' go-to look is a statement lip β€” and it's a style she attributes to her mom.

"My mom was a very glamorous person," she tells Bustle. "She loved lipstick and wearing makeup, and she always had her hair done. I always wear a lipstick as my main look because of my mom." Though her mom would opt for a brown or nude shade, Greaves' bold color of choice is always red β€” Dior 999 Rouge to be exact.

7 Alisia Ford, Founder of Glory Skincare

Founder of Glory Skincare founder Alisia Ford says the act of self-care was passed down by her mom and grandmother.

"As a child, around five or six, whenever I would stay overnight at my grandma’s house, I would look forward to her evening beauty routine," she tells Bustle. "We’d shower, get into our robes and she’d apply this perfumed powder to our necks. I felt so cared for and beautiful."

Influenced by her grandmother, Ford says her self-care practices are essential to her daily life. "Every night, I either take a hot bath with epsom salt or a hot shower, light candles, and unwind," she says. "I follow up with a little dab of aromatherapy oil around my neck or a nice face oil."

8 Jaleesa Jaikaran, Makeup Artist

For makeup artist Jaleesa Jaikaran, Black beauty was the only type of beauty she knew when growing up in Trinidad. "I grew up with the understanding that everyone was beautiful," she tells Bustle. "There were no Eurocentric standards we ever aspired to."

Jaikaran took beauty inspiration from her aunt. "She used to be a hairstylist, and would always dye her own hair and do both my and my sister's hair," she says. Her aunt also introduced her to makeup β€” lip gloss in particular. "I used to get made fun of because I have big lips, but as time progressed it became more accepted. It was ingrained in me to always celebrate my beauty as is."


The Reason Black History Month Is in February

This makes a lot of sense.

Every February, we celebrate a special holiday. And no, I'm not talking about Valentine's Day. I'm referring to the 28 (or 29) days we dedicate to honoring Black History Month, our nation's way of showing respect and recognition for the hard work of and sacrifices made by African Americans.

"Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history, or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington, or from some of our sports heroes," President Barack Obama said in a 2016 speech. "It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go."

Despite a tragic American history that saw Black people bought and sold into slavery, a continuing fight against everyday racism, and urgent issues like police brutality, we've remained strong. Black Americans confront a layered, painful past while making countless cultural contributions. We've been responsible for classic books, beauty brands (we're looking at you, Madam C.J. Walker), creative small businesses, films, and inventions we can't imagine life withoutβ€”and we're still completing countless impressive firsts.

But out of all the calendar pages, why is Black History Month in February (a.k.a. the month of love)? And who started this tradition? Here's a primer.

It all started with a man named Carter G. Woodson.

Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson is credited with creating Black History Month. According to Daryl Michael Scott, a history professor at Howard University, Woodson got the idea in 1915 after attending a celebration in Illinois for the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which under Abraham Lincoln's presidency, abolished slavery in 1863 in the Confederate states that seceded from the U.S.: Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. It wasn't until two years later on June 19, 1865 that all people held as property in the United States were officially free. (Which is why we celebrate Juneteenth).

The festivities honoring the proclamation lasted for three weeks, with various exhibits depicting events in African American culture. In 1915, after seeing this display, Woodson decided to form what is now named the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), in order to encourage the study of the accomplishments made by Black Americans.

The Black history celebrations expanded to a week-long event.

According to Scott, after Woodson wrote The Journal of Negro History in 1916, which chronicled the overlooked achievements of African Americans, he sought to amplify Black people's success and spread his findings to a wider audience. Through community outreach, he encouraged his fraternity Omega Psi Phi to promote his work. In 1924, the fraternity responded by creating "Negro Achievement Week."

February was selected to align with President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass's birthdays.

Two years later, despite Omega Psi Phi's efforts, Woodson still wanted to make a bigger impact. So in 1926, he and the ASALH officially declared the second week of February to be "Negro History Week," announcing the news through a press release, according to Scott.

"This was celebrated for years and was chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, and Frederick Douglass on February 14th," says Zebulon Miletsky, the co-chair of the marketing and PR committee for ASALH.;center,top&resize=768:*Library of CongressGetty Images

Both Lincoln and Douglass had long been celebrated by the Black community in the years before "Negro History Week" was created. Since his assassination, Lincoln's birthday was honored by both African Americans and Republicans alike, so the ASALH only solidified this tradition. And Douglass was already revered as a change-making abolitionist and orator whose legacy would now be cemented with festivities that honored the people he fought so hard for.

President Gerald Ford declared Black History Month official.

In the 50 years that followed, according to, clubs, schools, and communities across the country began taking part in the week-long celebration. Slowly, more and more U.S. cities (like New York and Chicago), declared official recognition of "Negro History Week." Particularly in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, with wider public knowledge of the trials and triumphs of African Americans, a mere seven days turned into a month-long recognition.

"In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the Black community to expand the study of Black history in the schools. In the South, Black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history," Scott says. "During the civil rights movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated Black history into the curriculum to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations."

Consequentially, the ASALH expanded the recognition to Black History Month. To solidify this change, in 1976, President Ford declared February "Black History Month" in a commemorative speech. He urged citizens to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Today, Black History Month continues to be widely celebrated.

The observations live on as we take the time to honor greats such as Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and our very own Oprah Winfrey. In the years following Ford's speech, congress passed a law in 1986 that deemed February "National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” Both presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton issued their own proclamations recognizing it as a national observance, and every POTUS has issued one annually since 1996.

But as time goes on, just like Woodson's idea of highlighting people of color went from a single organization to an entire month of recognition, manyβ€”like the O of Oβ€”feel that again, we need to think bigger when it comes to appreciating Black lives. In fact according to Scott, before his death in 1950, Woodson himself wished to see the acknowledgment of African Americans' past become a regular daily occurrence rather than be relegated to a single month.

"I have a wonderful phrase that Maya Angelou wrote in one of her poems," Oprah said in an Instagram post. "It said 'I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.' I'm doing that right now... I don't reserve it for one month. I believe that Black history is a part of every day, every life, every year, all the time."


Lynching Preachers: How Black Pastors Resisted Jim Crow and White Pastors Incited Racial Violence

Religion was no barrier for lynch mobs intent on terror. White pastors incited racial violence and took part in lynchings even though sometimes the victim was a preacher funeral held in July 1945 for two victims of the Ku Klux Klan, George Dorsey and his sister, Dorothy Dorsey Malcolm, of Walton County, Georgia, held at the Mt. Perry Baptist Church Sunday. Photo from Bettman via Getty.

White lynch mobs in America murdered at least 4,467 people between 1883 and 1941, hanging, burning, dismembering, garroting and blowtorching their victims.

Their violence was widespread but not indiscriminate: About 3,300 of the lynched were black, according to the most recent count by sociologists Charles Seguin and David Rigby. The remaining dead were white, Mexican, of Mexican descent, Native American, Chinese or Japanese.

Such numbers, based on verifiable newspaper reports, represent a minimum. The full human toll of racial lynching may remain ever beyond reach.

Religion was no barrier for these white murderers, as I’ve discovered in my research on Christianity and lynch mobs in the Reconstruction-era South. White preachers incited racial violence, joined the Ku Klux Klan and lynched black people.

Sometimes, the victim was a pastor.

Buttressing White Supremacy

When considering American racial terror, the first question to answer is not how a lynch mob could kill a man of the cloth but why white lynch mobs killed at all.

The typical answer from Southern apologists was that only black men who raped white women were targeted. In this view, lynching was β€œpopular justice” – the response of an aggrieved community to a heinous crime. white lynch mob in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 1941. Photo from Bettmann via Getty.

Journalists like Ida B. Wells and early sociologists like Monroe Work saw through that smokescreen, finding that only about 20 to 25 percent of lynching victims were alleged rapists. About 3 percent were women. Some were children.

Black people were lynched for murder or assault, or on suspicion that they committed those crimes. They could also be lynched for looking at a white woman or for bumping the shoulder of a white woman. Some were killed for being near or related to someone accused of the aforementioned offenses.

Identifying the dead is supremely difficult work. As sociologists Amy Kate Bailey and Stewart Tolnay argue persuasively in their 2015 book β€œLynched,” very little is known about lynching victims beyond their gender and race.

But by cross-referencing news reports with census data, scholars and civil rights organizations are uncovering more details.

One might expect that mobs seeking to destabilize the black community would focus on the successful and the influential – people like preachers or prominent business owners.

Instead, lynching disproportionately targeted lower-status black people – individuals society would not protect, like the agricultural worker Sam Hose of Georgia and men like Henry Smith, a Texas handyman accused of raping and killing a three-year-old girl. National Memorial For Peace And Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, commemorates the victims of lynching. Photo by  Bob Miller / Getty Images.

The rope and the pyre snuffed out primarily the socially marginal: the unemployed, the unmarried, the precarious – often not the prominent – who expressed any discontentment with racial caste.

That’s because lynching was a form of social control. By killing workers with few connections who could be economically replaced – and doing so in brutal, public ways that struck terror into black communities – lynching kept white supremacy on track.

Fight From the Front Lines

So black ministers weren’t often lynching victims, but they could be targeted if they got in the way.

I.T. Burgess, a preacher in Putnam County, Florida, was hanged in 1894 after being accused of planning to instigate a revolt, according to a May 30, 1894, story in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. Later that year, in December, the Constitution also reported, Lucius Turner, a preacher near West Point, Georgia, was shot by two brothers for apparently writing an insulting note to their sister.

Ida B. Wells wrote in her 1895 editorial β€œA Red Record” about Reverend King, a minister in Paris, Texas, who was beaten with a Winchester Rifle and placed on a train out of town. His offense, he said, was being the only person in Lamar County to speak against the horrific 1893 lynching of the handyman Henry Smith.

In each of these cases, the victim’s profession was ancillary to their lynching. But preaching was not incidental to black pastors’ resistance to lynching.

My dissertation research shows black pastors across the U.S. spoke out against racial violence during its worst period, despite the clear danger that it put them in. B. Wells, the great documentarian of the lynching era, in 1920. Photo from the Chicago History Museum / Getty Images.

Many, like the Washington, D.C., Presbyterian pastor Francis Grimke, preached to their congregations about racial violence. Grimke argued for comprehensive anti-racist education as a way to undermine the narratives that led to lynching.

Other pastors wrote furiously about anti-black violence.

Charles Price Jones, the founder of the Church of God (Holiness) in Mississippi, for example, wrote poetry affirming the African heritage of black Americans. Sutton Griggs, a black Baptist pastor from Texas, wrote novels that were, in reality, thinly veiled political treatises. Pastors wrote articles against lynching in their own denominational newspapers.

By Any Means Necessary

Some white pastors decried racial terror, too. But others used the pulpit to instigate violence.

On June 21, 1903, the white pastor of Olivet Presbyterian church in Delaware used his religious leadership to incite a lynching.

Preaching to a crowd of 3,000 gathered in downtown Wilmington, Reverend Robert A. Elwood urged the jury in the trial of George White – a black farm laborer accused of raping and killing a 17-year-old white girl, Helen Bishop – to pronounce White guilty speedily.

Otherwise, Elwood continued, according to a June 23, 1903 New York Times article, White should be lynched. He cited the Biblical text 1 Corinthians 5:13, which orders Christians to β€œexpel the wicked person from among you.”

β€œThe responsibility for lynching would be yours for delaying the execution of the law,” Elwood thundered, exhorting the jury.

George White was dragged out of jail the next day, bound and burned alive in front of 2,000 people.

The following Sunday, a black pastor named Montrose W. Thornton discussed the week’s barbarities with his own congregation in Wilmington. He urged self-defense.

β€œThere is but one part left for the persecuted negro when charged with crime and when innocent. Be a law unto yourself,” he told his parishioners. β€œDie in your tracks, perhaps drinking the blood of your pursuer.”

Newspapers around the country denounced both sermons. An editorial in the Washington Star said both pastors had β€œcontributed to the worst passions of the mob.”

By inciting lynching and advocating for self defense, the editors judged, Elwood and Thornton had β€œbrought the pulpit into disrepute.”

Malcolm Brian Foley is a PhD Candidate in Religion - Historical Studies at Baylor University.


I stand with Montrose W. Thornton, DG, even though I posit there is NO death.of the spirit! F the f ers! You have the fing right to defend your house, whether that house is one built by man or by God or what are arms for? Others use.their arms, God-given, for destroying what.God.gave you, should to protect what God gave you with.your own arms? ALL is experience! There is NO death of either.body OR.spirit! And fk you, too, who keep interrupting this post! Your day of retribution is coming!

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