Why Black Lives Matter

blm2Systemic Racism—Ethical Problems Facing the Church in America Today.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.[1]”  One has to wonder if, a half century later, whether or not Dr. King was something of a romantic idealist.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act designed to prevent racial discrimination in certain voting laws was no longer necessary. The court argued the law had successfully defended against discrimination but was no longer needed. Racism, the court majority appeared to suggest, was over, and laws created during a time when such hatred was in its heyday served now to place unjust “burdens” on certain states and jurisdictions that wished to pass new voting laws — laws, of course, that had nothing to do with trying to suppress minority votes.

In a recent survey, twenty-six percent of Americans say that racism is a “big problem” in the United States, half what it was, 54 percent, in a 1996 poll, and down sharply among blacks and whites alike.[2] At the same time, one in three says African Americans have, in fact, achieved racial equality, the goal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in a speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.  It all seems well on the surface, yet complaints about discrimination in housing alone are higher now than they have ever been.  More black and Latino males are incarcerated in prisons than white males; this is despite the fact that drugs addiction and trafficking is more prevalent in the white communities. Unemployment amongst African Americas is higher than average.  Education and healthcare rate below average.  The Church is still segregated, but Christians, for the majority, seem unwilling to act.  Racism does not become an issue unless it impacts your life.

Webster’s Dictionary defines systemic as relating to, or common to a system: as a: affecting the body generally b: supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery c: of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (as an insect or fungus)

Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movementblm

The Thirteenth Amendment was adopted on December 6, 1865, and was then declared in a proclamation by Secretary of State William H. Seward on December 18, 1865.  Section one of the amendment stated, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction[3].”  After the civil war, federal law provided protection for what it called ‘freedmen, but by 1875, the tide was once again turning against the African American as states imposed rules, regulations, and laws that were biased against both blacks and poor whites.  As the federal armies pulled out of the southern states, Democrats gradually took back the power.  African Americans could still run for office up till 1880, but they were gradually being disenfranchised from the voter registration process by literacy, poll tax, comprehension test, residency, and record-keeping.  If they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t serve on juries or hold public office.  Their influence decreased in the legislature, and important issues were overlooked.

The southern democrats saw people of color as representing their defeat in the Civil War, and as a result, they sought to block the African American from exercising their freedom and sought to regain their position by the introduction of segregation.  Under the heading of Jim Crow, blacks could not eat, drink, use the same restroom or even ride at the front of the bus.  Even where the Jim Crow laws didn’t apply, such as churches, segregation was implemented.  Those who fought against this unjust law risked beatings and or imprisonment.

What the Jim Crow laws didn’t keep in check was left to the Klan.  Under the federal Homestead Act, 246 million acres of land, much of which had to be taken from the Native Americans, was given away to white families. The African American denied the opportunity to an American (white only) dream, a factor that has implications on overall net worth for black families today.  Black farmers had two options, sharecropping and tenant farming.  They were exploited, paying high interest to the landlord and receiving poor or no return on his produce.  Women were forced to take low-income jobs doing domestic work, always facing the danger that they could be raped, molested or falsely accused of theft.  People of color were also subject to extreme violence, primarily Blacks in the South, Latinos in the Southwest and Asians in California.  According to the University of Massachusetts[4], there were 2805 documented lynchings by white mobs between 1882 and 1930.  Other sources place the total at 5000.  The reasons were often minor but gave the mob the excuse they needed.

In 1909 the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded.  This organization sought to improve the plight of colored people through education, legislation, lobbying, and litigation.  They came to prominence with the Supreme Court’s decision rejecting separate white and colored school systems in the case of Brown v. Board of Education[5] in 1954.  The decision also overturned a previous Supreme Court ruling in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 in which the court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation, under the doctrine of “separate but equal”.

The Native American, once proud people, now forced to live out a meager existence on the reservation. The African slave, though he was now ‘free’ was forced to live a life of apartheid, and segregation, subjected to racial abuse, insults, and violence. The law said that the African American was equal but segregated. How can you claim equality and yet not offer the same standard of life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom, the very words of Thomas Jefferson?

In the late 1950’s and 60’s the tide began to turn as the emphasis shifted from litigation to non-confrontational protest.  At the forefront of this movement were people like Rosa Parks.  After returning home from a civil rights meeting Rosa Parks boarded a bus and sat in the middle row seats.  The law required the person of color to vacate that seat should a white person need to sit there, Rosa refused.  She was arrested, tried and convicted.  Once word spread of her actions and the treatment she received, a boycott began the Montgomery bus system that was to last almost a year and cost the company eighty percent of its annual revenue.  A Federal court ordered the desegregation of buses in November 1956.  The bus boycott was to be a springboard for a young black preacher by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Two events stand out in the life of Dr. King, his protests in Birmingham Alabama and his march in Washington.  He was arrested in Birmingham and from his prison cell wrote the famous ‘Letters from that Birmingham jail.’  He wrote the letter in response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen, in what they called a ‘Call For Unity.’ The pastors wanted the action taken off the streets and into the courtroom.  King argued that nothing would change without non-violent direct protest.  The letter includes one of his most famous statements, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” [6] In August of 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech to between 200 – 300 thousand people in support of the Kennedy Civil Rights Bill.  It was to be the turning point in the civil rights movement.  Though President John F. Kennedy never saw his piece of legislation enacted, President Lyndon B. Johnson eventually pushed through many of the Kennedy reforms.

Racism Today—Five Socio-economic Indicators

There are five key socio-economic indicators that show the disparity that exists between the white community and those of color (Black, mainly African American and Latino) and questions the assumption that racism is declining.  I have taken a sample to show how big the problem is.

Racism in Housing

The National Fair Housing Alliance, in a recent report, records 30,758 cases of discrimination in all the combined sectors of housing, a 10% increase on 2007 and almost a 100% increase on 1999.  Mortgage and insurance discrimination is also an issue as agents, and financial professionals refused to sell to African Americans, making stereotypical assumptions.  It seems unbelievable that cases of segregation still exist as realtors attempt to keep people of color out of certain areas or only recommend certain areas to those wishing to purchase a home.[7]

Legal system


At least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black, USA TODAY found.

“Something needs to be done about that,” said Ezekiel Edwards, the head of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, which has raised concerns about such disparate arrest rates. “In 2014, we shouldn’t continue to see this kind of staggering disparity wherever we look.”

The unrest in Ferguson was stoked by mistrust among black residents who complained that the city’s police department had singled them out for years. For example, every year, traffic stop data compiled by Missouri’s attorney general showed Ferguson police stopped and searched black drivers at rates markedly higher than whites. If we think that the situation in Ferguson was an isolated incident then wake up, Ferguson is the model majority.

According to the Public Health Service, approximately 70% of drug users are white, 15% are black, and 8% are Latino. But the Department of Justice reports that among those imprisoned on drug charges, 26% are white, 45% are black, and 21% are Latino. A 2005 report by the Missouri Attorney General on racial profiling[8] showed that white drivers, pulled over and searched on the basis of suspicious behavior, were found to have drugs or other illegal material 24% of the time. Black drivers pulled over or searched in a manner that reflected a pattern of racial profiling, were found to have drugs or other illegal material 19% of the time.

Almost all large counties in the United States showed sharp disparities along racial lines in the sentencing of drug offenders, the study by the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute[9] showed there were fewer white offenders incarcerated than black even though white represent the larger percentile of the overall population.  The Federal sentencing recommendations are the same for 5 grams of Crack (the Black drug of choice) as they are for 500 grams of powdered cocaine (the white drug of choice).


In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown Vs. Board of Education, that segregation in schools, was unconstitutional[10].  Fifty-seven years later and segregation still exist, not on racial lines as such but socio-economically, which tends to break down along the lines of race. The schools in poor neighborhoods get the least financial help, the worst teachers, and the poorest facilities.  When will we learn that every child needs equal investment because the have equal potential?

Health Care

Despite the fact that African-Americans are at a greater risk of hypertension[11] and diabetes[12]; many African Americans cannot access effective medical care. This inaccessibility is due to a variety of factors, including a lack of health insurance, inability to pay for a health plan or they are ineligibility for Medicare, and yet 20% of the non-white population lives below the poverty level.[13] With the poverty level so high preventative medicine and treatment is not an option and the government food programs, though they are helpful in counteracting hunger, often compound the health issues with high levels of sodium or sugar.  The situation is made even worse by an inadequate number of health care facilities, with private hospitals limiting the numbers of uninsured patients they accept or moving to white neighborhoods.

Studies pertaining to cardiac treatment reveal that only 50% of African-American men will receive coronary angiography and 33% coronary artery bypass surgery compared to an average white male.  This fact is even more troubling when you consider the fact that African American’s have an increased likelihood of suffering heart disease.  The statistics for females is even more disturbing.

Historically health care offered to African Americans reads like a horror story from the Hitler’s Death Camps.  Stories of atrocities pre and post slavery are nothing short of barbaric and an infringement on the human rights of the individual.

The list is extensive with medical practitioners such as J. Marion Sims, who carried out gynecological experiments on black slaves.  On one occasion he performed surgery on one slave thirty times, without the use of anesthesia.[14] March 24, 1945, a 55-year-old black truck driver, Ebb Cade, was admitted to the U.S. Army Manhattan Engineer District Hospital in Oakridge, Tennessee for the treatment of bodily injuries resulting from a car accident. He was not expected to live, and so doctors injected plutonium into his leg to monitor the effects of radiation on the human body. The experiment was done without his consent.  For more than a decade, at least 300 African Americans, mostly female patients, were involved in 15 studies designed by researchers from Tulane University and Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana that subjected them to swallowing radioactive capsules, being injected with radioactive mercury into laboratory created blisters that were intentionally cut open, enduring 118-degree heat and intentional diarrhea. Supposedly the studies were designed to see the effect of mercury on people with congestive heart failure. The 300 black patients did not have congestive heart failure and the officials at the hospital falsely claim the patients volunteered.[15] In 1963, the United States Public Health Service, the American Cancer Society, and the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital of Brooklyn, New York, participated in an experiment in which three physicians injected live cancer cells into twenty-two chronically ill and debilitated African American patients. At least eighty-two “charity” patients were exposed to full-body radiation at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The patients were exposed to radiation ten times the level believed to be safe at the time twenty-five patients died. Three-quarters of the patients in the study were Black men and women.  The consent signatures were forged.[16] During the 1970s, the government collected blood samples from seven thousand Black youths. Parents were told that their children were being tested for anemia, but instead, the government was looking for signs that the children were genetically predisposed to criminal activity.

This is not even a complete list of the atrocities that took place during the period of slavery and post-slavery.  How can we as a nation ignore these appalling cases of abuse?  Even doctors from the German concentration camps quoted some of these earlier American experiments in their defense to justify their actions.


Frederick Douglas, a leading abolitionist, once said in an 1889 address, “While we have no longer to contend with the physical wrongs of slavery…We have to contend with a foe, which though less palpable, is still a fierce and formidable foe.  It is the ghost of a bye gone dead and buried institution.[17] In the 1930’s W. E. B. Du Bois reiterating that same sentiment referred to segregation as the “new slavery” and that democracy had “died in the hearts of black folk.”[18] Half a century later as segregation was metamorphosing into contemporary racial patterns, Justice William O. Douglas spoke of discrimination as “slavery unwilling to die.”[19] Today many whites reject slavery, yet they are reluctant to give up the power of white privilege.

We must take responsibility for addressing racism and white privilege in America today.  The racial issues we face today are the result of slavery, social injustice and social codes that have been enacted over the years and challenge the American creed that all men are equal.

We need to listen to the African-American community and hear what they have to say about racism.  There experience history and culture influence the way they see the question of race.  How does it feel to be racially profiled by ‘Uncle Charlie’ or by management as you walk into a department store?

The Church in America needs to face the fact that because they were not part of the solution, then they must have been part of the problem.  Denominations in the southern states chose to ignore the scriptures that speak of being impartial, oppressing the poor or inequality and practiced a form of Christianity that has no place in God.  We cannot dissolve the past because it points a figure at us.  If the blood of Abel cries out to God, how much more the blood of millions of African Americans that died innocent and without justice. Speaking on Azusa Street Outpouring, a white preacher asked why God had chosen a black preacher and a horse stable to pour out His Spirit. Could it be that the hands of white preachers in America are stained with innocent blood?

We cannot reverse the laws that excluded African Americans from land purchase, but we need to ensure that the acquisition of housing in the twenty-first century is fair and equitable.  Mortgages should be given on the basis of ability to pay and not on a two-tier tariff system based on the color of one’s skin.  Katrina is a classic example of systemic racism today.  The wealthy privileged, many white left the city, even though their homes were high and not touched by the floods.  The poor black community was left behind, their homes destroyed by the hurricane.  State Representative David Duke ex-leader of the Ku Klux Klan, attempted to pass legislation excluding the sale of property in Jefferson Parish to anybody but blood relatives (the area is a white neighborhood).  The legislation was overturned.

Health care has to be reformed so that every American has the opportunity to receive the same quality of service.  Experimentation of any human being regardless of race or color is barbaric, inhuman and unethical; it should never have happened.

Ethics in the legal system—no person should be arrested or detained on the basis that they fit a racial profile.  Persons should be arrested on the basis that they have committed a crime.  Sentencing should be fair and equal.

Every child deserves to have the opportunity to a quality education.  To discriminate and thereby segregate on the basis of an economic status that ultimately equates to race is wrong.  Every school should have the same equipment, facilities and teachers regardless of the local tax base

The politics of Trump is the politics of the fifties and sixties; America cannot afford to revert back to the past.  White privilege is feeling threatened and is seeking to reestablish itself as a force in America.

The ethical challenge to the Church today is to admit their part in the injustice of the past and to at least seek reconciliation.  Second, to implement a charter against systemic racism, so that the sins of the fathers are not repeated by the children.  Third, we need to repent of the thief of land that belonged to ‘First Nation People’.  The degradation of Native Americans by Hollywood, portraying them as savages. Finally, to realize that the ground at the foot of the cross is level and that we come there because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that the only privilege we have is given to us through His blood and not the color of our skin.  We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

[1] Letters from a Birmingham Jail. http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html

[2] http://abcnews.go.com/PollingUnit/Politics/story?id=6674407

[3] http://www.ashbrook.org/constitution/amendments.html

[4] http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/ACLAText/USLynch.html

[5] The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Oliver L. Brown et.al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et.al. is among the most significant judicial turning points in the development of our country. Originally led by Charles H. Houston, and later Thurgood Marshall and a formidable legal team, it dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.

By declaring that the discriminatory nature of racial segregation … “violates the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens equal protection of the laws,” Brown v. Board of Education laid the foundation for shaping future national and international policies regarding human rights.

[6] http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html

[7] http://www.nationalfairhousing.org

[8] http://ago.mo.gov/racialprofiling/2005/racialprofiling2005.htm

[9] http://www.justicepolicy.org/content-hmID=1810.htm

[10] The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Oliver L. Brown et.al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et.al. is among the most significant judicial turning points in the development of our country. Originally led by Charles H. Houston, and later Thurgood Marshall and a formidable legal team, it dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.

[11] Approximately 40 percent of African Americans have hypertension — the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States — but there is little data about what makes them more susceptible to this condition. Research study by Temple University.

[12] Over 2.2 million African Americans have diabetes; 1.5 million have been diagnosed and 730,000 have not yet been diagnosed. http://www.dlife.com

[13] National Census Bureau. (August 2007) New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show that about 36.5 million Americans—12 percent of the population—lived in poverty in 2006. While poverty rates continue to vary widely by subgroup and region, longer-term trends point to a growing convergence in poverty levels among minority groups and for people living in different parts of the country.


Poverty Rates Drop Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities. In 2006, there was a substantial gap between the poverty rate of non-Hispanic whites (8 percent) and that of racial and ethnic minorities (21 percent). However, this represents a 7-percentage point decrease in the poverty gap since 1980, when the poverty rate for minorities was much higher, at 29 percent. The average poverty threshold in 2006 for a family of four was $20,444; for an individual, it was $10,488.

[14] Scholars Argue Over Legacy of Surgeon Who Was Lionized, Then Vilified, By BARRON H. LERNER Published: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

[15]Vernellia Randall, Dying While Black. Seven Principles Press. Dayton OH, 2006. 120-123

[16] http://www.thetalkingdrum.com/tus2.html

[17] Fred May Hollard. Frederick Douglas: the Colored Orator. Funk and Wagnall Co. New York. p375

[18] W. E. B. Bois. The Souls of Black Folks. Pocket Books. New York. 2005

[19] Joe Feagin. Slavery Unwilling to Die: The Background of Black Oppression in the 1980s

Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, The Economic State of Black America (Dec., 1986), pp. 173-200http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/15/opinion/the-cost-of-slavery.html



About Terry Threadwell

Dr. Terry Threadwell has thirty five years ministry experience. Author, educator and Director of the Institute of Progressive Pentecostal Studies.
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