Here's a piece I wrote for the Conference on Faith and History Graduate Student blog. UPDATE: a slightly amended version is now up at UrbanFaith.com. (Thanks, Ed.)
"The Faith of our Fathers and Mothers: Commemorating the NAACP"
By: Phillip Luke Sinitiere (Ph.D. candidate, history, University of Houston)
With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln the subject of numerous conferences, colloquia, and television shows, I want to highlight another important commemoration in 2009: the centennial of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Association celebrates its centennial this week. And next year is the centennial of its magazine The Crisis. The title of this post aims to recognize the contributions of the founders of the NAACP and The Crisis.
Organized by a multiracial, progressive coalition, in its early days the association worked for racial justice and led campaigns against lynching. It aimed at race pride, racial uplift, and civil rights. It is a testament to the vision and work of its founders that the NAACP thrives today. On the other hand, and despite the recent election of the nation’s first Black president, that the NAACP still exists means that more justice-oriented work remains. Read here a statement from one of its founders, Mary White Ovington. And click here for a timeline of the organization and read an insightful summary of its history here.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was another founder of the NAACP and tireless editor of The Crisis for nearly a quarter century. A prolific author, social critic, and leading intellectual, Du Bois’s remarkable legacy and progressive agenda has yet to be fully appreciated. That The Crisis is still in print today is due in many ways to the wisdom, foresight, and brilliance of its first editor. (Another early Black periodical, Opportunity, is still in print as well. It began in 1923 and is the magazine of the National Urban League.)
One place to examine Du Bois’s progressive worldview is on the pages of Crisis. And remarkably, one finds an amazing amount of religious reflection. Subsequent posts will briefly highlight Du Bois’s work in The Crisis. Before then if you want to read more about Du Bois and religion, I’d recommend historian Edward J. Blum’s W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet. (If you have Fides et Historia handy, for more on Du Bois see Blum’s article “Race and Christian Scholarship,” Fides et Historia 40/1 [Winter/Spring 2008]: 25-41.)
I conclude with a prayer Du Bois wrote for students at Atlanta University around 1910. Du Bois left Atlanta in the summer of 1910, bound for New York City to begin work as Director of Research and Publications at the NAACP.
While this prayer has wide application, and is borne from life experience, it may also inspire those of us in the midst—in the throes—of graduate work:
God give us grace to realize that education is not simply doing things we like, studying the tasks that appeal to us, or wandering in the world of thought whither and where we will. In a universe where good is hidden underneath evil and pleasure lurks in pain, we must work if we would learn and know. It is the unpleasant task, the hard lesson, the bitter experience that often leads to knowledge and power and good. Let us, O Lord, learn this in the days of youth while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when Thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-7).
From: W.E.B. Du Bois, Prayers for Dark People, ed. Herbert Aptheker (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), p. 28.