In chapter 4 of Edward Blum’s W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet, Blum discusses the Gospel according to Mary Brown and her child Joshua, who represents one of Du Bois’s black biblical characters, who found comfort among those who were societal outcasts. He, who was [the black] Jesus Christ, marched with the poor, with sinners, and communists; however, this Christ was not embraced by whites. Better yet, this Christ was lynched by the white South because they could not accept a Christ that accepted all people, especially the American Negro. Because of this, Joshua was killed by the very people who awaited him – the Christian South. I often wonder about the thought processes of religious bigots who believe their God will accept them into His kingdom as a hater of people. I suspect many Christians do not realize they are destined to the one place they are trying to avoid, Hell. Furthermore, much of the historical literature paints a deeply racist American South in which Christians often attend Church in the morning, only to lynch blacks in the evening. This, more than anything, is why my parents are suspicious of religious people and their institutions. I was raised and educated in a suspicious black home; however, I was taught to love and embrace all people: black, white, gay, lesbian, poor, and defeated.
I have asked students and others what color was Christ? Most correctly they respond by saying he was Jewish; I then ask if they think Christ was a black Jew? It is here that causes some to pause…even from blacks; Du Bois struggled to understand why whites saw Christ in their image but blacks failed to see this. I have visited white churches in which their congregation’s depiction of Christ was blond hair and blue eyed man. I am most interested in the response I would get from my school community if I were to teach that Christ was black while he walked the earth. Keep in mind that my campus community is made up primarily of affluent white evangelicals. I suspect that my colleague who teaches at a similar school might be able to answer this question since his class addressed this topic on his blog here. This too was part of the 20th century color line problem Du Bois addressed.
“Christ Recrucified” (1922)
The South is crucifying Christ again
Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women, too,
Shout, battling for his black and brittle bones.+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
“The Black Christ” (1929)
O Form immaculately born,
Betrayed a thousand times each morn,
As many times each night denied,
Surrendered, tortured, crucified!
That love which has no boundary;
Our eyes have looked on Calvary (135-136).
[Source: James H. Smylie, “Countee Cullen’s ‘The Black Christ,’” Theology Today38/2 (July 1981): 160-73] h/t: Phil Sinitiere