Tag Archives: freedom of association

The Orangeburg Massacre: Dying for the Right to Bowl

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today we are seeing more protests I think than anytime since the the height of Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, and the protests against the Vietnam War. Most of these have been peaceful, but some agitators have committed vandalism and violence at some venues which hurts the cause of the protests.

But that being said, protests, even peaceful ones are not appreciated by many people, people who sometimes forget that gathering in protest to make political statements is as American as apple pie. My God, this tradition goes back to the Boston Massacre when British soldiers fired on unarmed Colonists who were protesting unpopular laws made by Parliament. Now let me state that these men who we now consider Patriots weren’t exactly being peaceful. The were being verbally abusive to a small group of British soldiers, they were throwing rocks, snowballs, and assaulting them with sticks and clubs, so the outnumbered British soldiers opened fire in self defense with their single shot smooth-bore muskets, killing three and mortally wounding two others.

So protest goes back a long way and has been used for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, worker’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and hundreds of other causes from all sides of the political spectrum. The right of the freedom of association and political protest is protected under the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that protesters have enjoyed the protection of government in many instances. I have been writing about the Civil Rights Movement for some time, and lately have been posting articles from various texts that I am writing about what African Americans suffered during  era of slavery, but today I am taking a different tack, and writing about something more recent, the brutal and violent suppression of a protest in Orangeburg, South Carolina in February 1968. It’s not that well known, but it should be.

Of course, today, even many whites remember  the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston, Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protesters in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know about those brutal, and often deadly assaults on people exercising their Constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, and for many, the Freedom of Religion that motivated them to protest. . They all occurred early in my lifetime and certainly if we should. But for many, those days of segregation, discrimination, and persecution were the “good ole days” when people, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Gays, and others “knew their place.”

But such an attitude denies history. It is inexcusable for any man or woman, of any race holding public office to hold such ahistoric, and un-American views, and then attempts to use the police power of the government to enforce what often are their racial prejudice, or religious prejudice.

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But for each of the incidents we remember there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those last year  when a speaker talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it.

The massacre occurred on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially at the only bowling alley in town; the All Star Lanes. The owner refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests.

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Protests continued on campus, hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched as well as armored vehicles from the National Guard. On campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

During a protest the local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police no student was armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, another, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and lastly the young Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted. It was as if the lives of peaceful protesters didn’t matter, because they were Black.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and who claimed that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Justice Thomas may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country, not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. There are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as a video that I have provided a link to here http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look are good places to start.

So when you see protesters, even those that you happen not to agree with, remember: their right to protest is part of who we are as Americans. It is a right that no-matter what our political view, that we should never let be trampled.

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Never forget and do not let it happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney: According to some unfit for office because he is a Mormon

“In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty.” Thomas Jefferson 

Cult: cult/kəlt/  Noun:  1) A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.  2) A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

A prominent pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention made a political endorsement the other day.  Dr Robert Jeffress pastor of the venerable and massive 10,000 member First Baptist Church of Dallas endorsed fellow Texan Rick Perry. In doing so he said “Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

This is not new for Jeffress who back in 2008 made a similar comment at the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting “I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian…The value of electing a Christian goes beyond public policies. . . . Christians are uniquely favored by God, [while] Mormons, Hindus and Muslims worship a false god. The eternal consequences outweigh political ones. It is worse to legitimize a faith that would lead people to a separation from God.

While the view that Mormonism is “outside mainstream Christianity” based on its doctrine of the Trinity and understanding of the Godhead is correct, it should never be labeled as a “cult.”  Mormons like a number of other splinter movements that have their roots in Christianity and even hold to some orthodox Christian theology would be more correctly labeled a heretical church.  The term heresy is a theological term and has been used by various churches to label others as such since the early days of the church. It describes people, groups and doctrines that are at variance with established religious beliefs and the adherence to such dissenting opinion or doctrine.

Every religion has their heretics and since the genus of Mormonism was Joseph Smith’s dissent from Evangelical Christianity and his new revelations that he claimed were delivered to him by the Angel Moroni it is better to describe Mormonism as a heretical form of Christianity.  The use of the word cult by Jeffress and others is sloppy theology and even worse public policy in a nation where religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment to the Constitution.  The use of the word cult to define Mormonism is prejudicial because the same word is used to describe Satanists and splinter groups where members are based and controlled by a “cult” leader who demands their unconditional submission, devotion and obedience.  Although Mormonism has its own core “orthodoxy” there is a wide variance in the practice of faith in that church.

I actually expect better of Baptist leaders because the irony is that at one time Baptists were considered a heretical sect by Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans.  In fact if the term cult had been used then as it is today that is what those groups would have labeled Baptists.  In earlyVirginiathe Anglican Church was the state church and because the landed gentry were Anglicans they were the government.  The Anglicans made their church law apply to the civil realm which of course had an impact on Baptists and others that settled in the colony. Virginia’s General Assembly protected the established church in law. It enforced laws that penalized dissenters: for example, requiring all officeholders to be Anglican. When theUnited Stateswas founded Anglicans inVirginiawere pressing to retain their religious control over the society.   In the Constitution there was no guarantee of the Freedom of Religion until the Reverend John Leland of the Virginia Baptist Convention pressed James Madison on the issue.  The result is that that the right of Free Exercise and the corresponding Non-Establishment clauses were written into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights along with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.

My concern is that many Evangelical Christians are doing the same thing that the Virginia Anglicans did; they are trying to impose their beliefs as the law of the land.  The tragedy is that most Evangelicals hail from groups that have all been labeled as heretical or cults by other more powerful churches.  The descendants of persecuted religious minorities are now flexing political muscle backed by a militant understanding of a dominant Christian Church in a way that would have made their ancestors shake their heads.

We can all debate and decide who is and who is not a Christian based on the teachings of our church.  Christians simply do not agree with each other on many points of doctrine.  Some place an emphasis on one belief or practice that if not followed damns those that do not believe to hell.  Others are very open in their understanding of what constitutes the church.  Do all of us have values and even theological opinions that inform our life to include our political beliefs? Of course we do.  As Americans we live in the tension created by the fact that we live in a pluralistic society where all citizens have an equal right to practice their religion and equal rights as citizens to participate in the political process.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made the comment that we should judge people by “the content of their character.”  I believe that such a belief is exactly what our founders meant when they enshrined the rights of the Free Exercise of Religion and the non-Establishment clause together with the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the Constitution.

The fact is that there are many conservative Christians who in their fear of secularism and humanism have decided to create a “Christian” theocracy and are quite militant in how they will establish it and who is not included.  Those that embrace Dominion or “Seven Mountains theology believe that there is no middle ground, even among Christians that do not believe like them.  It appears that Reverend Jeffress seems to agree.

I think that Reverend Jeffress those like him and the politicians that enlist their support need to really ponder what Thomas Jefferson said before they make political decisions solely based on their theological and religious beliefs and that enlist or commandeer the government to accomplish goals that they have been unable to achieve by persuasion and witness. To me that is not the mark of people confident in their faith but people reacting out of fear.  Such seldom bodes well for any free society. Jefferson wrote:

“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

His words are truer now than when he wrote them.  If a preacher or politician wants to call those that believe different from them to be a cult that is his or her right, but to blindly assert that those that believe different than us are unfit to govern because of their religious beliefs is ignorant and foolish and demonstrates a profound sense of insecurity on their part. Reverend Jeffress should know better, he should have taken at least one course in Baptist History in seminary….but wait, he didn’t go to a Southern Baptist seminary until he did his doctorate, I guess that he didn’t take the class.  By the way, I went to the seminary where he received his doctorate and although I am not and never have been a Southern Baptist I do know Baptist History and it stands against what Reverend Jeffress preaches in regard to politics.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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