A few years ago, I was attending a high school graduation. As I was scanning the names of students graduating, one stood out as peculiar.
Literally, that was his name. I know I am stereotyping, but I ventured a guess at his racial background, and he was indeed African-American. I have often thought of that unusual name and every time it came to my remembrance, I found it amusing. I thought it strange that parents were so compelled to instill manliness in their child that they felt his name needed to be a constant reminder.
Well, this morning I discovered that I was wrong about his parents’ motives. At least, I think so. I came across these words and photo from Russell Moore. My ignorance of civil rights history kept me from recognizing that this child’s parents probably weren’t affirming his masculinity.
They were affirming his humanity.
On a wall in my study hangs one of my favorite pictures. It’s a photograph of a line of civil rights workers—in the heat of the Jim Crow era. They’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, all of them bearing a sandwich-board-type sign. The sign reads, simply: “I Am a Man.”
I love that picture because it sums up precisely the issue at that time, and at every time. The struggle for civil rights for African-Americans in this country wasn’t simply a “political” question. It wasn’t merely the question of, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it from before the Lincoln Memorial, the unfulfilled promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (although it was nothing less than that). At its root, Jim Crow (and the spirit of Jim Crow, still alive and sinister) is about theology. It’s about the question of the “Godness” of God and the humanness of humanity.
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