Segregation in the after-life

johnsWell it’s now 2015 and I need to get back into the blogging grind. I promise more will be coming soon. Until then, I want to share an excerpt from a book that I have been reading. Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch is an excellent read and it seemed fitting to share a little bit of it since yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Vernon Johns , one of King’s “forerunners “, helped pave the way for the Civil Rights movement in the United States and was a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist church. In the following text, Branch discusses some of Johns first few days as a clergymen there:

“One of his first acts in Montgomery was to replace the tiny bulletin board atop the steps at the church entrance with a much larger one on the sidewalk facing Dexter Avenue. In 1949, all Montgomery read there that Vernon Johns would preach the following Sunday on the topic ‘Segregation After Death.’ No doubt many whites cherished a private hope that races would be separated in the afterlife, but the public notice invited suspicion. Local leaders found it mildly unnerving that a Negro minister planned to address so volatile and worldly a topic as segregation in the first place, and the police chief guarded against the possibility of an incendiary trick by inviting the minister to explain himself down at the station.”

“John told the chief and his men that the sermon would be open to everyone but that he would be happy to give a preview on the spot, in case they were too intimidated to attend a Negro church. Soon Johns was reciting his text from memory, beginning with Luke 16:19, which is Christ’s parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man Dives. Having ignored Lazarus all his sumptuous life, Dives was shocked to look up from hell to see him in heaven. He implored father Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell with some cool water to ease his torment, but Abraham replied that a ‘great gulf’ was fixed between them. The great gulf, preached Johns, was segregation. It separated people and blinded them to their common humanity- so much so that Dives even in the midst of his agony, did not think to speak directly to Lazarus or to recognize his virtues, but instead wanted Abraham to ‘send’ Lazarus with water, still thinking of him as a servant.”

Branch goes on to tell the reader that though the police chief was moved and started crying, he never went to Johns sermon. However, they did become friends and would trade books for each other to read.



One thought on “Segregation in the after-life

  1. Pingback: “I Got A Home In That Rock” | Taming Cynicism

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