Black History Month: Becoming Free 

By Kate O’Connell, Confronting Whiteness and Racism Work Group 

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book.  Just U.S. history.”  Wisdom from Maya Angelou.  

Won’t it be wonderful when history tells how we overcame our currently segregated lives, when we came to feel in our bones the loss of sisters and brothers who are now excluded from tables, when we came to see and delight in the image and likeness of God in every living being, especially those who are silenced, and when we dared to listen particularly to these voices to build new tables together.   

We have many teachers to help us reach this future history, including women who could not and cannot rest until they, their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and descendants are seen and treated as the deeply beloved children of God whom they are. 

Ella Baker is one such teacher.  Sweet Honey and the Rock wrote “Ella’s Song” for her, with the refrain “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”  Descended from an enslaved grandmother who was whipped for standing up for herself, Ella stood up – for all – her entire life.  She worked relentlessly for efforts such as the March on Washington, the March in Selma, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, voting rights, and Freedom Summer.   

Ella recognized our fundamental need for community, calling for all to “reach out to your neighbors who don’t speak to you” and “get them to understand that they as well as you and I cannot be free” until all are free. 

Freedom is deeply spiritual.  Theologian Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas explains in her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God that Black spirituals express both the desire for freedom and the understanding of God’s own free nature.  Dr. M. Shawn Copeland said in Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being, “If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ.”   

This year, may we listen to all, build new tables, and become new life.