Friday, February 23, 2018

What Makes You So Strong?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009, 0:01
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[23 May 2012 Editor’s Note: On 14 March 2012, after this article had been republished on the the Christian Observer website for more than three years, the Christian Observer received an email message from the law offices of Manotti L. Jenkins, LTD., Chicago, Illinois, the intellectual property legal counsel for the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., author of this article for which the Christian Observer received prior republication permission from Reformed World where it had previously been published in 2008.  Reformed World at the time of the article’s publication was the theological journal of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The email message stated:


“It has come to our attention that you have been electronically publishing in The Christian Observer a substantial and excessive excerpt from Rev. Wright’s copyrighted book, “What Makes You So Strong?”.  Please note that, as the owner of the copyrights to this book and its content, Rev. Wright has exclusive rights to copy, use, sell, distribute, publicly present, and make derivative works from the book and said content.
“Regardless of your intent in publishing said excerpt, we are certain that Rev. Wright did not grant you a license to do so.  Therefore, your conduct negatively impacts Rev. Wright’s [Intellectual Property] rights, which entitles him to remedies and damages under the Federal Copyright Act.  Accordingly, we are requesting that you immediately remove the excerpt from your website and any other electronic media you own or control.  We will check these sites daily to ensure compliance.”
As a “good faith” gesture, the Christian Observer, as requested, removed this article from its website and sent correspondence to Reformed World requesting a clarification of the republication permission we had received prior to the article’s republication. After more than two months without a response from Reformed World, the editor performed some brief Internet research and found this article republished on at least eleven different websites, including that of Reformed World, from whence the article was republished with permission.
As the effort to remove Dr. Wright’s article from undesired Internet sources appears to be a massive failure or only a highly selective exercise, the Christian Observer is again making this article available to its readers, and will seek appropriate wisdom and counsel if any further threats of a civil lawsuit are made by the representative of a Christian minister against a Christian publication corporation.]

by Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

Editor’s Note: The March 2008 edition (Volume 58(1)) of Reformed World, the theological journal of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, theme was “Do Not Submit Again to the Yoke of Slavery: The Contemporary Significance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” The following article by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., who retired in 2008 as Senior Pastor of thirty-six years at Chicago, Illinois’ Trinity United Church of Christ, appeared in this issue, and is republished here by permission of and with the Christian Observer’s thanks to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The new U.S. President, Barack Hussein Obama, was an active member at Trinity United Church of Christ from 1998 – 2008.

Reformed World Editor’s Note: Exegeting the story of Samson in Judges 16, Wright answers the question of the source of strength and excellence found in people of African descent who have endured slavery and oppression. He identifies the theological tools that are used to bind a people and the spiritual resources that liberate a people for divine purpose and destiny. Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A Wright, Jr. is the former Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois.

Judges 16:4-31

What makes you so strong, black man? How is it that 370 years of slavery, segregation, racism, Jim Crow laws, and second-class citizenship cannot wipe out the memory of Imhotep, Aesop, Akhenaton, and Thutmose II?[1] What makes you so strong, black man?

How is it that after all this country has done to you, you can still produce a Paul Robeson, a Thurgood Marshall, a Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz), a Martin King, and a Ron McNair?[2] What makes you so strong, black man?

This country has tried castration and lynching, miseducation and brainwashing. They have taught you to hate yourself and to look at yourself through the awfully tainted eyeglasses of white Eurocentric lies, and yet you keep breaking out of the prisons they put you in. You break out in a W.E.B. Dubois and a Booker T. Washington;[3] you break out in a Louis Farrakhan and a Mickey Leland;[4] you break out in a Judge Thurgood Marshall and a Pops Staples.” you break out in a Luther Vandross, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Harold Washington, or a Doug Wilder,[6] What makes you so strong, black man?

I don’t care what field we pick, you produce a giant in that field. What makes you so strong? The world tried the poisons of self-hatred, of distorted history, of false standards of beauty. They taught you that you were ugly and stupid, slow and retarded, dimwitted and dull-witted, good only for stud service and getting high, and yet you keep on turning out a Sterling Brown and Vincent Harding. a Jim Forbes and Kwame Nkrumah, an Allan Boesak and William Gray, a Steve Biko and Bill Cosby, a Dave Dinkins and Doug Wilder.[7] What makes you so strong, black man?

And speaking of Sterling Brown, he wrote about you when he said “the strong men keep coming on”,” He wrote:

They dragged you from your homeland,

They chained you in coffles,

They huddled you spoon-fashion in filthy hatches,

They sold you to give a few gentlemen ease.

They broke you in like oxen,

They scourged you,

They branded you,

They made your women breeders,

They swelled your numbers with bastards …

They taught you the religion they disgraced.

You sang:

Keep a-inchin along

Lak a po’ inch worm …

You sang:

Bye and bye

I’m gonna lay down dis heaby load…

You sang:

Walk togedder, chillen,

Dontcha get weary…

The strong men keep a-comin’ on

The strong men git stronger.

They point with pride to the roads you built for them.

They ride in comfort over the rails you laid for them.

They put hammers in your hands

And said-Drive so much before sundown.

You sang:

Ain’t no hammah

In dis lan’,

Strikes lak mine, bebby,

Strikes lak mine.

They cooped you in their kitchens,

They penned you in their factories,

They gave you the jobs that they were too good for,

They tried to guarantee happiness to themselves

By shunting dirt and misery to you.

You sang:

Me an’ muh baby gonna shine, shine

Me an’ muh baby gonna shine.

The strong men keep a-comin’ on

The strong men git stronger…

They bought off some of your leaders

You stumbled, as blind men will…

They coaxed you, unwontedly soft voiced…

You followed a way.

They laughed as usual.

They heard the laugh and wondered;


Unadrnitting a deeper terror…

The strong men keep a-comin’ on

Gittin’ stronger…

What from the slums

Where they have hemmed you,

What from the tiny huts

They could not keep from you—

What reaches them

Making them ill at ease, fearful?

Today they shout prohibition at you

“Thou shalt not this”

“Thou shalt not that”

“Reserved for whites only”

You laugh.

One thing they cannot prohibit—

The strong men…coming on

The strong men gittin’ stronger.

Strong men…


What makes you so strong, black man? And what makes you so strong, black woman? How could you produce a Queen Hatshepset[9] whose reign was one of the most outstanding in the 18th Dynasty of Egypt? This African queen ruled powerfully, masterfully, and with dignity 1,500 years before our Lord Jesus Christ was born. How could you produce the warrior queens of Ethiopia and Nubia and the five fine queens knows as Candace[10]? who opposed the southward movement of the armies of Alexander the Great and changed the whole course of Greek history? What makes you so strong, black woman?

How is it that 370 years of being used as a breeder and a toy for the master, and being used as a punching bag for Willie Lee, and being messed on and messed over, walked on and walked out on —how is it that 370 years of that does not kill the spirit of Queen Ann Nzinga; Cleopatra; Nefertiti; Makeda, the Queen of Sheba; Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Hadassah,[11] the rebel queen who defiantly said, “If I perish, I perish”? What makes you so strong, black woman?

How is it that after all this world has done to you, after all white women have done to you, after all white men have done to you, after all black men have done to you, you can still produce an Angela Davis, a Toni Morrison, a Barbara Jordan, a Betty Shabazz, an Oprah Winfrey and a Winnie Mandela.[12] What makes you so strong, black woman?

This country has tried negation and degradation. They have taught you to look down on your broad hips and thick lips. They’ve taught you to hate your hair and to keep it at all costs from going back. Going back to what? Africa? Going back to the way God made it? To what? They have taught you that the less you look like “Miss Ann”, the worse off you are. And yet you keep breaking out of the prisons they put you in. You break out in a Nannie Burroughs, a Fannie Lou Hamer, and a Jessie “Ma” Houston.[13] You break out in a Roberta Flack; an Anita Baker, a Jackie Joyner-Kersee and a Nina Simone.[14] I don’t care what field we pick; you black women keep turning out giants in the field, even those fields they told you were reserved for men only. What makes you so strong, black woman?

They told you that you were not allowed in the field of medicine, and here you come with a black MD graduating from medical school in the 1800s.[15] What makes you so strong, black woman? They told you that no black women were allowed in the field of ministry, and here you come with the Reverends Jini Moore, Gwenn Pierre, Barbara Williams, Lola Nelson, Devanah Johns, Lana Reese, Laverne Harris, Mickey Moseley, Joan Campbell and Bishop Barbara Harris.[16] What makes you so strong, black woman? They told you no women were allowed in the male-dominated field of TV journalism, and here you come with a Melanie Lawson[17] and an Oprah Winfrey. They tried the poison of low self-esteem; they tried the poison of low expectations; they tried the poison of lesbianism; they tried the poison of despair. They told you the numbers aren’t there – the brothers are in prison, on dope, unemployed. And what do you do? You refuse to give up. You keep on turning out Zora Neal Hurstons and Mari Evanses, Maryse Condés and Gladys Knights.[18] You keep on turning out Winnie Mandelas and the mothers of Zimbabwe, the mothers of Soweto, the mothers of Angola, the mothers of Namibia,[19] the mothers of Mississippi. What makes you so strong, black woman?

What makes you so strong, black people? No other race was brought to this country in chains. No other race had laws passed making it a crime to teach them how to read. No other race had skin colour as the determining factor of their servitude and their employability. No other race was hounded and haunted when they wanted to be free. No other race was physically mutilated to identify them as property, not people. No other race was lied to and lied on like the African race. No other race had its names taken away in addition to its language and music. No other race was denied more and deprived of more, treated as badly and treated as less than human. No other race was treated like the Africans were treated, and yet no other race has done so much after starting out with so little, defying all of the odds and breaking all of the records. What makes you so strong, black people? How were you able to do that? Jimmy the Greek wants to know. Tom Brokaw wants to know. Ted Koppel wants to know. Geraldo wants to know. I have a feeling the Oprah Winfrey already knows. What makes you so strong, black people?

How were you able to build the great pyramids of Cheops?[20] How were you able to build the grand lodge of Maat? How were you able to build the first universities in the world? How were you able to survive the horrors of slavery, to survive the loss of 200 million in the Atlantic Ocean, to survive the hatred of Europeans, to survive a holocaust five times worse than Hitler’s holocaust, and to then take a Jesse Owens over on Hitler’s turf and stick it in Hitler’s ear?[21] How were you able to do that? What makes you so strong, black people? Is it something in your African blood? Is it something in your African psyche? Is it something in your African soul? Is it something in your African spirit? What makes you so strong, black people?

Samson’s Weakness

How is it that you keep coming? You see, that was Delilah’s question. And one of Samson’s problems was that he answered her question. If you read this whole biography of Samson, you discover that Samson had several problems. He never did get that love thing straight. Samson was reared in a God-fearing home. His mother and father were together. He had a strong male role model but he never could pull off that right combination in terms of a committed relationship. Jawanza Kunjufu[22] of our church would say that his focus was on the outside, the external, and not on the inside, the internal.

Samson ruled Israel for 20 years, and he ruled during some tough times. His people were under oppression. His people were constantly under attack. They were assaulted by the twin demons of assimilation and segregation. Though Samson ruled successfully for 20 years politically, he never was quite able to put it all together in his personal life. He kept being attracted to girls of another race. (It’s in the book) And he kept acting on those attractions as if they were love. First he had his mother and daddy set up a marriage with somebody he didn’t even know. Why would you do that Samson? “Cause she looked good and makes me feel good.” Then he tried sex without commitment. He went to bed with a prostitute.

He was able to judge disputes between conflicting parties; he was able to judge lawsuits – civil suits and criminal suits. He was able to administer the office of judge with prudence and integrity. He had 20 years of service on the bench with no bribes, no deals, no tarnish on his integrity. He was a judge of Israel for two decades in an oppressive and hostile situation. He judged a people who sometimes turned on each other rather than turning to each other. He judged a people whom sociologists would say were a permanent underclass, with no chance for survival or success. He was brilliant in his political life, but he bombed out in his personal life. He was absolutely no judge of character and a complete failure when it came to judging the opposite sex or choosing relationships with them.

After a marriage that did not work out and after a hooker who set him up, he saw another fine woman with a “body by Fisher”, and he was hooked. Everyone has got a certain weakness in life. Well, good looks and good sex just happened to be Samson’s weaknesses. Not once does the scripture say that Delilah cared anything at all about him. She had men waiting in another room. But he didn’t care; he loved her. She looked good and she made him feel good – a transient reality. Not only did she not feel the same way, she made it plain that money meant more to her than a man. But even after she tricked him three times, Samson kept right on going back. Love wouldn’t let him wait, and love wouldn’t let him think. Then again, Samson did not know the difference between love and lust, between looking good and feeling good. You see, love is internal; looks and lust are external.

Contract or Covenant

Samson had some problems but his biggest problem was that he answered Delilah’s question. He told somebody who didn’t care anything about him, and who had made that obvious, that which was of ultimate importance in his life. The King James Version of that passage says, “He told her all his heart” (Judges 16:17). The Hebrew word is leb, connoting feeling, will, intellect, the centre of everything. John Kinney, Dean and Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Virginia Union School of Theology, said, “Can’t nobody but God keep your whole heart, You don’t give your whole heart to nobody but God.” And Kinney was just echoing what Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Mt 22:35, KJV).

You see, nobody can keep your heart like God can. Oh, a person can tug at your heartstrings and make your heart heavy or happy. A person can hurt your heart or break your heart. He can make your heart skip a beat; she can make your heart glad or sad, but nobody can keep your whole heart. Nobody can handle it Only God has hands big enough to handle your whole heart.

What makes you so strong, Samson? How can you say you love me if you won’t tell me what makes you so strong? How can you say you love me if you won’t try this cocaine with me? How can you say you love me if you won’t buy this thing for me? How can you say you love me if you won’t do like I ask? Watch those if clauses. If you get an if in the relationship, that’s a contract, and love isn’t a contract; love is a covenant.

Jawanza Kunjufu said his grandrnama put it this way: “I make sure I give 110 per cent every day. It ain’t about what he gives; I got to make sure I give all I got every day.” You see, that’s a covenant. It’s not ifthen; it’s nevertheless, in spite of, anyhow. There’s a book called The Dance-Away Lover[23] that talks about the three stages in relationships. There is the romance stage in all relationships, and we like that. There’s the problem stage; then there’s the commitment stage. To reach the commitment stage, you have to move from romance through problems, down to commitment. But what do we do? We enjoy the romance stage, and then as soon as we run into problems we dance away and find ourselves another lover.

A covenant is moving past romance through the problems. That’s commitment. I’m committed nevertheless; I’m committed in spite of, I’m committed anyhow. I’m not going anywhere because I’m going to have problems everywhere. Why? Because I’m going there and I’m taking some problems with me. That’s commitment and covenant.

Second, that same person who lights up your life and starts the juices flowing is the one who is going to get on your last nerve. The same person does both. Samson didn’t know that. He was only a good judge of matters of the head. He didn’t know too much about matters of the heart. Maybe his Nazirite[24] vow kept him from nurturing those relationships that would have taught him about the heart. So when Delilah pulled that if … then trick on him, she had him. How can you say you love me if you won’t tell me what makes you so strong? She vexed him, the King James Version says, until he told her his whole heart, that which was of ultimate importance in life. He told her what my mama used to call the God’s honest truth!

Guard God’s Will for Your Life

Samson revealed his secret to his enemy (to this one who cared nothing about him). He told her about his special relationship with God. He allowed his desire for her to take precedence over this devotion to God. Watch out! Don’t let what somebody can do to you or do for you become more important than what God wants to do in you and through you. You see, God had set the terms for Samson’s life and his labours long before Samson was born. God had set up the relationship between his servant and himself before Samson drew his first breath. God had a work to do in and through Samson. That’s why he sent the angel to announce what he had on his mind.[25]

You see, God has a work that he wants to do through African Americans – a people who have known hatred, yet who still have the strength to love; a people who have known degradation, yet who still have the strength to stand tall and produce giant after giant in field after field; a people who have known belittlement and humiliation, yet who have maintained their integrity and kept their souls intact; a people who have been lied to, lied on, and lied about, yet who still have the strength to forgive and to build strong families, regardless of those families’ configuration. God has a work of redemption and healing to do through African Americans. God will do through you individually, not only corporately. Don’t you know that God only made one of you and that God pulled off a miracle when he put you together and then threw away the pattern? Watch out for what somebody can do to you and for you. Don’t let that become more important than what our God wants to do in you and through you. Samson allowed a relationship that he wanted to have, but could not have, get in the way of the relationship that he already had with God.

They’ll Put You in Chains

Samson revealed his secret to his enemy; he told Delilah about his relationship with God. Then he shared with her that which symbolized his special relationship with God. See what happens when you reveal your whole heart to others? First, they put you in chains. You give them your heart; they chain your body and then your mind. As Carter G. Woodson and Bobby Wright[26] would both say: They can take the chains off your bodies and have absolutely nothing to fear from your mind.

Woodson said it this way: “If you tell a person to go to the back door over and over again, then one day you say, ‘You no longer have to go to the back door’, do you know what that person will do? He will not only go to the back door, but if there is not one back there, he’ll cut one in.”

Bobby Wright was a little more earthy in saying it this way: “If they can put the chains on your mind, your behind will follow.” They can chain your mind and have nothing to fear from your body. They put you in chains philosophically and psychologically. They tell you, “You ain’t nothing. You ain’t done nothing. Your daddy before you wasn’t nothing, and your mama ain’t nothing. You ain’t come from nothing; you got nothing to offer, and you ain’t never gonna amount to nothing.”

They’ll trap you in vocational training, half teaching you a skill that you can never use. They’ll put you in chains sociologically, giving you the poorest schools and the worst equipment They’ll give you the worst housing at the highest cost. You’ll get the lowest paying jobs, but the most whisky, drugs and guns so you can kill each other and save them the trouble.

They’ll put you in chains theologically and have you worship their god, Daqon[27] Only we don’t call him Dagon anymore; we call him “Dough-sky” (Prosperity). “All that God has you can get. Come on. Just send me five dollars and I’ll send you a blessed cloth. You can have it! You can have it!” They’ll put you in chains theologically and have you worshipping an alien theology.

They’ll Blind You

Keep reading this passage. They’ll put your eyes out so you can’t even see what’s happening to you. You can’t see the psychological chains, the physiological chains, the economic chains, the educational chains, the sociological chains, or even the drug addiction chains they’ve put you through. Do you know what happens when you can’t see? You, the victims, become the staunchest supporters of a sick system of perpetual slavery because you can’t see what the enemy has done and keeps on doing to you. Sterling Brown wrote about that half a century ago when he said, “They bought off some of your leaders, and you stumbled as blind men will.”

They put chains on you. They put your eyes out Then look at verses 24 and 25. They led Samson out and paraded him in front of the nation to make fun of him. They’ll parade you on television documentaries and news shows. They’ll parade you as the primary example of pathology in America. They’ll parade you as the user and the victim of the drugs that they brought into the country in the first place. Why is it that with a drug czar and the millions of dollars that we spend to fight drugs, we can’t stop drugs from coming into the country? But they parade you as the primary victims. They shout, “Bring him out Let him entertain us. You know his kind always make the best entertainers.”

They made fun of Samson because of what they had done to him. They made fun of him because he used to be so strong, and now, because of his desire for one of their women, he was reduced to a nothing and a nobody. You think that’s only in the Bible? Look at what they did to Senator Edward Brooke.[28] They made fun of Samson because he couldn’t see where he was, couldn’t see what was happening to him, and couldn’t see where he was going. He had to be led around by a little boy. It might be that the little black children will be the ones to get us blind old folks out of this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. They made fun of Samson because they had in chains the one who used to whip them. He was a part of their prison system, and they weren’t about to let him go. “Call Samson out and make him entertain us!”

The Symbol is Not the Source

But the thing that Delilah missed, and that his enemy missed, was the whole answer to what made him so strong. You see, they mistook the symbol of his strength for the source of this strength. They didn’t listen to his whole answer. His hair was the symbol, not the source. Look at his whole answer. He said, “My hair has never been cut” That’s a symbol. Why? “Because I have been dedicated to God as a Nazirite from the time I was born.” Now that’s the source of his strength. The last verse of chapter 13 says, “The Lord’s power began to strengthen him.[29] But the Hebrew says the ruah, the Spirit of the Lord, began to move him.

In chapter 14, when a lion attacked (v.6), it says again the ruah, the Spirit of the Lord, came upon him. In chapter 15, when he grabbed that jawbone of an ass, verse 14 says the ruah, the Spirit of the Lord, came mightily upon him. The source of his strength was God, and the ruah, the Spirit of God. So he prayed (16:28) after his hair, the symbol of strength, began to grow back, “Lord, try me one more time. I know I let you down before, but try me just one more time. Give me my strength just this one more time.” What he’s asking for is God’s Spirit, the ruah, God’s strength, not his own.

What makes us so strong? God’s strength. David answered the question: “God is our refuge and strength.”[30] What makes us so strong? Isaiah answered the question: “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”[31] God is the source of our strength.

What makes us so strong? The same thing that empowered Martin King. Not the school in Boston, but God’s Spirit; not what he learned at Crozer, but God’s Spirit; not what he learned in seminary, but God’s Spirit.[32] Martin King was the man he was because of the Spirit of God.

What makes us so strong? God is the joy and strength of my life. When I don’t have any strength, I call on him who is my strength. When I can’t make it on my own, I call on the one who can make a way out of no way. Father, I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If thou withdraw thyself from me, whither shall I go?

The Lord is my strength and my salvation. This applies to preachers, too. People have their preferences when it comes to preachers. Some people like preachers with manuscripts; others like preachers without manuscripts. Some like preachers who can “tune” a little while, and all that kind of stuff. But let me tell you something: this preaching business isn’t as easy as it looks. Sometimes I don’t feel like preaching. Sometimes my spirit is too impoverished to preach. I’ve been in some churches in this country where the folk are so cold they kill my spirit. Sometimes they do it with the music.[33] And so I’ve had, on occasion, to disrupt a service. Once I stood up in a prestigious university chapel and began to spontaneously sing the way my grandrnama used to sing. “Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race, ’cause I don’t want to run this race in vain.” Folks started looking at their programmes trying to figure out where this came in. While I was singing my grandrnama’s song, I could feel my grandmamas spirit (she used to sing that song while she rocked me on her knee) getting all into my spirit. I could feel her hooking up with the Holy Ghost and passing him down to me.

Our strength comes from the Spirit of God. This same Spirit of God will empower you as he empowered our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus promised that he would give the Spirit to you. God has never failed on any of his promises. This is what makes us so strong.


[1] The figure of 370 years refers to the time between 1619, when African slaves were brought to the colonies by a Dutch ship and deposited as cargo at Jamestown, and the present (Before the Mayflower. Lerone Bennett, Jr. New York: Penguin Books, 1966).

Imhotep, c. 2686-2613 B.C., considered a great physician, was later worshipped as the god of medicine in Egypt and Greece. He was a high executive officer, sage, astrologer, and architect, and the chief minister to Djoser, the second king of Egypt’s third dynasty.

Aesop is the name traditionally given to the author of a collection of Greek fables. An Egyptian biography of the first century AD. places him on the island of Samos as a slave who gained his freedom from his master, went to Babylon as a riddle solver to King Lycurgus, and died at Delphi.

Akhenaton, the king of Egypt (1379-1363 B.C.) of the Eighteenth Dynasty, established the worship of one god. Prior to his reign, a host of gods was worshipped in the ancient world. He taught that Aton, the sun-god was the “sole god”, and not only the god of Egypt, but god of the entire creation.

Thutmose II was an Eighteenth Dynasty king of Egypt who reigned from about 1512-1504 B.C. He is best known for suppressing a revolt in Nubia, Egypt’s southern territory, and for sending an expedition to Palestine to punish some rebels there. His name is found on buildings that were begun in Nubia by his father, Thutmose I, and completed during his own reign. He married his half-sister Hatshepset His mummy, which was unrolled in 1886, is preserved in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

[2] Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was an African American actor, singer, and activist for the cause of freedom. A scholar, Robeson graduated with a straight A average from Princeton University. Like, Robeson, the others mentioned here fought for freedom in their own ways: Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, through the legal process; Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as great orators and movement leaders during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s; and astronaut Ron McNair, who inspired community-­based recreational programmes for inner-city youth.

[3]W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington were two of the most prominent African American spokesmen during the early part of this century. They represented two significant but opposite strains of thought in the life of African Americans. The intellectual Dubois was more the integrationist who believed that the “talented tenth” or top echelon in the black community should lead the masses to freedom. Washington, the first president and principal developer of Tuskegee Institute, was a practical man who favoured the self-help approach of pulling one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps. He believed that integration would come at some future time when blacks had established themselves economically.

[4] Louis Farrakhan is the leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam. The late Mickey Leland was a United States congressman from Houston, Texas. Deeply concerned about starvation in Africa, he died in 1989 in a plane crash in Ethiopia while on a mission to deliver food and supplies.

[5]Younger readers may not remember Pops Staples, who was popular as a lead singer with his family, the Staples Singers, during the 1960s.

[6]Luther Vandross, popular singer; Magic Johnson, former basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers; Michael Jordan, basketball player for the Chicago Bulls; the late Harold Washington, first black mayor of Chicago; Doug Wilder, Virginia’s first black governor, and the country’s first black governor since Reconstruction.

[7] Sterling Brown (1901-1991) one of America’s leading poets, came to prominence during the great Harlem Renaissance and was known as the “dean of American poets”. Vincent Harding is a noted African American historian. He is the author of Hope and Dynasty: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1990). Jim Forbes is the current pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, and the church’s first black pastor. Kwame Nkrumah (1908-1972) was the first prime minister of Ghana and president of the republic from the time of its independence from Great Britain in 1957 until 1966. Allan Boesak was a leader in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. Classified under the apartheid system as a “coloured”, he was an anti-apartheid activist who was stripped of his position in the church because of his relationship with a Caucasian woman. William Gray is a former United States congressman (Democrat, Pennsylvania) who now heads the United Negro College Fund. Steve Biko is a former South African activist who was murdered in prison. Cry Freedom, a movie about his life, gives insights into the struggles and agonies that faced many South African activists. It is based on the book Biko, by South African journalist Donald Woods, who immortalized Steve Biko. Dave Dinkins was the first black mayor of New York City.

[8]“The Strong Men”, by Sterling Brown. Reprinted from the MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW, © 1966 The Massachusetts Review, Inc.

[9]Queen Hatshepset was the half-sister and wife of Thutmose II. At his death she jointly reigned with his young son (Thutmose III), justifying her claim to the throne by saying that she was a daughter of Amen-Ra, who she claimed had begotten her in his sanctuary, and that of her two parents only her mother was mortal. It was believed that every king of Egypt was a god who had become incarnate through human birth of a woman. Hatshepset was the first queen of Egypt to claim divine origin in this way. She called herself “Khnemet Amen”, a name that indicated she was of the very essence and being and bone and flesh of the god. In the ninth year of her reign, Hatshepset made herself king of Egypt, and in her bas-reliefs she appears in the form of a man, wearing male attire, the headdress of a god, and a beard on her chin.

[10]The name Candace was a title, probably meaning “queen”, not a personal name. A number of queens from the Ethiopian kingdom of Meroe on the Nile in modern Sudan used this title. The Candace of Acts 8:27 apparently applied to the reigning queen mother, and was well known to ancient historians.

[11] Nzinga, also known as Ana de Sousa, became the queen of Ndongo (named Angola by the Portuguese) in 1624. She protested the Portuguese violations of a peace treaty with Ndongo that had been negotiated in 1623, under her brother’s rule. She harboured fugitive slaves from Angola, welcomed into her army Portuguese-trained African soldiers, and encouraged Africans under Portuguese rule to rebel. When her stronghold was captured in 1626, she escaped to the kingdom of Matamba, which she conquered around 1630. There she built a strong military power and continued her struggle to halt the Portuguese expansion in Southern Africa.

Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.), the Egyptian queen made famous by Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar, was Caesar’s lover and later Mark Anthony’s wife. She became queen in 51 B.C., when her father died, ruling successively with her two brothers and her son. When the Roman armies of Octavian defeated their forces, she and Anthony committed suicide, and Egypt came under Roman domination. She stands out among the women of antiquity because of her romantic appeal, great beauty, and driving ambition.

Nefertiti was the queen of Egypt from 1379-1362 B.C. The wife of Akhenaton, she supported his religious revolution, which replaced many gods with the sun-god, Aton. She bore six daughters, two of whom became queens. Her famous portrait bust of painted limestone, now in a museum in Germany, was found at Tell el-Amarna.

Makeda, the queen of Sheba, ruled in the tenth century B.C. The Old Testament records her visit to King Solomon to test his world-renowned wisdom by asking him to solve riddles. She came with gifts of gold, jewels and spices. According to Ethiopian tradition, she and Solomon married, and their son, Menelik I, founded the royal dynasty of Ethiopia.

Hadassah is the Hebrew name for Esther in the Book of Esther.

[12] Angela Davis is a Communist party activist of the 1960s and 1970s, who became a professor. Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, well known for such novels as Song of Solomon and Beloved. Barbara Jordan is a great orator and well-known former congresswoman from Texas. She was confirmed as one of the country’s most articulate and capable orators during her dynamic speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976. Betty Shabazz is the widow of Malcolm X and an activist in her own right. Oprah Winfrey is the highest paid and most popular television talk show host and producer of her own show. Winnie Mandela, South African freedom fighter, is the former wife of Nelson Mandela, former head of the African National Congress and former president of South Africa.

[13] Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) was an outstanding orator and outspoken spokeswoman for Christianity and women’s and civil rights. She was a staunch Baptist, having founded the Women’s Convention (later called the Women’s Auxiliary) of the National Baptist Convention, USA. She was the corresponding secretary of this group from 1900 to 1947, and its president from 1948 to 1961. Dr. Burroughs founded the National Training School for Women in 1901. It was located in Washington, D.C., and is now an elementary school bearing her name. Under her leadership, the MBC Women’s Auxiliary created The Worker, a mission periodical which is still widely used by church mission circles. Fannie Lou Hamer, an outspoken freedom fighter from Ruleville, Mississippi, was one of two representatives seated from the sixty-member Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that traveled to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She and her husband lost their jobs and risked their lives to register to vote in Mississippi. Jessie “Ma” Houston leda most effective prison ministry in the 1970s and 1980s.

[14] Roberta Flack, Anita Baker, and Nina Simone represent three generations of song stylists whose songs have contained positive messages. Jackie Joyner-Kersee is an Olympic track star.

[15] Rebecca Lee, the first African American woman to graduate from medical school, finished at the New England Female Medical College in 1964.

[16] Jini Moore (now Jini Ross), Gwenn Pierre, Barbara Williams, Lola Nelson, Davanah Johns, Lana Reese, LaVerne Harris, and Mickey Moseley were all ministers at the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston in 1990, when I preached this sermon there. Joan Campbell was moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and Bishop Barbara Harris is the first woman bishop of the Episcopal church.

[17] Melanie Lawson is a television news anchor for the ABC affiliate station in Houston. She is the daughter of William A. Lawson, pastor of Houston’s Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

[18]Zora Neal Hurston (1903-1960) was a black folklorist and writer during the Harlem Renaissance. She is best known for her second novel, published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Mari Evans is a poet who emerged during the 1960s, when there was a second “renaissance” in black arts. Maryse Conde is the author of Segu and The Children of Segu. Gladys Knight, popular singer, gained fame singing in the 1960s in the singing group Gladys Knight and the Pips.

[19] Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia are Southern African countries that fought for and gained independence. Women were notably part of the armed forces in these struggles. Soweto is a township in South Africa where students rebelled in the 1970s when the government tried to impose certain educational reforms, among them making the Afrikaner (Dutch-based) language their official language.

[20] Cheops, Greek for the Egyptian name Khufu, was the second king of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt (C. 2613-2494 B.C.) and the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the largest single building that had ever been built. Maat was the Egyptian goddess of order, law, right, truth and wisdom. The lodge is in her name.

[21]Jesse Owens (1913-1980) was a United States track and field athlete, who set a world record in the running broad jump that stood for twenty-five years. He won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, upsetting Adolf Hitler’s plan to use the games to demonstrate Aryan superiority.

[22] Jawanza Kunjufu is a consultant on the education of African American youth and the author of a number of books, including volumes one and two of Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys (Chicago: African American Images, 1985, 1986).

[23]David Goldstine, et aI., The Dance-Away Lover: And Other Roles We Plan in Love, Sex, and Marriage (New York: Morrow, 1977).

[24]A person who took a Nazirite vow could do so for a consecrated period of time or for a lifetime. Samuel was a lifelong Nazirite (l Sam 1:11), and apparently so was Samson. The vow was marked by letting one’s hair grow and abstaining from wine and strong drinks. “Nazirite” means one consecrated, devoted, separated. Historically the Nazirite was a sacred person.

[25] Judges 13:1-6.

[26] Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) was a historian who emphasized the importance of the history of African Americans. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1951, and edited the first issue of the association’s principal scholarly publication, The Journal of Negro History. In 1926 he founded Negro History Week. Dr. Bobby Wright is an eminent psychologist who taught at the University of Chicago.

[27]Dagon (Hebrew for Dagan) was a West Semitic god of corn, but was confused by the Israelites with the Hebrew “dag”, meaning fish. The visual image of Dagon was on a fish­tailed being. Dagon appears in the Old Testament as the chief god of the Philistines (Judges 16:23).

[28] Senator Edward Brooke (Republican, Massachusetts) was the first black United States senator, elected in 1966. In 1978, following his divorce, he lost his bid for a third term because of “conduct unbecoming a senator”, meaning the way he treated his wife, who was white. Conversely, Senator Ted Kennedy, who led the attack on Brooke, went scot-free after his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Kopechne was Kennedy’s companion one night in 1969, when he accidentally drove his car off an unmarked bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. She was drowned. He was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, but was re-elected to the Senate in 1970.

[29] Judges 13:25, GNB.

[30] Psalm 46:1, KJV.

[31] Isaiah 40:29, KJV.

[32] King attended graduate school at Boston University, and Crozer Theological Seminary.

[33]My doctoral dissertation is on the African American music tradition. For 24 years my field of study has been our music, including the music of the Caribbean and of South America. I’ve come to love all of our music, and when I hear our worship services murdered with dead music, I don’t feel like preaching. I’m just too mad to preach. This argument in our churches over types of music is nothing new. It goes way back to the 1700s when the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) pulled out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The new AME church was in part composed of well-to-do West Indians who thought that the only worthy sacred music was British music.



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