The saints of Black History Month

By J. Carleton Hayden

Black History Week, now Black History Month, was founded in 1927 by Carter G. Woodson, chair of Howard University's history department, in the week that contains the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). For us Episcopalians, the month contains three remarkable descendants of Africa commemorated as saints of the church.

The first African American to be added to our liturgical calendar was Absalom Jones, a slave who through hard work purchased first the freedom of his wife, Mary, and then his own, founded the Free African Society, America's first formally organized social welfare association run by blacks, the Episcopal Church's first black congregation, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and became, in 1802, this country's first black priest. For the past 30 years, the Washington Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians has held a diocesan-wide commemoration of Jones, which this year is set for Feb. 14 at Calvary, D.C.

Janani Luwum, the martyred Archbishop of Uganda (feast day, Feb. 17), was recently added to our liturgical calendar. He denounced the brutality of Idi Amin, Uganda's dictator, and asserted the right of the church to promote justice and protect the oppressed. Summoned to the presidential palace, Luwum went boldly, declaring "I can see the hand of God in this." Idi Amin ordered him shot as a traitor, with some reporting that Amin himself had pulled the trigger. At the cathedral in Kampala, thousands gathered for a memorial service at an empty grave that had been prepared for Luwum next to that of James Hannington, Uganda's first bishop. Hannington, an English missionary, also had been martyred in Uganda on Oct. 29, 1885 (feast day, Oct. 29). A statue of Luwum now stands among the martyrs of the 20th Century at Westminster Abbey.

Anna Julia Cooper, a devout Anglican, feminist, educator and civil rights advocate, is currently my favorite Black History Month saint. She was added to the liturgical calendar in 2006. I first became aware of Cooper in 1969 as a Howard University graduate student. After the daily morning Eucharist, her grandniece, Regia T. Bronson, often treated this small congregation to breakfast at Cooper's stately but decaying residence at 201 T. Street NW, about a half block from St. George's, D.C. Bronson gave me some of Cooper's books, which are to me sacred relics, and her papers, which I deposited at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. These contain letters from such notable historical figures as Frederick Douglass, William Still, Alexander Crummell, and Mary Shadd Cary, a leader among African American refugees in Ontario and later America's first black lawyer.

Anna Julia Cooper was born into slavery on Aug. 10, 1858, in Raleigh, N.C., to Hannah Stanley and her slave master, George Washington Hayward. Cooper praised her mother for her sacrifices and guidance but stated she owed nothing to her white father "beyond the initial act of procreation." A cradle Episcopalian, she was one of the first students at what is now St. Augustine's College, established by the church shortly after the Civil War to educate teachers and priests to serve newly-freed slaves. She married her Greek professor, the Rev. George Augustus Christopher Cooper of Nassau, and the young couple labored in the Episcopal mission there until he died of pneumonia in 1897, just two months after being ordained as a priest.

Cooper earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Oberlin College, the first American college to enroll both women and blacks, and went on to teach at the AME's Wilberforce University, -- which was named for William Wilberforce, England's anti-slavery champion (feast day, July 30) – and at St. Augustine's.

In 1886, she read a sensational paper on the need to educate women at a meeting of the Conferences of Church Workers Among the Colored People at St. Luke's, D.C. The next year, she accepted a teaching position at Washington's segregated M Street High School, America's best high school for blacks. She worshipped at St. Luke's, boarding with several other professional women at the home of her rector, the Rev. Alexander Crummell. She was named principal of M Street High School in 1902. Four years later, she was not re-appointed following allegations by the white director of high schools that her discipline was insufficiently severe and her academic standards too high for black students. She taught at Lincoln University in Missouri and Langston University in Oklahoma, and spent summers at Columbia University pursuing her doctorate, eventually returning to M Street High School as a teacher.

Always an advocate for the rights of women and African Americans and a builder of institutions to prepare them for full equality in American society, Cooper wrote in her best-known book, A Voice From the South by a Black Woman From the South, (1892): "When and where I enter, the whole race enters with me." A prolific writer, she also penned an autobiography, A Third Step, Legislative Measures Concerning Slavery in the United States, among other works.

At the 1893 Women's Congress in Chicago, she lectured on the intellectual progress and achievements of African American women. When Crummell founded the American Negro Academy, a forerunner of the NAACP, to counter racism in the U.S., Cooper was its only female member. At the first Pan-African Congress, held in London in 1900, she presented a paper titled, "The Negro Problem in America," which described the plight of African Americans as pathetic for a Christian nation. Congress attendees included fellow Episcopalians William E.B. DuBois and Bishop James Theodore Holly, of Haiti, the Episcopal Church's first black bishop. Cooper also prepared the Congress's memo to Queen Victoria, protesting apartheid in South Africa.

At the age of 55, Cooper's life changed dramatically when she became the guardian of Regia Bronson and her four siblings after their mother died. She purchased a home on T Street, and became one of the first black residents of Le Droit Park.

At the age of 66, she was awarded her PhD from the Sorbonne, becoming the fourth African American woman to earn that degree. And in 1930, after more than 40 years at M Street, she accepted the presidency of Frelinghuyuen University, a struggling group of vocational evening classes taught by volunteer faculty and meeting in black churches. As finances declined, she moved the classes into her home, accepting neither rent nor salary.

She died peacefully in her sleep on Feb. 29, 1964, at the age of 105, and was buried in Raleigh, N.C. On her tomb were inscribed the words she had chosen, "Somebody's teacher on vacation… Resting for the fall opening."

What a blessing that every Feb. 28, we can celebrate her heavenly birthday and ask her to pray for us, her students, always being shaped as disciples waiting for the new school year.

The Rev. J. Carleton Hayden is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington and a professor of history at Howard University. This article first appeared in Washington Window.

Sneak preview 2

With All Saints Day approaching, I thought I'd give readers an advanced look at a column in the November issue of Washington Window by Margaret Treadwell, a family psychotherapist, and director of The Counseling Center at St. Columba’s Church, here in D.C. The column deals with grieving, and seems appropriate to the season because the approaching feast so often brings back memories of the saints who have graced our own lives.

I'd also like to invite you to the "Remembering" service, 7:30-9 p.m., on Nov. 6, at The Counseling Center at 4201 Albemarle St. NW. Peggy describes "Remebering" as "an evening when people who have lost loved ones can begin to heal by telling stories about those who have died."

Registration is helpful – 202/363-9779 ext. 2

Click "continue" to read the column.

Read more »

Church in the streets

"Three blocks from The White House in Franklin Square Park, the Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery lifts a folding table from a small cart, sets out a woven basket of sandwich bread and a plastic bottle of grape juice and opens her arms wide.

It’s lunch hour in downtown D.C., and women in sunglasses and summer skirts sip bottled water under the trees, while businessmen with Blackberrys share benches with the destitute.

And it’s Tuesday, the day volunteers from the Church of the Epiphany on nearby G Street pack up programs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and take church to the street."

Read the story in the July issue of our diocesan paper, the Washington Window.

Following the money

We sent this press release out today. The series it refers to can be found here.

Episcopal Diocese of Washington publishes
“Following the Money: Donors and Activists on the Anglican Right”

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets in Columbus, Ohio, in June, a small network of theologically conservative organizations will be on hand to warn deputies that they must repent of their liberal attitudes on homosexuality or face a possible schism. The groups represent a small minority of church members, but relationships with wealthy American donors and powerful African bishops have made them key players in the fight for the future of the Anglican Communion.

Now, in a two-part series in its diocesan newspaper, the Washington Window, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington examines these organizations, their donors and the strategy that has allowed them to destabilize the Episcopal Church.

“Following the Money: Donors and Activists on the Anglican Right” will be published on Monday as an eight-page section of the Window. It will also available on the diocese’s Web site at: www.edow.org/follow

The first part of the series, “Investing in Upheaval,” draws on Internal Revenue Service Forms 990 to give a partial account of how contributions from Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., the savings and loan heir, and five secular foundations have energized resistance to the Episcopal Church’s decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop and to permit the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships.

The article sets contributions to organizations such as the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in the context of the donors’ other philanthropic activities which include support for conservative political candidates, think tanks and causes such as the intelligent design movement.

The second article, “A Global Strategy,” uses internal emails and memos from leaders of the AAC and IRD to examine efforts to have the Episcopal Church removed from the worldwide Anglican Communion and replaced with a more conservative entity. The documents surfaced during a Pennsylvania court case. The article also explores the financial relationship between conservative organizations in the United States and their allies in other parts of the world.

The series was written by Jim Naughton, a former reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, who is the director of communications for the diocese.

WERKing in New Orleans

The April issue of the Window is now online. If you would like to get involved in our relief work in New Orleans, have a look at this story, and visit this site.

Relative transgressions

Here is the second in a series of columns by Bowie Snodgrass, content editor of The Episcopal Church's Web site and co-convener of the 20/30 Connection at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Bowie's column appears every other month in our diocesan paper the Washington Window.

The relativity of modern morality

By Bowie Snodgrass
Washington Window
Vol. 73, No. 11, November 2005

Last November was an election, which people said was about morality, but then decided wasn't. In that brief time, between the flip and the flop, I began to think about the relativity of morality, particularly from generation to generation.

In months of conversations with friends, I've come up with a little list of behaviors that fall fairly clearly on two sides of a line, as seen by those of us who grew up with DARE, AIDS and divorce, watching “After School Specials” and “School House Rocks,” maybe going to church sometimes, using computers a lot, and loving today's multi-cultural America.

Keep in mind that some folks my age might see all these behaviors as "bad" and others might believe that all "bads" are relative. Oscar Wilde said, "Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace." So here we go: My personal guide to where young people - or at least the ones I know - stand now, and where we draw that line.

Trying a joint at a party… or driving home drunk?
Dare I say that D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) was less convincing than M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)? M.A.D.D. came up with the brilliant slogan "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink and Drive." And it worked. We don't. It's now de rigueur to have a D.D. (designated driver), which is more than I can say for my parents' and grandparents' generations.

Pot can be a problem, but a lot of folks have tried it, and it's only one drug to be questioned in today's pantheon of popularly proscribed pharmaceuticals, abused over-the-counter products, illegal killers (e.g. heroin, ecstasy, crystal meth), and legal ones (e.g. cigarettes and alcohol).

Piracy… or plagiarism?
No, I'm not talking about swashbuckling maritime marauders. I'm talking about ordinary downloading bootleggers - like you and me. Artists should be valued and fairly compensated, but media and technology are forever changing our culture. Plus, we like to share good stuff with our friends.

Plagiarism, however, is bad stuff. I had a friend in college whose paper was stolen by someone at the end of freshman year and handed in as the thief's own work. My friend had the drafts to prove the paper was hers, but the hearings she was forced to go through became a trial and ruined her sophomore year.

Being a little bit chubby… being a little bit bulimic?
Body weight isn't really a moral issue, but American puts a lot of social weight on how much we weigh, a trend that escalated in the second half of the 20th century.

I think I first learned about bulimia and anorexia from “After School Specials” and health class. Then I went to Vassar and learned a whole lot more. I knew some beautiful, brilliant and kind women who were slowly wasting away. It's heartbreaking to watch.

On the other hand, I'm so glad that in the 2000s "Baby Got Back!" is winning out over "baby, do these jeans make my butt look too big?" We're all made in God's image and there's plenty of religious art portraying people who are bigger than skinny!

Living together before marriage … or sleeping with someone who's married?
Thirty, 40, and 50 years ago, the former was considered scandalous. Today, I've even heard of some priests who recommend that young people live together before marriage. Whether or not you agree, it's happening all the time. Maybe people are getting married less or later, but then again, half our parents got divorced.

On the other side of the line, we're not likely to try having an "open marriage" and we know (from life and TV) that affairs can only lead to hurt and trouble. There are good reasons infidelity breaks a commandment.

Having gay sex… or having unprotected sex with a stranger?
Homosexuality is just not a big deal for more and more young people today. Most of us believe LGBT folk should have the right to live and love openly and honestly, and that these rights are justice issues.

However, I bet anyone who tells a friend that she or he had unsafe sex with a stranger will get a talking to - or at least a look. Many of us knew all about AIDS, and how to prevent it, well before our first sexual encounters. HIV has been around since before some of us were born.

Morals could be considered a meta-level of our consciousness, being able to see beyond the moment. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we just can't. That's what family and friends are for. Bible stories and the Holy Spirit help guide us too.

Knowing where our lines fall helps us know what we value and who we are. But drawing moral lines can be a delicate business. Someone once told me: "Whenever you draw a line in the sand, Jesus is on the other side of that line." Hip-hop star Kanye West says that Jesus walks with the "hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers." This is the love Christ taught us. Who do you walk with? Who's walked with you?

Bowie can be reached at bowiesnodgrass@gmail.com.

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