Because I was in Great Barrington, Mass., a few weeks ago, I visited the homestead of Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois. I wanted to do so for many reasons but especially because I loved his “Give Us Grace” prayer, based on the biblical story of Queen Esther that was included in his book, “Prayers for Dark People.”
The building’s identifying marker on the five acres of land did not do justice to his many academic accomplishments, intellect and stature. Yet, the experience was deeper than what my natural eyes could see.
The majestic array of pine trees along the path caught my attention, enough to see several commemorative placards. One of them caused me to come to a halting stop.
It was titled “Credo,” published initially in 1904, in which he articulated his own philosophy, and beliefs: in the Negro Race, in service, in the Devil and his angels, in the Prince of Peace, in liberty for all, in the training of children of “black even as white’ and in patience. At the outset, he stated his belief in God and his struggles with and inner conflict about faith in God and inequality.
Although it is widely reported that DuBois abandoned the organized religion of his childhood and youth, Edward J. Blum, who wrote “W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet,” stated that he always spoke to the religious histories and conditions of his topic at hand. He drew from it in his research, teaching, writings and scholarship.
As an activist and intellectual, he founded the Niagara Movement in 1905, he became one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and became a prolific writer and the editor of The Crisis magazine.
At the age of 95, he died in 1963 in Ghana on August 27, 1963, the night before the March on Washington, leaving a full and rich legacy of action, scholarship and, yes, faith enough to write down, and live out his Credo.
Who else did that?
While I could have mentioned the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many of the brave “drum majors for justice,” the person claiming my attention is the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, someone who lived his credo.
He was the youngest person at age 23 to speak at the March on Washington, freedom fighter, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966.
He led the March on Selma to Montgomery, Ala., was beaten by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and, in the process of praying, suffered a skull fracture.
Educated at American Baptist Seminary in Nashville, Tenn., and ordained as a Baptist minister, he was elected in 1987 to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in Congress.
He was a doer, a willing participant in the process of making “good trouble,” encouraged people “get in the way” and called us to do the same even to the end of his life.Read Full Article
Paying tribute, Christianity Today called him a Preaching Politician and Civil Rights Leader. Many of his colleagues called him the Conscience of Congress. He led not just by words but also by actions. His faith and his fight for justice moved him to take action, and not just talk.
Who else did that?
Countless and, sometimes, nameless people who were called, who put their faith into action, advocating for justice, equality, health care and economic security. People, who were motivated by faith in God and improving the quality of life in their community, took personal action, participated in protests, spoke prophetically, developed programs, developed policies, preached and practiced their faith with power and purpose.
Who else did and does that?
Front-line staff during the coronavirus. Doctors and nurses. Police and policy-makers. Social service providers and funders. Governmental officials and good-hearted citizens. Faith leaders and faith seekers. Neighborhood residents and national leaders. Anyone who believed that they could make a positive difference, improve the quality of people’s lives and value every human being as a child of God, regardless of race, gender, country of origin or background.
Who can do that now?
All of us … by writing down and living out our own credo as best we can by faith … because it matters.
The Rev. Bonita Grubbs is executive director of Christian Community Action Inc.