Black History Neither Confined to February nor Black Churches
By Adrian Powell
February is the shortest month of the year, yet the effort to tell the story of African Americans seems to be given short shrift when it comes to expanding the understanding of the reason behind the need for a month dedicated to the telling of the story of the African American experience.
When you look at the contributions of African Americans to the development of the educational, historical, and scientific discoveries of the nation, you realize that Black history is American history. From the participation in the American Revolution to the development of blood transfusions, to the prosecution of the Persian Gulf War, African Americans have been at the forefront.1
And, while some might look back with nostalgia for the way America was in the 1950s and ’60s, it is not merely because of the way things were, but because there is an idyllic memory of something that never was quite what it seemed.
While Ozzie and Harriett were seen by some as the best of suburban America, there were never observed to be any people of color or ethnic or religious minorities in their town. Of course, it was a reflection of the reality in America at that time: 89.5-percent White in 1950, 10-percent African American, and 2.1-percent Hispanic. There was not a statistically significant level of Asian or Native Americans. By 1970, the figures hadn’t changed significantly.
By 2010, however, things had changed to such a degree that the White population comprised 74.15 percent of the population, Hispanics made up 16.35 percent of America; African Americans, 12.58 percent; Asians, 4.82 percent; mixed race, 2.80 percent; and Native Americans, 0.82 percent.
As the Church of God has generally been a rural or suburban church movement outside of the African American congregations, there was not much significance given to understanding the importance of African American history, outside of a few remarks by those who were a part of the General Assembly of the Church of God.
If we are truly going to “reach our hand in fellowship to every blood-washed one,” we should attempt to make the effort to understand one another in a deeper, more comprehensive way. And one of those ways is to make a concerted effort to make the contributions of African Americans more widely known.
Bishop Timothy J. Clarke, of First Church of God in Columbus (and who chairs the General Assembly) tells me that, “We do so much during the normal course of the year, such as ‘The Hymns of Our Heritage and Hope,’ and information on our Facebook page and website that it has come to my attention that we need to do more during February to expand our work in that regard.”
As a Black pastor of a predominantly White congregation, I have been purposeful in making February an opportunity to expand the knowledge of the congregation of things that they have not been exposed to in their lifetimes as a part of their understanding of Galatians 3:25–29.
Every year since my wife and I accepted the call, we have been intentional in exposing the congregation to the history, music, and theological contributions of Africans and African Americans to church history generally, and the Church of God specifically.
For example, even though it is in the latest hymnal of the Church of God (Worship the Lord, 1989), only a couple people in the congregation knew that Hymn 439, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is also known as “The Black National Anthem.” Nor were they aware that many of the most important early church leaders who established orthodox doctrinal standards for the church universal were African, including Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine.
Last year, during the month of February, we took time in every service to highlight great African American leaders of the Church of God, including Bishop Benjamin F. Reid, Samuel Hines, James Earl Massey, and Cheryl Sanders.
This year, we have concentrated on the musical heritage of the African American experience by singing not only contemporary hymns as composed by Andraé Crouch and Bernadette Salley, but also the historical Negro spirituals that are not in the hymnal. The first lady, Sheryle Lynn Powell, assists in the selection and leading of the singing of these songs of trial and triumph.
It should be remembered that we are called to not only have faith, but to live out our faith in ways that others may see our good works and give praise to our Father in heaven.
Adrian Powell is an associate editor with Church of God Ministries, as well as senior pastor of Faith Community Church of God in Grove City, Ohio. He has been published in numerous periodicals, newspapers and blogs, and has authored two books, The Jubilee Harvest and Resident Aliens: A Living Faith in a Hostile World, available at Amazon.com.
Feature (top) photos: Faith Community Church of God in Grove City, Ohio (left); Pastor Adrian Powell leads a Unity March (right).
1Crispus Attucks, Charles Drew and Colin Powell (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).