ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes


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We may not overlook the fact that many white Christians are doing their best through influential organizations

for a better relationship between the races and that discerning Negroes recognize the difficulties.

Nevertheless, the picture of a racially divided church is still general in the United States today.

Black and white hear the Word and receive the sacrament in separation.



Books by Bonhoeffer

No Rusty Swords / The Cost of Discipleship / Letters and Papers from Prison  /  Sanctorum Communio

A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings  /  Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible Ethics  

No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich Bonheoffer and the Problem of Racism

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The Impact of Negro Worship on a German Theologian

The Negro Church

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer


The race question has been a real problem for American Christianity from the beginning. Today about one American in ten is a Negro. The turning aside of the newly arising generation of Negroes from the faith of their elders, which, with its strong eschatological orientation, seems to them to be a hindrance to the progress of their race and their rights is one of the ominous signs of a failing of the church in past centuries and a hard problem for the future. If it has come about that today the 'black Christ' has to be led into the field against the 'white Christ' by a young Negro poet, than a deep cleft in the church of Jesus Christ is indicated.

We may not overlook the fact that many white Christians are doing their best through influential organizations for a better relationship between the races and that discerning Negroes recognize the difficulties. Nevertheless, the picture of a racially divided church is still general in the United States today. Black and white hear the Word and receive the sacrament in separation. They have no common worship. The following historical development lies in the background. At the time of the arrival of the first large shipments of Negroes in America, who had been plundered as slaves from Africa, there was a general rejection of the idea of making the Negro Christian, particularly by the white slave-owners.

Slavery was justified on the ground the the Negro was heathen. Baptism would put in question the permissibility of slavery and would bring the Negro undesirable rights and privileges. Only after a dreadful letter of reassurance from the Bishop of London, in which he promised the  white masters that the external conditions of the Negro need not be altered in the least by baptism, that baptism was a liberation from sin and evil desire and not from slavery or from any other external fetters, did the slaver owners  find themselves ready to afford the Gospel an entry among the Negroes.

Finally it was even found to have the advantage of keeping the slaves more easily under supervision than if they were left to continue their own pagan cults. So it came about that the Negroes became Christians and were admitted to the gallery at white services and as the last guests to the communion table. Any further participation in the life of the congregation was excluded; holding offices in the congregation and ordination remained reserved for whites. Under these circumstances worship together became more and more of a farce for the Negro, and after the complete failure of all attempts to be recognized as equal members in the community of Jesus Christ, the Negroes began to attempt to organize themselves into their own Negro congregations.

It was a voluntary decision which led the Negro to this, but one which circumstances made inevitable. A number of incidents, particularly at the time of the Civil War, which brought about the abolition of slavery, gave rise to the formation of independent Negro churches. Since then the great denominations have been divided, a significant example of the make-up of a denomination in the United States.

The most influential contribution made by the Negro to American Christianity lies in the "Negro Spirituals," in which the distress and delivery of the people of Israel ("Go down, Moses . . ."), the misery and consolation of the human heart ("Nobody knows the trouble I've seen"), and the love of the Redeemer and longing for the kingdom of heaven ("Swing low, sweet chariot . . .") find moving expression. Every white American knows, sings and loves these songs. It is barely understandable that great Negro singers can sing these songs before packed concert audiences of whites, to tumultuous applause, while at the same time these same men and women are still denied access to the white community through social discrimination.

One may also say that nowhere is revival preaching still so vigorous and so widespread as among the Negroes, that here the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the savior of the sinner, is really preached and accepted with great welcome and visible emotion. The solution to the Negro problem is one of the decisive future tasks of the white churches.

Source: No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes 1928-1936 from the Collected Works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 1. Edited and Introduced by Edwin H. Robertson. Translated by Edwin H. Robertson and John Bowdin. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1947, pp. 112-114

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals 

of a Growing Religion in America

By Miguel A. De La Torre

This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria -- a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro's revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 18 April 2012




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