"To be serious about abolishing racial caste, the new abolitionists had to reach deep into religious communities through which millions of Americans made moral and spiritual sense of their lives," writes Gary Dorrien in the opening of chapter 5 of The New Abolition. In the last chapter, he discussed the founding of the NAACP, now he backs up a few decades to discuss developments in Black Methodism (chapter six covers key figures and events for Black Baptists).
He introduces Reverdy Ransom. At his funeral W. E. B. Du Bois proclaimed "He has erected a monument in the history of African Methodism, America, and the world which shall last throughout time and history." Yet, as Dorrien writes, "Ransom was almost completely forgotten" in the histories of the early civil rights movement. Dorrien wants to recover him as one of the primary creators of the Black Social Gospel which gave birth to the religious movement for civil rights in the 20th century.
Ransom was born in 1861 "the only child of a powerful, loving woman who assured him he was 'let down from the skies.'" And he rose to become a bishop in the AME Church. His mother encouraged education as the way to solve the problem of poverty.
Ransom was one of the first black ministers to begin speaking out about social issues and supporting the anti-lynching movement. Dorrien writes, "He warned that America could not be truly civilized and savagely terrorize blacks at the same time."
He believed that African-Americans offered a hope for Christianity and the nation. African-Americans' "deep emotional nature will be the foe of tyranny and oppression and as a religious vehicle will carry the triumph of the King of Kings into the seats of pride and power, and over the dark and barren regions of the globe."
He was a powerful preacher, growing each parish he served through his eloquence and the relevance of his content. He also guided his churches during the period of the Great Migration, when rural, Southern blacks were flooding northern, industrial cities. His churches developed many social programs, and he and his wife "shared the life of the urban poor." Ransom asked the churches, "Shall we sit smug and comfortable in our large churches, or go forth with Jesus Christ into the highways and seek for the sheep that are lost until we find them?"
When he preached out against gambling; the racketeers dynamited his church. So the next Sunday he preached "holding a loaded revolver underneath his Bible, taunting from the pulpit, 'Dynamite and violence are a poor answer to an argument.'"
Speaking to the National Reform Convention on the topic of "How Should the Christian State Deal with the Race Problem?" he proclaimed, "There should be no Race Problem in the Christian State." For "Jesus broke down barriers, treating all human beings alike as human beings." He denounced Jim Crow as a crime against "the very life of human spirit" and also unChristian. He declared that "Christianity will un-Christ itself" if it continued on this white supremacist path.
He advocated a pride of personality "Grounded in the recognition of the divine light within each soul, 'this pride becomes the highest form of meekness which inherits the earth and the heaven, too.'" Encouraged by the Harlem Renaissance, Ransom declared that "In the highest and best sense, the black people are the only free people in the United States today" because white people were "chained to their prejudices." Dorrien writes that "Ransom urged that blacks were called to bring white racists to repentance through Christian love, nonviolent protest, and scholarship." He thought black people were America's conscience and contributed the "peaceable gifts of black soulfulness." And "Black Christianity modeled what it looked like to take the teaching of Christ to heart."
In 1930 he preached that the white man "only yields or compromises in the face of aggressive, determined, uncompromising power" and never "out of charity or religious feeling."
In 1933 he declared that the white races had failed, they had lost their soul in the oppression of black people. Therefore, "The African and his descendants are the last spiritual reserves of humanity."
He died in 1959, having long outlived his period of prime influence, dying just as the movement he helped to birth began to achieve the salvation of the country as he had envisioned.
Incarnate Spirit of Justice was the last post in this series.