Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
In his book, At Caanan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968, Taylor Branch tells the story about Rev. Lorenzo Harrison. Harrison was preaching at a church in Lowndes County Alabama, when the sound of pick-up trucks came through the open windows. The trucks were carrying Klansmen who were carrying loaded shotguns and rifles as they pulled up to the church on a bright Sunday morning. Inside, the 200 worshipers began to worry and gasp. As Harrison braced the pulpit, he switched from preaching the gospel to exclaiming calm to the parishioners. He said, “They have brought the cup to the Lord’s doorstep.” Weeks ago, Harrison had mentioned voting in one of his sermons. None of the 15,000 African Americans who made up 80% of the county were ever allowed a single vote. Word had gotten out about what Harrison said, and this was enough to bring the Klan to the church.
The emboldened Klan began shouting that they would “get the out-of-county nigger preacher before sundown,” whether the congregation surrendered him or not. The choir sang. Parishioners prayed, gasped, and moaned. They were surrounded and had no way out. They prayed for strength not to give up their pastor to this evil group of men even if the Klan burned the whole congregation alive. Suddenly and for some unknown reason the trucks began to leave. Eventually, the deacons sent out a scout to see if there were any ambushes or threats further down the road. When the all clear was signaled, the parishioners were allowed to leave with many of them walking since so few had cars.
This story takes place in 1965. As a Presbyterian, the roots of my faith pass through John Calvin. As an African American, my spirit is bolstered by the courageous stories of women and men who stood firm and faithful in the midst of crises during the Civil Rights movement. I am not lifting this particular story up to make anyone feel guilty or responsible for the ugliness of our past. However, we must recognize the tendrils of evil that create daily reminders of our incomplete work against racism.
The courage of Rev. Harrison benefits all who enter the pulpit and preach the Word of God. No matter what race or ethnicity, the same gospel that provided the necessary fortitude for Harrison to march and stand, is available to us. We stand on the shoulders of those who have taken a stand in the past. We march in cadence with those who have marched toward freedom for all.
May the same God who enabled the prophets to stand up against kings, Jesus to stand before Pilate, and the disciples to stand before Herod, give us the wherewithal to stand against the powers of injustice in our world today.
Rev. Craig M. Howard