In honor of Black History Month, Christianity Today has a compilation of 20 stories that Christians should know. The stories of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas are some of my favorites. Harriet Tubman was incredible, arguably the bravest guide of the Underground Railroad. And Sojourner Truth, the name she adopted after truly coming to Jesus, has to be one of the greatest names in history. (If you haven’t seen the Harriet Tubman movie, don’t miss it! Nanci and I loved it.)
As for Sojourner Truth, she once said this while speaking to a crowd:
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm. I have plowed, I have planted, and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?
You may also be interested in what I wrote about the hymn “Amazing Grace” and its connection to black history.
Why does Black History Month matter to me? One reason is that the U.S. history I learned in school almost exclusively featured white people like me. I felt like I knew George Washington and Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin. I was taught that slavery existed, but I didn’t learn anything personally about the slaves. I didn’t know them. Besides Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, I didn’t know anything about black people. I didn’t hear names like Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. Even the heroes I learned about who helped end slavery were Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, good white people, but still white people.
Black History Month is an opportunity to see another side of U.S. history and look at the lives of accomplishments of African Americans who are 13% of the U.S. population, and over 30% of the population of seventy major metropolitan areas. (If anyone wonders “Why don’t we have a White History month?” the simple answer is, historically for the vast majority of the past, every month has been White History Month.)
God cares about and wants justice for women as well as men, people of all races, and all children, both born and unborn. Of course, not everything that people call “justice” conforms to true biblical justice, yet justice is not a word we should fear but embrace, provided we see it as a central part of the Christian worldview. We should never pursue justice instead of the gospel, but we should pursue it because of the gospel.
Meditate on these passages about justice and compassion and the ministry of Jesus in our lives:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed. —Jesus (Luke 4:18)
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but 1) to do justice, and 2) to love kindness, and 3) to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Here [in Christ and in his church] there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:11-15)