For Black History Month – Still Another Personal Reflection

As a part of my commemoration of Black History Month, I remember those whose living witness shaped me as a person of love and justice.

Audia Mae Hoard Roberts. My maternal grandmother. To my older brother Wayne and me, she, in her humble, though firmly matriarchal way, declared that she didn’t desire to be called “grand”, but rather “Mom.”

Mom, Baptist-born-and-bred, was a Bible student and, until her dying day, a teacher. Many a Sunday, Wayne and I accompanied her to First Baptist Church, Cardinal and Bell Avenues, St. Louis. We, in youthful deference, sat in the rear pew of her well-subscribed class, awed at her scholarship and appreciative of her encouragement of questions. Still, I hear her words of assurance, “We, in the end, can have no certain answers, for only God knows.”

In her personal tutelage, during our much-anticipated weekend stays, Mom would have us read aloud a selected Bible passage, inviting us to comment on its context (“Lest we fall,” she admonished, “into the proof-texting pit of error”). Then, she would ask, “How do you interpret it?” (My cradle-born Episcopal Church liturgies are laden with scripture, but I truly learned the Bible at Mom’s knee.)

In 1970, during the post-Civil Rights Era and the beginning of the Black Power movement, I entered high school. At a time when I (thought I) knew everything, I, smugly, felt self-assured of the docility of my elders regarding advancements in the cause of racial equality. Mom took me aside, imparting an invaluable lesson…

Strikingly fair-skinned, Mom could have passed for white. She didn’t. Proudly claiming her Black heritage (though clearly with ancestors born to master-slave conscribed concupiscence), she was an early civil rights activist. For more than fifty years, through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she shared in strategizing and public protests against inequalities in education, housing, and political (minority-voter) disenfranchisement.

Still, I, in my youthful arrogance and ignorance, initially discounted her recount of her times and experiences as not enough. For how could the world, my world still be as racially retrograde as it was if she and others had done all they could have done?

Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. Even when we humans remember our history, we, as an ineluctable aspect of being alive, will repeat it.[1] For here I stand, looking at a church I love and have served for nearly 50 years still riddled with tenacious inequalities regarding race. Clearly, I haven’t done all that I could have done.

This is why Black History Month is fitting and faithful. For it reminds me of the higher vocations of love and justice; the clamor of which my daily, oft selfish preoccupations and predilections threaten to make mute.

© 2023 PRA

Photograph (c. 1940): Audia Mae Hoard Roberts (1890-1979)

[1] “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive” – Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

1 thought on “For Black History Month – Still Another Personal Reflection

  1. Grady Hedgespeth February 8, 2023 — 7:23 pm

    Repeat it indeed Preach on. Jesus knew it. The author of Revelations too. Otherwise what would there be to judge come the second coming. But that’s not an excuse to keep striving for more love and justice. And you’d be out of a job, Rev. Or at least need a new line of work. (The latter being what you do, that is what you were put here to do, whether you get paid for it or not.)


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