America’s long struggle for racial justice is in a new and volatile stage. Fourteen years ago, when we elected our first Black president, some saw the dawn of a “post-racial” era. Instead there was a swift backlash of white nationalism. Now conflict about race seems endemic. As black and brown voters become influential, white legislatures raise new obstacles to their participation. As activists demand police accountability, some leaders promise to “get tough on urban crime.” As scholars propose new frameworks for understanding the persistence of racism, conservative commentators deride them, and seek to outlaw their teaching.
Religion has long been at the center of this conflict. Ante-bellum defenders of slavery claimed the Bible justified the practice. But opponents of slavery, and advocates for civil rights, relied on the Bible to sustain the struggle for equal justice. More recently, religious scholars have demonstrated the tragic historical convergence of Christian ideas with ideas of white supremacy. Conversely, theologians show that, at its heart, Christian faith is the good news of inclusion and welcome.
This program is an opportunity to understand these dynamics more deeply. We will travel to sites in Jackson, Memphis, Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery, where great heroes of civil rights confronted defenders of an old order of white dominance. These are places where America’s claim to be a land of equal opportunity was put to the test. As we visit these historic sites, we will read and discuss brief texts that explore contemporary arguments about the most basic questions. What is “systemic racism”? What is “critical race theory”? What is “white privilege”? This program is an opportunity to ask these questions in the setting of some of the most dramatic events of America’s civil rights struggle—a struggle that urgently continues.
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