Content starts here

Civil Rights Leaders: Church Still Stabilizes Black Community, Yet Shows Signs of Fatigue

Updated 11/29/14

Black Church Service
Black church still has role in civil rights struggle.

The fourth and final in a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

From the tragic 1955 death of Emmett Till to the civil rights battles of the 1960s and even to the issues of unequal justice in 2014, civil rights leaders say the black church has remained a headquarters for healing, rejuvenation and planning.

“It remains our oasis in the desert. It remains our spiritual reservoir. It remains the most independent organization controlled by black people,” says the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. “It even owns the most land. It is the biggest source of stability in our community.”

>> Visit AARP Black Community

As political division continues and economic crisis cause pressure on families, the Sunday morning worship service is still a refuge, agrees the Rev. C.T. Vivian, interim president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and former foot soldier for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We were in situations where we were worthless to the people who were working us and to the people who so-called ‘owned’ us,” Vivian says. “And the only place we reached for solace and understanding and to give our lives meaning was inside our religious life, our spiritual life.”

The church was also a base for professional skills and training, Vivian says. “It was the place where we learned about money and about property. All of these things that would move our people forward, we learned in the church.”

>> Tomorrow’s Civil Rights Leaders: 11 Faces to Watch

But some religious leaders say many churches have lost the passion they once had for social justice and could use a revival of sorts.

“I think the church is not as dynamic and as active as it used to be, and I regret that,” says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, SCLC co-founder, often called the dean of the civil rights movement. But, he adds, “I think there’s still many churches, particularly those with activist preachers, who are applying the rubber to the road, who are trying to apply the moral and spiritual imperatives of our faith to the social and civic problems.”

King’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, who is also an ordained minister, believes many churches — black and white — have lost their community focus while educational, criminal justice and other social systems suffer. But there is hope, she says.

>> Sign up for the AARP Advocacy Newsletter

“I think the church has a tremendous role and responsibility to play in all of this. Honestly, we just keep living from day to day until another incident happens,” she says.

The majority of Americans gather every week in a place of worship — whether it’s in a mosque, a synagogue or a church, she notes. “It would be so tremendous if we could use that as an opportunity to break some ground as it relates to some of these racial divides,” King says.

Photo: gerripix/iStock

Introducing RealPad by AARP







Also of Interest

See the  AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

Search AARP Blogs

Related Posts
July 11, 2017 02:09 PM
Are you ready for a new job? Want to start a second career? Or, perhaps get a part-time gig? AARP’s Job Board may be the solution to that question. Earlier this year, AARP launched a tool that allows 50+ jobseekers to identify opportunities that fit their unique skills and experiences. The Job…
June 23, 2017 09:54 AM
Congratulations to the Finalists in AARP's 2nd Annual AAPI Hero Awards Contest! We wanted to hear about the hard-working staff and volunteers who bring their passion and energy to non-profit organizations that serve AAPIs who are 50-plus. We were looking for the people who are the heart and soul of…
June 19, 2017 03:53 PM
On the night of June 19, 1982, 27-year-old Vincent Chin was celebrating his bachelor party with friends in a Detroit strip club. He got into an altercation with two white men, and both groups were thrown out. The two men tracked down Chin with the help of a third man and brutally beat him with a…