Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Apocalyptic for the People
Suppose on some gray day, as you plod down Wall Street, you should see God sitting on the Treasury steps, in His Glory, with the thunders curved about him? Suppose on Michigan Avenue, between the lakes and hills of stone, and in the midst of hastening automobiles and jostling crowds, suddenly you see living and walking toward you, the Christ, with sorrow and sunshine in his face?
Foolish talk, all of this you say, of course; and that is because no American now believes in his religion. Its facts are mere symbolism; its revelation vague generalities; its ethics a matter of carefully balanced gain. But to most of the four million black folk emancipated by civil war, God was real. They knew him. They had met him personally in many a wild orgy, or in the black stillness of the night. His plan for them was clear; they were to suffer and be degraded, and then afterwards by divine edict, raised to manhood and power; and so on January 1, 1863, He made them free.
It was all foolish, bizarre, and tawdry. Gangs of dirty Negroes howling and dancing; poverty-stricken ignorant laborers mistaking war, destruction, and revolution for the mystery of the free human soul; and yet to these Black folk it was the Apocalypse."The magnificent trumpet tones of Hebrew Scripture, transmuted and oddly changed, became a brand new Gospel. All that was Beauty, all that was Love, all that was Truth, stood on top of those mad mornings and sang with the stars. A great human sob shrieked in the wind, and tossed its tears upon the sea -- free, free, free.
--W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880