Since August 12, 2017 the name "Charlottesville" has become synonymous with the outbreak of racial bigotry, hatred, and violence that shocked the nation and led to the deaths of three people and the injury of many others. Some of the most extreme proponents of white nationalism clashed with a large group of counter protesters. For many around the nation viewing the television and social media coverage, it seemed almost unthinkable that such a scene could be happening in 21st century America. While such scenes are fairly rare, it is important not to limit the reality of racism to confrontations with neo-nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists. This is a symptom of the much deeper and pervasive reality of racism that evangelical author and teacher Jim Wallis calls America's original sin. The story of America's original sin can be traced back to nearly 400 years ago when the first enslaved Africans were brought to the Jamestown colony in August 1619. The National Park Service website for Jamestown offers the following description:
Arrival of "20 and odd" Africans in late August 1619, not aboard a Dutch ship as reported by John Rolfe, but an English warship, White Lion, sailing with a letters of marque issued to the English Captain Jope by the Protestant Dutch Prince Maurice, son of William of Orange. A letters of marque legally permitted the White Lion to sail as a privateer attacking any Spanish or Portuguese ships it encountered. The 20 and odd Africans were captives removed from the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, following an encounter the ship had with the White Lion and her consort, the Treasurer, another English ship, while attempting to deliver its African prisoners to Mexico. Rolfe's reporting the White Lion as a Dutch warship was a clever ruse to transfer blame away from the English for piracy of the slave ship to the Dutch.
The "peculiar institution" of American chattel slavery evolved in stages over the next century, but those "20 and odd Africans" represent the first victims of institutional racism in what would become our nation. Over the next 400 years, the institutions of racism took different forms including slavery, convict leasing, Jim Crow legalized segregation, lynching and other forms of violent domestic terrorism, massive resistance to integration, mass incarceration, voter suppression, and the increasing resegregation of public education. The tragic events of August 2017 in Charlottesville have their roots in the tragic events of August 1619 in Jamestown. While it is important to stand up and non-violently resist forms of extreme white nationalism, it is equally important to recognize and confess the other forms of structural racism mentioned above so that we can move forward in our commitment to liberty and justice for all based on our faith that all people are made in the image of God and that race is a soclo-political construct that divides and denies our shared humanity. In the video posted below, Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, makes a clear connection between what happened in Charlottesville and the legacy of racism that has taken many forms throughout our nation's history. He calls us to face this history in a way similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa at the end of the apartheid era. The Cornelius Corps is a resource to help the Church face this history as a crucial part of our ongoing journey of following the way of Jesus in our day and time.