Meditation Monday - 1619 and 1776: Conflicted From the Beginning

Yesterday at 3:00pm church bells around the nation rang in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of one of the foundational events in our nation’s history. In late August 1619, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the British colony of Virginia. Over the next few decades, this developed into what we know as the system of American chattel slavery. By the time the colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776, this brutal system was firmly in place as evidenced by the fact that 12 of our nation’s Presidents enslaved people. States in both the north and south participated in slavery during the early days of our country, and later the increasingly industrialized north depended on the raw materials produced by slavery in the south. It took the Civil War to end slavery even though abolishing slavery was not the original cause of the war as slavery continued to be practiced in Union border states and even in the capital of Washington, DC until a full year into the war. So long after the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” it was clear that this did not really apply to all people. As the creator of The 1619 Project wrote in the opening essay of this amazing collection of essays and artistic works published in the New York Times Magazine, “The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie.” The ideal of democratic freedom and the lie of racism have existed side by side from our nation’s birth to today. Much of The 1619 Project focuses on ways in which the legacy of slavery is still with us today. The purpose of that project and of this post is not to immerse us in shame or to be “unpatriotic.” Rather it is to be honest about our history and the contradiction between the ideal and the lie so that we can consciously take steps to reduce and some day eliminate that contradiction. Throughout our history, African American leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others have shown us how to believe in our nation’s ideals and challenge its lies at the same time in ways that move us toward greater levels of justice for all. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe that God’s forgiveness and healing are always available. Yet nothing can be healed that is not brought to consciousness and confessed. This is true not just for individuals but for communities and nations as well. I invite you to read and reflect on The 1619 Project by clicking Here to get a digital copy.