African Americans

A 'Postmodern Negro' Perspective on Not Voting

I'm voting in this election, not with naivete but with sincere enthusiasm. Not with any messianic hopes, but with a deep sense of moral responsibility as a shareholder or steward of the richest, most dominant, and most well-armed nation in the world. I had another long talk with a friend a couple weeks back who, on religious grounds, is passionately against voting. He had read my earlier posts on the [...]

Black Church Leaders Meet on AIDS

More than 150 leading African-American clergy, scho­lars, government officials, and health experts joined in October with the National Black Leadership Commis­sion on AIDS to respond to HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. “The black church is the mainstay institution in the black community,” Deborah Fraser-Howze, president of the NBLC, told National Public Radio. “One in every 50 black men and one in every 160 black women are estimated to be HIV positive.”

Dozens of ministers—including world-renowned pastors T.D. Jakes and Calvin Butts III—reviewed the National Medical Association’s report on HIV/AIDS and drafted new legislation to address the crisis. Working with the Con­gressional Black Caucus, church leaders plan to introduce the National HIV/AIDS Elimi­nation Act in Con­gress in January, calling on President Bush to identify HIV/AIDS in the African-American community as a public health emergency and release emergency funds to fight the epidemic.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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New Old-Time Country Music

The wave of young people playing old-time string band music continues to grow, with no sign of having reached a crest. In the process, the phenomenon is becoming more interesting and diverse, and, to these old ears, the whole thing is starting to make sense.

On its 2006 album Big Iron World, the Old Crow Medicine Show (featured in the January 2006 issue of Sojourners) solidified its reputation for funky old-time tub-thumpers with timeless spiritual and erotic concerns. This past summer I caught a live show by Adrienne Young, a clawhammer banjo-playing singer-songwriter from rural Florida who has begun to attract a wide audience playing country music and promoting sustainable community-based agriculture. Her newest album, Room to Grow, is more “adult alternative” than old-time, but her live show was still as rootsy as cornbread and turnip greens.

This trend took its most interesting turn recently with the advent of the Carolina Choco­late Drops, a North Carolina Piedmont-based trio of young African-American musicians. Their name harkens back to the “race records” of the 1920s, but they play banjo- and fiddle-based music that could have been heard on almost any Southern plantation at almost any time in the 19th century.

American popular music as we know it began with the emergence of the recording industry. In the 1920s, hillbilly and blues artists were recorded and heard by audiences beyond the South. One day in Bristol, Virginia, both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family cut their first discs. Around the same time, field recorders further south were capturing the ur-blues of Charley Patton and black string bands such as the Mississippi Sheiks. And the whole world loved it. The country music industry, the market for jazz and rhythm and blues, and finally rock and roll itself grew inexorably and inevitably from those original roots.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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Flooding Jena with Justice

Thousands of protesters marched through Jena, Louisiana, on Sept. 20, outraged over what they considered excessive and unjust criminal charges—conspiracy and attempted murder—brought against six African-American teenagers who allegedly beat a white student. The incident occurred last December after a series of racially charged confrontations prompted by a group of white students hanging nooses in the Jena High School courtyard. More than 20,000 people converged on the small town, with thousands more holding local protests around the nation. The case’s growing visibility sparked outrage at what many see as a two-tier justice system in the U.S.

“If you’re black, they want to lock you up and throw away the keys. If you’re white, you get a slap on the wrist and get to go home with your parents,” Tony Brown, a Louisiana radio host, told USA Today.

Mychal Bell, one of the six, spent 10 months in jail on the original adult charges. Now the case will proceed in juvenile court. “We have a long fight ahead of us, and we’ll keep fighting until justice prevails in Jena,” said Tina Jones, mother of one of the six.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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New and Noteworthy

Race Matters

True to Our Native Land, edited by Brian Blount, describes itself as the first African-American commentary on the New Testament. This rich resource includes commentaries on each of the books by scholars Allen Dwight Callahan, Cain Hope Felder, Mitzi Smith, among others. The first part of the book also provides essays on broader topics such as slavery in the early church, and African-American art and biblical interpretation. Several pages of full-color art round out an impressive book. Fortress Press

No Room?

Posada, written and directed by Mark McGregor, S.J., uses the Christmas story of Joseph and Mary's search for shelter (posada, in Spanish) to illustrate the problems unaccompanied immigrant children face in the U.S. The hour-long film focuses on Johny, Wilber, and Densi, three boys whose journeys wind from Central America through the Mexican desert, Los Angeles streets, and juvenile detention centers. Loyola Productions

Breaking Bread

Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts, by Reta Halteman Finger, is a fascinating look at the table fellowship and communal sharing of the early church. She examines the social and economic world of Acts, the symbolic role of food, and the roles women—particularly widows—played in communal meals. Hers is an important reminder that as Jesus shared his meals, and his life, with others, so should we. Eerdmans

Quiet Awe

"The sacraments will lift us," sings Karen Peris in "Song for Tom," one of the 11 tracks on We Walked in Song, the latest from The Innocence Mission. It's a line that captures the overall effort by Peris and husband Don—subtle, intimate, a touch melancholy, but not sad. The sacraments in this case are the kindness of strangers, birthdays, and "undeserved sweetness and light." Badman Recording

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2007
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