“A lot us know a little bit about the history of the free-state movement for Kansas. Maybe we even think of Kansas as a place that really stood up in opposition to slavery. That is not the whole story,” said the Rev. Rachael Pryor, board chairwoman of Kansas Interfaith Action. This month, KIFA conducted a virtual vigil to draw back the curtain on lynchings and other forms of racial terrorism in Kansas.
While lynchings are most often thought of as an abhorrent act that occurred in the South, the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization engaged in a campaign to recognize the victims of lynching, has found numerous documented lynchings outside the South. They found these acts were most common in Illinois,
As a faith-based organization, KIFA felt it was important for them to address lynchings because of the historic role the church played in support of slavery, racism and lynchings in America.
More than 4,000 African Americans were lynched between 1877 and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1950s. Lynching was a brutal public tactic for maintaining White supremacy, frequently used with the tacit blessing of government authorities and, yes, the White church.
Lynchings were often large gatherings in communities, with families bringing baskets to provide sustenance for the day. The sheer number of people who typically watched or joined in the mob hunt makes a case that White Christians were a part of the crowd.
Most of the Southern Christian denominations openly supported racism, mostly on the basis of their perceived inferiority of Black people. Robert Lewis Dabney, the premier theologian of the Southern Presbyterian Church from 1865 until 1892, did as others had done, which was to interpret the “curse of Ham” in Genesis 9 as a story in support of Blacks/Africans being degenerates and designating slavery as God’s righteous punishment for their sin.
From that position, it wasn’t a far stretch for churches to support violence against these “degenerates,” and racist, social groups funneled into the church. The violent Klu Klux Klan, which still requires its members to be Christians, was deeply rooted in the White Southern church and the Southern church leadership. This was a “marriage” that worked well for the Klan, since their “White supremacy” dogma was popularly supported through the idea that they were selected by God and that superiority was their God-given right.
For Pryor and KIFA members, their February vigil wasn’t must about “looking back and apologizing for something that happened a long time ago.”
“The same attitudes that allowed for, and even celebrated lynching a century ago, are still present in our communities and systems, distorting rights, relationships and racial justice,” said Pryor.
- Contributing: Tim Carpenter,
The Kansas Reflector