The Unfinished Business of Black People Being Free

On March 31, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He reiterated a phrase that he had used on a number of other occasions, “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America.” A few days after this sermon at the National Cathedral, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the first times Dr. King used this phrase was in an Address Before the National Press Club in 1962.

More and more the voice of the church is being heard. It is still true that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. As a minister of the gospel I am ashamed to have to affirm that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing “In Christ There Is No East nor West,” is the most segregated hour of America, and the Sunday School is the most segregated school of the week. But in spite of this appalling fact, we are beginning to shake the lethargy from our souls. Here and there churches are courageously making attacks on segregation, and actually integrating their congregations.

Unfortunately, since the death of Dr. King, segregation on Sunday morning has stubbornly resisted much movement. How do we start to produce some change? How do we take at least one step forward? One possibility is for More Light churches to consider linking arms with a black church in your local area for a screening and discussion of The New Black, a documentary directed by Yoruba Richen (pictured above) that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with LGBTQ issues in light of same-gender marriage and the fight over civil rights.

On June 26, 2013, in a historic victory for LGBTQ rights, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). One day prior, the court struck down key provisions in the Voting Rights Act, a wall against racial discrimination at the ballot box requiring states with histories of minority voter suppression to seek federal approval for voting law changes. Texas, Alabama and Mississippi announced plans to institute voter I.D. requirements hours after the decision. This is an important moment for our communities facing discrimination to come together and build what New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow calls a “majority minority country.”

Here is a brief synopsis of The New Black from the film’s Press Kit:

The film documents activists, families and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and examines homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar – the black church – and reveals the Christian right wing’s strategy of exploiting this phenomenon in order to pursue an anti-gay political agenda.

The New Black takes viewers into the pews and onto the streets and provides a seat at the kitchen table as it tells the story of the historic fight to win marriage equality in Maryland and charts the evolution of this divisive issue with the black community.

On National Coming Out day this year, National Black Justice Coalition ED and CEO Sharon J.Lettman-Hicks wrote an article in Ebony about The New Black. She calls her community to the unfinished business of black people being free.

Sharon Lettman HicksWe’re in this together and there’s no separating racial justice from LGBT equality in my world. In order for me to be fully free, we’ve all got to be.

That’s the remarkable thing about this film—and about this very ripe moment of our movement. The New Black is a brilliant launching pad for communities to start having the difficult conversations around race and the movement for LGBT equality. It allows us to drop our guard, leave our biases at the door and reach the masses with a message that illuminates the humanity of our community. It breaks down the often times abstract policy and cryptic scripture to real-life challenges everyday Americans can understand. The New Black puts a face to the people living at the intersection of black and LGBT.

It also places a face on our allies and dispels myths about the black community being monolithically homophobic. But in order to continue doing that, we’ve got to keep the conversation going. As allies, we’ve got to speak up and speak loudly so that the voices of prejudice fade and all of our families feel safe and celebrated.

Will you consider partnering with a black church in your community to screen The New Black and host a discussion afterwards? To host a screening, please email Yvonne Welbon (screenings@newblackfilm.com) or fill out the form on their website. Let us know if you decide to screen the film, we’d love let people in your area know.

Showing this film is an opportunity to take a step forward toward the integrated church Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about. In a culture where Christianity is still largely equated as being fundamentally against the equality and welcome of LGBTQ people in our churches in communities, we have a calling to continue to have, as Lettman-Hicks said, “the difficult conversations around race and the movement for LGBT equality.” We can neither ignore race within the movement for LGBTQ equality, nor make monolithic assumptions about any one community. The time is now to break down barriers and break the silence, for none of us are free if we are not all free.

(Photos: Courtesy of The New Black)

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