88, National Presiding Ministers of The House of The Lord Churches
The first thing you see when you come in is this [church] is a big Black Jesus.
I wanted to let everyone know that Jesus had an African origin and a revolutionary dimension, that’s why we put the big mural downstairs.
It was important for me to link Africa with Christianity because Christianity had come to be viewed as a European creation. There were those who argued and argued persuasively and successfully, that to some extent, Christianity was the white man’s religion and was designed to keep us subjugated. Of course, this is not true because Judaism, Islam and Christianity all have an African/Asian origin.
Frederick Douglass was one of my heroes and he exhibited what I looked for in greatness.
The three Cs.
Number one is courage. Greatness always carries with it, courage. As a teenager, Fred Douglass had the courage to fight slave masters and slave breakers. He had the courage to escape slavery because if you were caught, there were punishments worse than death.
In addition to courage, there is creativity that greatness brings that says no matter what I am going to achieve my objective. This was demonstrated in Fred Douglass’s life by learning to read and write. First, it was the slave master’s mistress who gave him the rudiments of reading and then her husband said, “Hey, you can’t do that because you will be put to death for teaching a slave to read and write.” She ceased. Not only did she stop, she sought to discourage him from reading and writing.
He would play games with little white boys. “I’ll give you some bread if you teach me the words.” Then he would watch sailors putting words on boards until he learned how to read, at which point he began studying Columbian Orator, a book containing the orations from people like George Washington and Cecil Rhodes.
Greatness has a consistency, a tenacity, you know, “I’m going to do this. I don’t care who’s with it or who’s against it. I don’t care how many mountains you got to climb, how many hills you have to go around, how many oceans you have to swim. I intend to achieve the objective.” He had that. He was only 20 in 1838 when he escaped from slavery and joined the abolitionist movement. here’s consistency and a commitment to a cause that’s usually bigger than yourself. So, he had that commitment till he died in 1895.
In addition to commitment, there’s a cosmopolitan aspect to greatness. That you are concerned with not just your neighborhood, race, or class, but you engulf the world. If you think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “[i]njustice anywhere is the absence of justice everywhere.” Douglass was way out front on the woman question, he was supporting the woman suffrage movement. He had a famous quote, “Right is of no sex and truth is of no color.”
He was cosmopolitan in his concerns for the whole of the human race.
Finally, what is central key is compassion, carrying with you the feeling that you can feel what other people are feeling. You can have all the Cs that I have mentioned but you don’t necessarily have to be compassionate about your commitment to change.
My life in some way has been similar to Fred Douglas and I must hasten to say I am by no means trying to put myself on the same level.
He escaped from the bondage of slavery; in my earlier years I was incarcerated. There’s the feeling of having your freedom taken away from you. That your life hangs on the whimsicality of your overlords be it prison or be it enslaved. I too grew up in the South, and when segregation ruled the day.
I look back now and wonder sometimes just how could we have adjusted? Not only just adjusted but to make progress in that damnable demonic system which was designed to destroy every ounce of a sense of being human? You live always with the fear that any incident could end your life.
Coming out of the south, I still feel the vestiges of the segregated systems.
About 5 years ago, I was walking, and then running in Augusta Georgia, along the Savannah River. Every once in a while, and this white lady was coming at me and I start trembling because I didn’t know what to do. If I turn around and run the other way she could say, “he was running away from me.” If I pass her by and don’t speak then, I was “ornery”.
If I do speak, “oh, he was making a pass at me.” Can you imagine living in that kind of setting? A setting where you were subjected to the whims of another race, in the case white Americans? And particularly white women? Now it wouldn’t likely happen. But it could happen. But can you imagine a few years ago that was the reality to which you were subjected? So, you live in that kind of way and have to adjust.
I’m often asked, “Well Herbert, you have lived 88 years.” I’ve been over 60 years in the ministry, “What do you say to the world? What have you gathered in all of those years?” I’ve often thought about it and I come down on love. Love of God. However, you perceive the highest expression of your thinking, the love of that being, love of your family, love of your neighbor, love of life. This wonderful experience of living and love of the world this beautiful world in which you live. I’ve travelled much of it. I think it was William James, a noted American psychologist, who said that the happiest people are the people who have found something bigger than themselves to which they can give themselves and will outlive themselves. I say to people, this is our family history, our children, it’s passed down. It says, “listen, you love God. Put God first. Love the people, work with the people to build a better world and God will bless your life beyond anything you can imagine.”
We [Black people], come from this great continent which gave to the world civilizations. We are from that great continent whether we are from Trinidad or Tennessee. I like to say in Jamaica you know they like saltfish and callaloo, in Georgia it’s collard greens and catfish. We are a people of hope. Bishop Tutu used to say, “I am addicted to hope. If you want to know what my addiction is, it’s hope.” I believe we are a people of hope and destined, I believe, to show the world kindness, what living together and respecting all human beings irrespective of backgrounds looks like. That I believe, that I work and struggle for.