|Malcolm Little, 1948|
“What color was Paul?” a prison inmate asked around 1950 of a Harvard Seminary student who had come to teach a Bible study. “He had to be black," the inmate pressed, "because he was a Hebrew … and the original Hebrew were black … weren’t they?” The convict continued before the seminarian could respond and moved backward from Paul to Christ. “What color was Jesus … he was Hebrew, too, wasn’t he?” At this point, the inmates and the white seminarian “sat bolt upright.” Reflecting later on the event (at least how Alex Haley depicted Malcolm X reflecting on the events), Malcolm X explained that at the time even the toughest of convicts was not “ready to hear anybody saying Jesus wasn’t white.” The seminarian compromised, answering sheepishly, “Jesus was brown.” There, so the story went, the discussion ended.
The faces, places, and races of Jesus have mattered deeply in American history. They did in the colonial age of radical iconoclasm; they did in the Civil War era of struggles over slavery and Native American land expropriation; they did in the 1920s as immigration restrictions altered the American demography; and they did during the Civil Rights era. They still do today, especially on weekends such as this. I want to thank our authors for taking the time to share their thoughts, making themselves vulnerable with personal insights, and being willing to present their own values and beliefs. And thanks to Paul Harvey and the rest of the RiAH gang for allowing us to post these reflections. Here’s wishing you a wonderful rest of the spring semester.