Author Archives: Rebecca Alpern

The Importance of Identity

There were quite a few parts of this week’s readings that stuck with me as I read. The first is the line, “To accept Black Power as Christian required that we thrust ourselves into our history in order to search for new ways to think and be black in this world. We felt the need to explain ourselves and to be understood from our own vantage point and not from the perspective and experiences of whites.” (Sernett 569). I found this section to be reminiscent of a theme that has been easily found in many, if not all, of our readings thus far this semester: the importance of identity. So much of what we’ve read and discussed has related back to the need for an identity to belong to, and the dignity and honor associated with that identity. A similar theme can be seen later in the chapter: “Since humanity is one, and cannot be isolated into racial and national groups, there will be no freedom for anyone until there is freedom for all. This means that we must enlarge our vision by connecting it with that of other oppressed peoples so that together all the victims of the world might take charge of their history for the creation of a new humanity.” (Sernett 574-575). This, to me, spoke of each person’s individual identity, and what it means to be a part of a group and protect one anothers’ identities.


A different but not unconnected theme is found later in the chapter. Along with the theme of identity is the idea of pride, and the pride that comes from having an identity and a reclaimed history. One quote that I found that spoke of this idea was: “We simply reject the attempt of others to tell us what truth is without our participation in its definition.” (Sernett 576-577). This quote stood out in that it was blatant and simple, but exceptionally determined.

Goal Setting

I found the Wallace D. Muhammad chapter this week to be interesting, mainly because of the attitude regarding progress, goal setting, and conversion. Wallace D. Muhammad speaks several times of setting goals, with notes such as “His first aim was to get us firmly grounded in reality…” and “Master Fard told the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to get the people to come into the temple at any cost.” (Sernett 504). He also mentions steps to reach a final goal, saying “Revolution is not the final object or the final aim of his great work, revolution is a means for reaching the final object.” and “The emphasis has to be taken off of revolution and put on objectives and aims one day.” (Sernett 506).


I found this passage interesting because it reminded me heavily of a lesson I was taught in training for my job. We were discussing goal setting, and the steps to creating an efficient goal. We were told about the ‘SMART’ method, in which goals are structured to be reachable and precise. This passage made me think of goal setting primarily in a visualization sense, particularly when Wallace D. Muhammad spoke of ideals and pictures that were spoken of, such as “He said to tell us that there was real gold over there.” and “He said that we would get money, good homes, and friendship.” (Sernett 502). It then brought to mind the ‘SMART’ goal-setting method because of the sequential aspect of the progress discussed in the chapter. It seemed to be spoken of in a step-by-step idea, where the overarching goal was divided into smaller, more reachable goals such as welcoming more people. I found this particularly interesting, as it seems to be a very realistic and practical mindset. I remember in the early readings this semester, such as the Francis Le Jau reading, many writers spoke of various efforts made to convert and welcome more and more people to their church. Each strove to accomplish this goal in various ways, but few seemed to take the same step-by-step approach as Wallace D. Muhammad.

A Gendered Perspective

A few lines that stood out in particular this week were found in the Santeria reading, pages 2-3. “Much philosophical thinking assumes what is known as the ‘normative male perspective’… This deep-seated preference for characteristics that have been culturally constructed as male over those that have been constructed as female as well as over other cultural gender constructions has led to a general acceptance of women who want to act like men but a continued abhorrence of men who take on any characteristic that has been culturally defined as ‘female’.”


It was curious to think about how slanted the idea is that female adoption of ‘male’ characteristics versus male adoption of ‘female’ characteristics is. The very idea of ‘male’ or ‘female’ characteristics is an interesting one, as we as a society have dedicated gender to personality traits or general attributes, and then cast judgement on who is allowed to portray such things. Rarely do I truly consider the level of import that society has placed upon such ideas, to the extent that it has long since reached into our literature and other such sources that we read on a daily basis for English classes and such, but when I come across a line like this one it becomes apparent.

Struggling Against Criticism and Opposition

This week’s readings included a particularly eloquent and fascinating writing by Martin Luther King Jr. In this chapter, Martin Luther King Jr. responds to an analysis made by another group of individuals. He speaks clearly and efficiently answers the questions or elaborates on the topics he means to discuss. One particularly interesting passage is his reasoning for coming to protest in Birmingham. He writes, “But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…” (Sernett 520). King does not appear to grow angry at the analysis to which he is responding, instead answering calmly and thoroughly. He explains that he is there not as a invasion of privacy or an imposition, but because he is there to stop the injustice. I cannot imagine how must patience and strength it must have required of him, to carry on despite all of his opposition. As he says, “If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.” (Sernett 519-520). I always struggle, in the face of criticism, to carry on with a positive attitude and focus on improving. Martin Luther King Jr. faced unimaginable amounts of criticism and opposition and managed to keep striving for a better future, which I find incredibly inspiring.


Another quote I found eye-catching was the quote, “As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us.” (Sernett 521). I think many people have had the some occurrence of false hope, in which a bit of hope or joy was offered, then rescinded. I think everyone can empathize then to a certain degree, but few can truly understand what this moment must have been like. To have made progress, or at least to think that progress had been made, on so important an issue then to have it be stolen from you shortly after must be so heart-breaking, and I cannot imagine the courage and perseverance it must have taken each person involved in the struggle to make a change to carry on and continue to pursue justice.

Miles Mark Fischer

There was one line in particular that stood out in this week’s readings. On page 465, as Miles Mark Fischer describes holiness and pentecostal churches, he says, “ It would seem, therefore, that some holiness and pentecostal have protested against the ‘exclusively Negro’ and the ‘primarily white’ denominations and have organized, shall I say, ‘Christian churches’?” (Sernett 465). This line reminded me of the discussion we had in class regarding W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, and the differences in their arguments. As I flipped back to the chapters for that week, the very first line of Reverdy C. Ransom’s chapter seemed to connect to this line: “There should be no race problem in the Christian State.” (Sernett 337). While Miles Mark Fischer’s chapter contained several strongly opinionated statements regarding the alternative religious sects, this idea of non-exclusivity and upholding this important idea is a familiar one. Throughout our recent readings, we have read many accounts of churches that are either quite exclusive or significantly leaning towards one particular group, so to have another chapter that describes groups that move past this tendency is an interesting change.


Another thing that stood out, though, was the seeming incredulity with which Miles Mark Fischer describes these religious sects. For example, he says, “ It will indeed be of value to know those religious organizations which undertake to win the allegiance of Negroes by other than recognized Christian propaganda.” (Sernett 466). This line stood out not only because of the flippant use of the word ‘propaganda’, but also because of the unfeeling tone behind the statement. This same tone is used with surprising frequency throughout the chapter, with words such as ‘cults’ thrown about.

Women’s Opposition

I actually found the chapter by Valerie Cooper to be the most interesting this week. Her analysis of women’s contribution to religion in the nineteenth century was intriguing to read. The description of women facing down their opposition and continuing to seek opportunities to preach and spread their sermons despite society’s many obstacles was particularly fascinating, as it reminded me a great deal of similar readings towards the beginning of the semester in which men described similar struggles and how they overcame them. For these readings, though, the women faced not only opposition due to society’s racism but also because of their gender, which meant that they faced more obstacles than even the authors of the prior readings. Cooper describes this struggle when she speaks of Jarena Lee, saying “Lee faced the agonizing double jeopardy that confounds the lives of African American women: she was inconveniently black and female in a social order that valued neither very highly, and more frequently undermined and underestimated both.” (Cooper 70) This statement is quite efficient in exposing to readers the extent of the difficulties that Jarena Lee faced, and made me pause to consider it for a moment. Women of the time faced many, varied struggles in order to pursue their calling, and it is inspirational to realize that they persisted in the face of all of their oppositions and succeeded regardless.

Lies and Bias

The most amazing part of this week’s readings was the sheer number of thought-invoking lines scattered throughout. While the rest of the chapters this week were full of meaningful and inspiring ideas, a few lines truly stood out as brilliant and unique.


One such line was written by W.E.B. DuBois, “The price of culture is a Lie.” (Sernett 334). This line is led up to with a description of the sacrifices needed to access culture,  and it is eye-opening to realize just how much society demands in order to fit in and be given opportunities.


Another passage that stood out in particular was, “The Negro in America cherishes no ideals, holds to no other principles save those that are soundly American. Why then this fear of being Africanized? We hear no fear expressed of our country being Germanized or Jewized; we hear no cry going up from the North or South against Irish political ascendancy. Is there any evidence anywhere in a single page of American history where the Negro has been less patriotic and true to our institutions than any of these elements we have named?” (Sernett 343). This passage reveals a bias that I’ve never truly considered before, at least in this particular light. It was thought-provoking, to say the least, to consider society’s skewed logic in such a light.


Finally, the article about Booker T. Washington’s speech was perhaps the most intriguing of all of the articles we read this week. The entire article was full of interesting lines and passages. From the beginning of the article, Washington offers a perspective different than those we’ve read thus far. He encourages people to look past their biases and their assumptions to find a better way, one that focuses on peace and success over contempt.

Determination Despite the Obstacles

Certainly the most memorable part of this week’s readings was in the first chapter I read. Jarena Lee’s chapter started, for me, quite like all of the others. My attention was caught, however, by a particular quote: “For as unseemly as it may appear nowadays for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God.” (Sernett 173).


This quote, and the verse that it references, is one of my favorites. This quote is incredibly inspirational and heartfelt, and reveals the true dedication and wisdom of Jarena Lee. I have always found the verse referenced here to be incredibly encouraging, and I love that Lee uses it to argue for the rights of women to preach. Reading these chapters this week and discovering the struggles and obstacles faced by these women who wanted to preach and to be a bigger part of their church was both fascinating and disappointing, however. It was fascinating to read of the women’s strength and determination despite all opposition, but disappointing to read the accounts of prejudice and opposition against equality.


The accounts this week of overcoming obstacles is incredibly inspirational for the women’s courage and heartfelt determination, but this opposition is further disappointing when added to the growing list of opposition to equality that we have encountered in our readings thus far this semester. Each week, we read more accounts of people that faced hardships and struggled against bias on their paths to hope and to their goals, and it is distressing to read of the injustice that they faced. On the other hand, though, each of the accounts that we’ve read, especially this week, has been incredibly inspirational in that each of the authors believed so strongly in what they sought that they were able to face the obstacles nonetheless.

A Different Attitude

This week, the reading that caught my attention was the account of Henry McNeal Turner. This account stood out from the rest in that it had a different tone than most others that we’ve read thus far. While the other accounts have been characterized by tones of devotion, frustration, unfeelingness, etc., this particular account had far more of a sarcastic, even indignant sort of tone to it.


This account was written in response to statements given by Bishop Benjamin Tanner (Sernett 289). As such, the account was written in a defensive, argumentative perspective. Its purpose is to refute the statements given, which is accomplished efficiently and eloquently throughout the account as Turner provides evidence against Dr. Tanner’s statements. Turner provides some intriguing and thought-provoking arguments, such as the idea that “People must have one like them on high to inspire them to go high.” (Sernett 290). This is just one of the many interesting statements within the chapter, but this is definitely one that encourages further thought.


The most memorable part of the chapter, though, was the line, “If I were so ignorant, I would hold my tongue and pen and not let the people know it.” (Sernett 294). This line in particular set this chapter apart from the other chapters we’ve read, simply for the attitude behind it. It was quite unexpected given the fairly formal tone of many of the other accounts and made this chapter incredibly memorable.


In short, Henry McNeal Turner’s chapter is entirely engrossing as it captivates readers with the author’s attitude and earnestness throughout.