One of the biggest issues in our culture today is that of race, and many of us have seen and perhaps participated in protests and demonstrations for justice and reform. But how should Christians respond to this issue with love to fight for reconciliation, justice, and peace?
Clarence Henderson, President of the Frederick Douglas Foundation for the State of North Carolina, joined NC Family President John L. Rustin for our latest Virtual Event in the Understanding NC’s Dynamic Landscape series to discuss the topic of race and society. Henderson participated in the famous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro in 1960, as he and his fellow classmates took a stand against segregation and racial inequality. Since then, Henderson has been an advocate for “bridging the gap between the races,” as he says in an excerpt from this Virtual Event, which is featured on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
Henderson shares his personal story of the Civil Rights Movement in 1960. “It was a different kind of feeling when I walked into Woolworth’s that day, not knowing how I was going to come out: in a vertical position in handcuffs, going to jail; or in a prone position, going to the hospital or even the morgue. And so, it gave me a different kind of appreciation for life.”
“Racism is man-made and not God-created. And we have to reckon with that fact. […] It is the church’s responsibility to bridge that gap, but what the church is doing in a lot of instances is they’re staying within the four walls and the safety of the church. We, as a church, need to be the conscience of America, the conscience of the world.”
“We must understand that racism is a mechanism being used by none other than the devil to divide people. We put laws in place, but you cannot legislate a person’s heart. Only God can change the heart.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Clarence Henderson share more of his story, and his advice for how Christians can respond to the issue of race and racism in America.
JOHN RUSTIN: Today, we bring you an excerpt from NC Family’s Virtual Event on Race and Society, which broadcast live on September 24th, 2020. This event features Clarence Henderson, civil rights advocate and president of the Frederick Douglas Foundation for the State of North Carolina. We hope you enjoy.
Well, Clarence Henderson, it’s great to have you with us today. I really appreciate your time and look forward to having a discussion with you about race and society. Clearly, there are a lot of issues that we’re dealing with in our culture today. So, Clarence for our audience members who may not be familiar with your story, tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, and how life was for you as a child.
CLARENCE HENDERSON: Great, John, it’s good to be on your program. Where do I start? First of all, I believe in divine intervention, and I believe all of the things that have happened to me from a long time back up to now have been something that my Father did when I was born. I was born on a farm in a little place called Townville, South Carolina, where society might call it “the wrong side of the tracks” except there were no tracks as a farm. I don’t even have a birth certificate. And my father was a sharecropper during that time. And of course, he sharecropped for a guy that was white, and they became the best of friends. And the unusual thing that he did was he named me after his friend, and that’s where my name came from. And so, I always strived to be a peacemaker from that point forward all throughout my life is to bring the races together to help bridge the gap between the races.
In the early 40s, we came to Greensboro, North Carolina and moved into a black section of town because during that time was an era of time known as Jim Crow. And so, the first couple of years I was in walking distance of the school that I attended, and I walked to school and walked back. And then my father moved over into an area of which you would call during this time an integrated neighborhood. And so, even though it was an integrated neighborhood, I was busted out of that neighborhood back into the black section of Greensboro to attend school there. So during lunchtime, I would play with the black kids. And when I got home, there was only one black kid who lived in neighborhood where I lived. And what I used to do was that the white kids would come to my house because we had a huge yard, and we played all kinds of sports.
And I found out early on that there was no difference between the races. They didn’t see a difference, but their parents did because their parents didn’t know where they were. And so, as I grew up, my mother used to take me to Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro. So downstairs, it had two water fountains, one said “colored,” one said “white.” They also had two bathrooms, one said, “colored,” one said “white.” But when I looked at the water fountains, I tried to determine what was the difference between the water because they both looked the same, but when we went upstairs, everything was the same. It was a retail outlet. Plus, they had a lunch counter here. So, we could go to every section of that store and purchase items just like anybody else. But when it came to the lunch counter, we could purchase food at the lunch counter, but we had to go to the back of the lunch counter and purchase our food to go, so we couldn’t sit down.
So, what I saw then was what you called “separate but equal.” As I reflected back, my question has always been: If we are equal, why do we need to be separate? And so, when I was 18 years of age, a friend of mine by the name of Ezell Blair, he and three other guys had started the Woolworth sit-in movement on February 1st. They lived on campus, but my parents couldn’t afford for me to live on campus. I lived off campus. So, Ezell came back to the lounge on February the 2nd and told me what had occurred and asked me if I wanted to participate. And I told him, “Yes, I’d like to participate.” So, we started downtown toward Woolworth’s. It was a different kind of feeling when I walked into Woolworth’s that day, not knowing how I was going to come out in a vertical position in handcuffs, going to jail or in a prone position, going into the hospital or even the morgue.
And so, it gave me a different kind of appreciation for life. And so, it required 176 days before we actually integrated the lunch counter. And we went through a series of events being called different names, faced down the KKK and a bomb threat, but we still were persistent. We decided it would be a peaceful movement, nonviolent, so that we just want our voices to be heard. And so, when I sat at that lunch counter, people asked me if I was afraid. No, I wasn’t afraid. I just didn’t know what was going to happen. And so, I never went to an integrated school, and I never ate at the lunch counter, but I sat down for the right to do so. So that’s what drove me was that I had this opportunity. I thank God for the opportunity He gave me to stand up for that which I believe in because our Constitution says by God’s ordination that we have a right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
So, it’s great that we have a constitution that allows for that. This is the greatest country in the world, even though we still are an imperfect country. And so, I find myself today looking at situations we’re dealing with and saying, “Hey, we already know what we should be doing in the rest of these situations because again the Constitution says, the First Amendment says we have the right to peaceably assemble and freedom of speech. All of those things that all human beings have. And so, as long as it’s done in a peaceful way, then that’s the way the demonstrations are done to bring to the forefront the powers that be that may not understand or may not be willing to concede certain things. And so, we are at a point in life right now, where the government wants to tell people what they should or should not do.
And they work for us, and we don’t work for them. But the long story short is that I say the same thing happened over and over again, but this time it’s being created more than anything else because racism is man-made and not God-created. And so, we have to reckon with that fact. Especially Christians need to understand that the race issue was already settled before you or I or anyone else were here, dealt with it back when Jesus Christ became the cornerstone between the Jew and the Gentile and made them as one. And so, color is not a thing that we should see because there’s only one race, and that’s the human race.
JOHN RUSTIN: So, Clarence, how are the—and you’ve spoken about this a little bit—but how are the racial tensions that we’re seeing today similar to and different from what you experienced back in the 60s?
CLARENCE HENDERSON: Well, the resolution or the problem solving of it is what’s different now. We wanted to integrate into America because we were a part of America. They are those today that want to tear America down. And when you look at America, you see people that are dying to get here, but nobody’s dying to leave. So, we have protests that are not really protests, peaceful protests. They may start out that way, but then you have violence and mayhem, the looting, the killing, and so, when that happens, order has to be restored because God is a God of order. And there have been rules, regulations, laws have been set for, and we have to be able to self-govern ourselves. And so, now we have a group of people that I think feel a sense of entitlement. They want to say, well, if you have something that I want, I’ll just go and take it.
They are tearing down businesses of people that are out here trying to earn a living. They are leaving from main street, going into neighborhoods from the urban areas and suburban areas. There’s a thing called due process of law. We should not rush to the court of public opinion and go through the law and see what would happen if those people were found guilty or innocent. That’s the way this country works not where we take a mob mentality and destroy all the things that we have built up in this country because this country was made to be the light that shines upon the hill. And people have been coming here because of that for the kinds of freedom that we have. And it’s like, we had a Trojan horse on the inside of America that wants to destroy America.
It is the church’s responsibility to bridge that gap, but what the church is doing in a lot of instances is they’re staying within the four walls and the safety of the church. And that’s not where Jesus spent his time. So the church has to do what Paul said. He said, “It’s no longer I who live, but Christ that liveth in me. And I laid down my life, and I pick up the life of Christ.” There are too many Christians who still living in the flesh. And so, what we, as a church, need to do is that we have to be the conscience of America, the conscience of the world. And if we would become like that, we could turn the world upside down by this time tomorrow.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, and that’s a real indictment on the church. And so, speaking specifically to predominantly white churches in our state and our nation, what practical steps can be taken to build bridges across these racial and ethnic lines that God desires not to exist?
CLARENCE HENDERSON: One of the things that we could do is that pastors could change pulpits periodically and let people see that the Word is the same, no matter what church you are in. If you’re preaching the Word, then it’s the same. That way we begin to understand that there needs to be interaction.
JOHN RUSTIN: Yes. And as you have so clearly explained that Holy Spirit speaks to us and helps us to understand what is truly right and what’s truly wrong. And if we listen to that voice, we’re going to treat each other with respect and dignity and love, not the love that the culture deems appropriate, but the love that God demonstrated and that Jesus demonstrated for us.
CLARENCE HENDERSON: Yeah. And see, it’s not systemic racism. It’s systemic corruption because we went from a racism based on the color of your skin, and now it’s gone to ideologies. You know, if I don’t agree with what you say, one of the first things I’ll call you is a racist, even though you may not have said anything racist. It’s to shut people down, so that we don’t interact. And so, we have to look at what’s behind this. What’s behind is that if it were not economically advantageous for some to put down a race of people—putting down people based upon ideology—it would not be happening. And so, we must understand that racism is a mechanism being used by none other than the devil to divide people. We put laws in place, but you cannot legislate a person’s heart. Only God can change the heart.
JOHN RUSTIN: We’re just about out of time, Clarence. But I really wanted to just say how much I appreciate, and I know how much our audience appreciates your wisdom and your heart to share as you have. The one thing that we can do is pray and ask God to bless our nation, to bless our Christian leaders, to bless our government leaders, our elected leaders who govern over us. And I’d like to ask you, if you would Clarence, to lead us in a prayer, as we close our time together.
CLARENCE HENDERSON: Father, God, we bow before you, and we come before your throne of grace and mercy. And we come in prayer, praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Father God, we thank you that you have brought John and I together that we might discuss some of the things that are going on in this world right now that we might become a better people to follow you. Father God, we ask you to heal our land right now heal our land Father God, so that we become more like you. And Father God, we ask you whatever you’re doing in this season right now, please don’t do it without us. Let our lights continue to shine brightly, Father God. Let your work continue to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Give us the words to speak. Give us the heart to do that which you call us to do. So, Father God, let us continue to go to You to answer all of our prayers, Father God, because you are the one and only truth, Father God. You are the answer for all things. It is in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen and amen.
JOHN RUSTIN: And amen. Thank you, Clarence.
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