Will They Know We are Christians? Meditation offered by Winton Boyd on February 19, 2017

In a world of information overload – a few stories or a few pictures can often lead us into new understandings and convictions. We are indebted to ORUCC member Mark Speltz for recognizing this and creating this new book on civil rights activities outside the South.  In his own introduction he notes that it was seeing an iconic photo of a lunch counter protest at Woolworths in Jackson, MS AND a photo of white Milwaukee police officers arresting an inter racial couple that sparked a journey of looking for stories, understanding and insight about a world of protest, resistance and courage he’d never learned.

In the context of worship today, we will use some of the photos he’s discovered as invitations into our own journey with civil rights, racial reconciliation, justice and and protest. While prompted by historical pictures, our focus today will be the present moment. How might we open our hearts to the truths of faith based, tenacious courage as they reveal themselves in pictures; and in so doing, how might we deepen our faith, focus our compassion and celebrate a beloved community when we experience it.

We’ve chosen just a few of the many pictures to guide our meditation. We’ll intersperse music with slides and questions for reflection and prayer. Some of the images are difficult to take in. All together, they remind us that to follow Jesus into courageous and prophetic action is worth our time, even as it challenges our status quo. We’ll remind ourselves that the power of love is greater than the power of fear.

We’ll begin with a choral piece – They Will Know We are Christians. Bruce Gladstone has adapted the words to this well known song to ask questions as much as to state realities. From there we’ll view pictures with ample time to reflect on questions they prompt, we’ll sing, take in more pictures and close in song. I hope the pace will engage your spirit, your heart and your hope.

Are we one in the Spirit, are we one in the Lord?

Are we one in the Spirit, are we one in the Lord?

Though we pray that all unity may one day be restored,

Will they know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Will they know we are Christians?

If we walk with each other, do we walk hand in hand?

If walk with each other, if we walk hand in hand,

Only then, can we spread the news that God’s Love is our land.

We might show we are Christians by our love, by our love,

We might show we are Christians by our love.

We must work with each other, we must work side by side,

We must work with each other, we must work side by side,

Then we’ll live with integrity, and banish all false pride.

And we’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

And they’ll see and know we’re Christians by our love.


In 1964, James Baldwin wrote, “Bobby Kennedy made me the soul stirring promise that one day – thirty years if I’m lucky – I can be President too. …What really exercises my mind is not this hypothetical day on which some other Negro ‘first’ will be come the first Negro president. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he will be president of?”


The following pictures come from North of Dixie:Civil Rights Photography Beyond the South. (ISBN 978-1-60606-505-1; Getty Publications) The questions were created and asked by Winton Boyd.

Great Migration, North Carolina, 1940: Florida Family heading north to New Jersey in search of work and better opportunities.

What migrations have taken place in your family of origin?

Did they result in the hoped for opportunities? Have you heard stories of fear or pain? Love and community?

How do you/can you pray for those seeking such opportunities today?




Los Angeles, 1950. Sunset Gardes, a southeast LA housing development limited to whites?

Do you know the history of housing segregation in your home community? Are you aware of the way housing restrictions shaped your view of the world?

How can you increase your awareness of housing realities today?




Activists picketing at a demonstration for housing equality near Los Angeles, 1963 while American Nazi Party members counter protest in the background.

While we decry the racism of the Nazi’s in this picture, in what ways are our lives shaped by both sets of protesters? How do you nurture the ‘equality’ voice within

you? How do you recognize and confront the “Nazi” voice within you?

How might you pray to God for strength as these voices compete within your soul?

Top – Rashaad Davis, protesting in Ferguson, MO, 2014 Bottom Young boy seeing National Guard in Newark, NJ, 1967

What have learned about state sponsored violence against blacks and other people of color in 40 years?




New York, 1936 – NAACP bearing witness to another lynching that had taken place.

How are you able to bear witness to the violent actions directed towards vulnerable people in our culture? In addition to your prayers, what tangible actions do you/can you take to bear witness to injustice?




Washington D.C. 1938-39. Activists waged a 13 month struggle against discriminatory hiring practices at the white owned retail stores in this African American neighborhood. Is it possible that many did not see the irony of ‘Peoples’ Drug engaging in practices that dis-enfranchised most of the neighborhood people around it?

What are some of the ironies or almost invisible practices in plain sight today?

As you pray for the vision to see our city with new eyes, where might God invite you to open your eyes to the ironies and tragedies in plain sight?




Coe College in Iowa. The press did not report on his activities, nor were there pictures in the paper.

Who are some of the gifted voices that are going unnoticed?

What quiet but determined work do you feel called to engage in as a person ‘committed to justice?’




Brooklyn, NY 1963. Protesting unfair hiring practices at the Downstate Medical Center site.

What character in this picture most represents you? Protester? Law Enforcement? Curious onlooker? Workers not paying attention? Photographer?

Is this the person you want to be?

Who would you like to be?




New York, NY 1965

Great for whom?

When you think efforts to make our community a better and more just place, whose interests come to mind first?

How do you open your heart to different experiences of a ‘great community’ and different prospects for hope in the future?




Dick Gregory, Fr. James Groppi, Milwaukee, 1967

What in his faith might have motivated him?

What in his faith might have given him strength to face criticism and resistance?

How might you pray for strength in your life of witness?




Vincent Harding

Our last story comes from Vincent Harding, noted Mennonite civil rights activist and later civil rights era historian. In an interview shortly before his death in 2014, he told a story about the song Kumbaya, and why it is not a song to make fun of, but one with power and conviction. (Story told on radio show Onbeing with Krista Tippett, titled Is America Possible?  The following pictures are not from North of Dixie)

Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi.  Ted Polumbaum/Newseum collection.

“Whenever somebody jokes about “Kum Bah Ya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country to help in the process of voter registration – taking great risks on behalf of the transformation of that state and of this nation. There were two weeks of orientation. The first week was the week in which Schwerner and Goodman and their beloved brother Jimmy were there. And it was during the time that they had left the campus that they were first arrested, then released, and then murdered.

The word came back to us at the orientation that the three of them (had been murdered). Leader Bob Moses got up and told these hundreds of predominantly white young people that, if any of them felt that at this point they needed to return home or to their schools, we would not think less of them at all, but would be grateful to them for how far they had come.

They took a couple of hours to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing “Kum Bah Ya, come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.”

I could never laugh at Kum Bah Ya moments after that, because I saw then that almost no one went home from there. They were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to and a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together, Come by Here, my Lord.