Christian pastors played a major role in the modern black American civil rights struggle which began with the Rosa Parks incident in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist preacher who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, emerged as the voice and conscience of the civil rights struggle, and this was etched in stone after his “I have a dream” speech in August of 1963 at the historic “March on Washington” event.
The civil rights struggle under Dr. King’s leadership featured Gandhian, non-violent activism, and, as Dr. Ivan van Sertima once pointed out, there was really no other kind of black activism possible at the time in the Deep South of the United States, those states which had formed the Confederacy and seceded from the Union in 1861. In the South, the white power structure represented the majority white population: that power structure and that white population were dedicated to violent repression of all forms of black protest.
The Northern states of the United States, those which stood as the Union in 1861 and opposed slavery, were just as racist in some ways as the Southern states. The saying goes, in the South the white man tells the black man, you can get as close as you want, but don’t get too big. In the North, the white man tells the black, you can get as big as you want, but don’t get too close. Can you dig it?
As white power structure violence against non-violent black protest in the South flashed on American television screens nationwide in the early 1960s, the civil rights movement gained a lot of support from Northern whites, especially Christian pastors and college students. But while this was happening, Northern black folk, influenced by Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s separatist, self-defence committed Nation of Islam, featuring the charismatic Minister of their Mosque no. 7 in Harlem, the one Malcolm X, began to become skeptical of non-violent methods and simultaneously suspicious of the motives of white liberals.
By the spring of 1966, blacks fighting for civil rights in the South became more confrontational and physical in their clashes with white power, and the philosophy of “black power” emerged. More blacks began to experiment with armed self-defence. In that spring of 1966, I was still in my first year at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and Stokely Carmichael, one of the icons of the new black power, visited Dartmouth to speak. I had rejected Christian non-violence as a philosophy of liberation almost from the time I landed in New York City in August of 1965. I liked Stokely. I supported black power. I became a disciple of Malcolm X. I became a Muslim sympathizer.
Decades later, after I had returned to Belize, my readings of Taylor Branch enlightened me as to the magnificent, heroic courage of those non-violent Christian demonstrators of the early 1960s civil rights struggle. In fact, Dr. King was so brave a man that in 1967 he began to speak out against the Vietnam War, a decision which represented another, perhaps more dangerous level of activism, and many scholars believe that it was because of his public opposition to the Vietnam War that Dr. King was assassinated in April of 1968.
Now that I’ve set the stage for my thoughts today, let me say that when the Belmopan-based Christian pastor, Louis Wade, began to get into disagreements a few years ago with the Belmopan dons of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), and then, indeed, with the overall ruling UDP, I felt the urge to offer Louis some advice. (I had never met him, but I knew of him, Louis Wade having been one of Mose’s classmates at Belize Technical College.)
As far as I could figure out from a distance, the problem may have begun with Pastor Wade’s Plus TV’s co-host, Jason Patrick Andrews, also a hard core Christian. The young Andrews is the son of one of the founders of the UDP, the late Joe Andrews, who ran for the Cayo North constituency in 1969, 1974, and 1979, and sat in the House of Representatives from 1974 to 1979. The young Andrews ended up being the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) candidate for the Belmopan seat in the November 2015 general election, but I don’t think that this is where he wanted to go when he began to feud with the Belmopan UDP.
I am confident, however, that Louis Wade had no party political ambitions, but it became inevitable, once the quarrelling between himself and the UDP heated up, that he would be branded a PUP, and treated as a deadly enemy. I really would have wanted to sit with him and give him the benefit of my experiences with Belize’s two-party system, but Louis’ evangelical Christianity kept me away. Evangelical Christianity has its own vaunted power structure.
In any case, watching the Ministry of National Security press conference on television on Monday morning, I saw when Louis went to the microphone to question Minister John Saldivar and his Acting Commissioner of Police, Russell Blackett, and I could see that Louis Wade was under serious pressure. But, he was brave, and I truly honor him for that.
I think we should have some kind of media organization in Belize so that we can protect people like Louis Wade. Probably the first problem with forming a media organization is that you have to begin with excluding the media outlets owned by the PUP and the UDP and their toadies. These are not media houses. They are political propaganda machines. Another problem is that there are media organizations which have a yellow streak. But, theoretically, they are independent, established, and wealthy, so they must be given seats at any free press table. Nevertheless, any kind of media organization should be able to express and show solidarity with Louis Wade, apart from perhaps advising him. Louis deserves solidarity from those of us who are in this business.
My personal belief is that these evangelical Christian religions are mighty powerful institutions, and they have to be a source of strength for Pastor Wade. But you cannot receive too much solidarity when you are in a situation such as Louis’. There are Belizeans who support these political parties who believe that their leaders are saints. Not so. Politicians are dangerous people who are skilled in the arts of deceit, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. They are real wolves in sheep’s clothing. Politicians who are in power for too long usually become megalomaniac. Power, indeed, corrupts. Respect, Lord Acton.
Power to the people! Remember Danny Conorquie.