Seeking Lynching Stories as Accounts of Faith

On a similar topic to my last post on James H. Cone’s newest work, earlier this year, the New York Times profiled the research of Reverend Angela D. Sims, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Black Church Studies at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri.  Motivated in part by James Cone’s work on the cross and the lynching tree, Rev. Sims—an ordained Baptist minister who also holds a Ph.D. from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia—has been traveling across the United States interviewing elderly African-Americans about their personal experiences of lynching.  As of February 25, Rev. Dr. Sims had captured, through audio recordings and interviews, the memories of 85 lynching witnesses and near victims from a diversity of locations, including Alabama, Texas, California, and New Jersey.  Rev. Sims will publish a book on her research entitled Conversations with Elders:  African-Americans Remember Lynching, and archive her recordings at Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History.

Sims’ research has two purposes.  The first is to understand how these individuals withstood their travails—how they persevered and survived—through faith, an outlook Sims calls the “ethic of resilience”:  A relationship with God with the power to defeat shame; subjugation to a cruel and indifferent social order; and, perhaps most essentially, hatred of whites and American society.  The second purpose is to understand the healing power of this ethic—how these individuals’ forgiveness of their victimizers invokes the power of grace.  Sims posits that their ability to see God even in the midst of terrible violence has the power to confer salvation and redemption on others—actually to heal the community at large.

—DRS, CLR Fellow