With Trump’s Remarks, Many Black Churches Fear Nation is Backsliding Into its Ugly, Racially Divisive Past

Congregants at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami expressed distress on Sunday at President Trump’s remarks denigrating Haiti. (Credit: Saul Martinez for The New York Times)
Congregants at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami expressed distress on Sunday at President Trump’s remarks denigrating Haiti. (Credit: Saul Martinez for The New York Times)

In the middle of a rousing rendition of “We Shall Overcome” on Sunday morning, Marty Austin Lamar, the music director of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, made a sudden change to the lyrics.

“O.K., we are not afraid, but replace ‘someday’ with ‘today,’” he told the congregation.

The worshipers sang back: “We are not afraid today.”

On the day before Martin Luther King’s Birthday, African-American churchgoers gathered as they always do, to pray, give thanks and reflect on the state of race in America. But after a disheartening week and an even more disheartening year, black Americans interviewed on Sunday said they were struggling to comprehend what was happening in a country that so recently had an African-American president.

“I’ve been involved in the civil rights movement since my college days, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been more confused than I am right now,” said Sterling Tucker, 94, a civil rights leader in Washington. “There’s not a lot of honesty in the country now about who we are and where we are.”

In interviews at churches in Washington; Atlanta; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; and Brockton, Mass., black Americans expressed frustration and disappointment about the direction of the country in Donald Trump’s first year in office.

They said they saw America slipping into an earlier, uglier version of itself. And when Mr. Trump used crude words to describe Haiti and African countries in an immigration discussion, they said, he was voicing what many Americans were thinking, even if it was something they no longer felt comfortable saying: America prefers white people.

“Donald Trump is America’s id,” said the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the 180-year-old Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is five blocks from the White House. “He is as American as baseball and apple pie.”

He added, “America has to think long and hard about whether it wants something different.”

For millions of Americans, Mr. Trump’s first year in office has been a time of fresh uncertainty and anxiety, full of setbacks both on policy and in attitudes. Worshipers on Sunday were heavy with those feelings.

“The mood? It’s cold, like the weather,” said Shirley Ambush, 62, as she huddled in a winter coat, waiting with friends for the doors to open at an auditorium in Washington where the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. was to preach.

Ms. Ambush, a retired school principal from Frederick, Md., put the blame squarely on Mr. Trump. “He is slashing everything that we achieved,” she said as she pushed inside with the crowd. “Cutting it with a knife. Shredding it to pieces.”

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SOURCE: SABRINA TAVERNISE
The New York Times