Dr. Keith Dye’s Thoughts on The Black Manifesto

By The Reverend Anthony Estes, Deacon & Director of Digital Communications

Professor and author Keith Dye will present during the Sunday Forum on January 20th at 9:00 am in the Hospitality Center. Doctor Dye’s presentation, “Issues, Answers and Legacies: The Black Manifesto for Reparations and Christ Church Cranbrook at 50 Years,” will discuss how the interruption of Sunday services at Christ Church Cranbrook by the Black Economic Development Committee in June, 1969, established the pattern for such encounters immediately afterwards, and the continued disagreements on the issue to the present, particularly African American and church relations.

Discussions about race in the United States of America have been going on for as long as our democracy has existed. Though slavery was abolished in the mid-nineteenth century, systemic legal and cultural structures persist in perpetuating all kinds of discrimination, especially race.

The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) rose out of a desire to engage characteristically White mainline Protestant churches in the conversations needed for healing in the Black religious community. It was a white-led effort toward social justice ministry. IFCO began to work with the National Black Economic Development Conference (NBEDC), a group dedicated to working on economic empowerment of black communities. Within this context, a document known as the Black Manifesto began to circulate, and protest movements began to be staged in affluent white churches.

On June 1, 1969, nineteen members of the NEDBC entered the nave of Christ Church Cranbrook with the full cooperation of the Rector, Gerald O’Grady, Jr. In the middle of a worship service, they demanded $500 million in reparations payments to black people, money that they claimed would be used in stimulating black economy and businesses.

Professor and author Keith Dye wrote about this pivotal event in the life of CCC and The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan in “Lessons in Hearing Human and Divine Discontent: The Black Manifesto and Episcopal Leaders and Congregations in the Detroit Area,” an article which appeared in a 2012 edition of the Journal of African American History. Dye’s article reports this congregation tried to figure out how to respond; and members of the congregation, its rector, and the diocese all became engaged in this conversation from several points of view. Though I will leave it to Dye to share what happened during his forum appearance, I do believe it safe to say CCC’s passion and commitment to social justice work is a genuine engagement of complex issues that the Black Manifesto movement brought to the forefront in 1969.

Fifty years is not that long a period. Except for a couple of pages in the parish commemorative coffee table book, this part of CCC’s history is neither highlighted or discussed if not entirely forgotten. As CCC continues to reach out to metro Detroit, telling this part of the story is imperative for a sense of credibility as a congregation that deacons or serves our community in the name of and for the sake of Christ.

Time and again, as current events play out, the intersections of race, affluence, religion, white fragility and black anger become dangerous to navigate. The only way to travel securely on our shared life journey is to perpetually come to the fount of Christ’s redeeming blood, plunging ourselves in its cleansing stream. Individually and corporately, we risk much emotionally and philosophically, but what we gain for our discomfort is the reality of God’s kingdom made visible through our imperfect and incomplete, holy and loving work. Dye’s presentation will be a gift to us. Please make every effort to be there.