Twenty-Eight Saints: February 23 and 24

February in the United States is Black History Month. In honor of that month, each day in February will feature an African-American saint from different periods of the Civil Rights Movements in America.

February 23
Kate Brown, 1840 – 1883

Brown worked for the United States Senate washing towels and curtains as the head of the ladies’ retiring room. Not known to be a troublemaker, in 1868 she boarded a train from Alexandria, Virginia, back to Washington, D.C. Though the rail company’s charter prohibited discrimination based on a passenger’s race, the rail company police officer ordered her to board a “colored car” instead of the “ladies’ car”. Brown refused, and was beaten, thrown off the train, and dragged across the pavement. Her injuries were so severe that she was bedridden for weeks. She sued the rail company, won, and when the rail company appealed the case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. There, Brown won her case and $1500 in damages. Though her story has been largely forgotten, one of the Congressional Black Associates’ Trailblazer Awards has now been named after her.

God of defiance, you emboldened your servant Kate Brown to stand up to injustice, even when it put her life in danger. Give us the same boldness in the face of injustice, even against threats to our lives. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

 

February 24,
Rosa Parks, 1913 – 2005

Booking photo, fair use.

The name of Rosa Parks has become synonymous with the Civil Rights movement. In Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, she refused to give up her seat to white passengers and was arrested for violating segregation law. Though she was not the first African American to refuse to give up her seat on a segregated bus, her case received wide national attention. It was the impetus for a boycott of the buses which lasted 381 days, until the segregation law was repealed as unconstitutional. Parks suffered for her civil disobedience: she lost her job and received death threats. In her later years, she worked for Congressman John Conyers, continued to fight against racial injustice, political imprisonment, disparities in higher education, and other social justice issues. When she died, was the first woman and only the third non-US government official to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Immovable God, with one word, “no”, your servant Rosa Parks committed an act of defiance that shook the bonds of racial injustice to their cores, eventually ending decades of legal segregation. May we, when confronted with the same choice, remain as immovable as she was. In the name of your Son, we pray. Amen.

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Twenty-Eight Saints: February 21 and 22

February in the United States is Black History Month. In honor of that month, each day in February will feature an African-American saint from different periods of the Civil Rights Movements in America.

February 21
Maria W. Stewart, 1803 – 1879

Stewart was born to free black parents, and when they died when she was five years old, she was sent to live with a minister and his wife as a servant. Though she received no formal education outside of Sabbath School on Sundays, she rose to prominence as a speaker on issues such as black women’s rights. She was the first black woman to speak to a mixed-race, mixed-gender audience, and published several pamphlets and religious meditations. Though she didn’t call her speeches “sermons”, she is regarded as an exceptional preacher, constantly critiquing Southern slavery and Northern racism. She eventually took a job teaching to support herself and to give runaway slaves a chance at an education and better life. She is commemorated as a saint on several liturgical calendars.

Brave God, you lifted up your servant Maria W. Steward to preach your word and speak for the oppressed to ears not always willing to hear. Give us the same courage in the face of adversity to share your word and fight against injustice. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

 

February 22,
William H. McAlpine, 1847 – 1905

 

McAlpine was born a slave in Virginia and remained a slave until his emancipation at the end of the Civil War. He attended Talladega College, but had to drop out because of his work as a carpenter. He joined a Baptist church and was licensed to preach in 1871. As a member of the Colored Missionary Baptist Society of Alabama, he brought a resolution to found a new school, which became Selma University, where he served as the second president and dean of the theology department. He was a close friend of Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington and organized the first Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention.

God of the church, you called your servant William H. McAlpine to preach your word and teach your children. Use us to spread your good news for all who suffer under oppression. In the name of your Son, we pray. Amen.

Twenty-Eight Saints: February 19 and 20

February in the United States is Black History Month. In honor of that month, each day in February will feature an African-American saint from different periods of the Civil Rights Movements in America.

February 19
Norris Wright Cuney, c. 1846 – 1898

Though he was of majority-white ancestry, Cuney was born a slave. His mother Adeline was a mixed-race slave owned by a white planter who fathered eight children with her separate from the children of his three white marriages. Texas law stated that any child born of a slave mother was also a slave. Cuney’s father eventually freed him, his siblings, and his mother, and sent Cuney north to Pittsburgh for schooling, where he found work on a steamship. Returning to Texas after the Civil War, he was heavily involved with the Union League and was elected the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, where he worked to empower and improve black lives, registering them to vote, finding work for them, and fighting the Lily-White Movement.

Speaking God, you called your servant Norris Wright Cuney to empower those without a voice, enabling them to speak and be heard. May we too empower those whose voices have been stolen, and to learn from them when they speak. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

 

February 20,
Frederick Douglass, c. 1818 – 1891

One of the greatest orators in American history, Douglass was born a slave in Maryland, a fact that surprised many who heard him speak. When he was twenty years old he escaped to freedom by boarding a train, impersonating a black seaman (complete with a fake uniform and identification), and crossing into Pennsylvania. He became a licensed preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church and wrote three autobiographies. The only black at the Seneca Falls Convention, he spoke in favor of women’s suffrage, a position he advocated for throughout his life. He fought for the abolition of slavery and worked during the Reconstruction-era to further the cause of black freedom and equality. He is regarded to this day as one of the most influential voices against slavery and discrimination in America.

God of the spoken word, you blessed your servant Frederick Douglass with a gift for speaking, so that those who heard his words would be turned to his cause. Give us the same gift, that when we speak against oppression and injustice, we too may be heard. In the name of your Son, we pray. Amen.