Category Archives: Black church

To Early To Forgive, If Ever…

Still wrestling with the forgiveness question.

Sitting here listening to the statement read by Tsarnaev at his sentencing this afternoon apologizing to the dozen or more victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing who chose to give victim impact statements. And to the lengthy responses of some of them to reporters outside the courthouse. (The court proceedings are neither televised nor broadcast.)

They expressed anger, disgust, dismissal, rejection of his contrition and apology. In their statements they told of their continuing struggles with the losses they suffered, the death of loved ones, or their own loss of limbs, hearing, partial sight, continuing trauma and more. Their lives will certainly never be the same.

While we in the general public have had two years to learn about many of those lives and their stories, I will admit that the immediate horror for me was hearing the description of the judge imposing the death penalty.

No one even brought up the concept of forgiveness. I am all the more uneasy about the Charleston professions of forgiveness to the disembodied video feed of the murderer less than 72 hours after the massacre. Yes, I understand how offering forgiveness might open a path to moving forward, but I’m thinking two things at the moment.

One is that, while people should certainly be open to expressing a religious sentiment wherever they wish, perhaps the spiritual task of letting go of the burden of hatred deserves a sacred space rather than a courthouse.

The other is that I just can’t get past the dynamic of black people forgiving racist murder, at all, but particularly before the bodies of their slaughtered parents and children have even been buried. A courtroom full of white people of all religious persuasions stood able to move through horror and begin to reclaim their lives without taking responsibility for the perp’s soul. Immediate forgiveness just does not feel to me to be the act of a free person. It feels like a theological construct that removes some of the agency of righteous rage that fights off helpless despair and depression. Perhaps it is a way of repudiating the devil and all his works, an act intended to reduce and marginalize the psychic hold of the killer on their minds. I get that. But I wonder, not standing in their shoes, if I could bear the bitterness, the ashes, of those words in my mouth.

The grace of forgiveness might or might not enter into the hearts of some of those in the Boston court today. Some might even choose to invite it. To assume they are called to that goal seems an added burden.


The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston

The original African Meeting House built in 1806

The Meeting House after it was remodeled in 1855

The African Meeting House on Smith Court off of Joy Street housed a Baptist church and a school. It is the oldest surviving black church building in the United States.

For a while, back when, I was the entire curatorial staff for the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill in Boston during the period when the late Henry Hampton (Eyes On The Prize) was Chair of the Museum board. I was reponsible for the African Meeting House (1806) on Joy Street, the Abiel Smith School (1835) next door, and the rescue of the African Meeting House on Nantucket which has since been restored.

-I offered guided tours in English, French, and with interns, Spanish and German.

-Brought Brian Lanker photo exhibition, I DREAM A WORLD, and the New England premiere of film GLORY to Boston.

-Acquired signed first edition of book by Phillis Wheatley for the Museum among other additions to the collections.

-Presented readings by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Leon Forrest, etc.

-Co-curated exhibitions on early New England African American history and culture with the Boston Athenaeum – – including the publication Courage & Conscience.

-Initiated and organized concerts and recording of music by William Grant Still and other major black classical composers performed at the African Meeting House.

See the book MARIA W. STEWART: AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK WOMAN POLITICAL WRITER (available on Amazon) for the life and work of a woman who lectured in this building in the 1830s.

Stewart bok cover



“ . . . enthusiastic, well-written . . . read it if you want to be inspired by a truly heroic woman.” —New Directions for Women

“ . . . the fullest account to date of Stewart’s life and an excellent basis for understanding Stewart’s work.” —History

“This is informative and inspiring source material for today’s scholars, lay readers, and ‘professionals’ . . . ” —Journal of American History

In gathering and introducing Stewart’s works, Richardson provides an opportunity for readers to study the thoughts and words of this influential early black female activist, a forerunner to Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and the first black American to lecture in defense of women’s rights, placing her in the context of the swirling abolitionist movement.

Citations (learn more)

66 books cite this book:

More Citations: 1 2 3 4 Next


. . . and I have related essays in these books:

sisters of the spirit cover_lrg






African-American historian William Cooper Nell lived and wrote in this house facing the African Meeting House in Smith Court. As a child he attended the school in the church basement. He later was a leader of the boycott and movement to integrate the Abiel Smith School next to the Meeting House.



William Cooper Nell was the author of






Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the intro to Nell’s book, was not only a brilliant and prolific writer, she was also a striking and charismatic woman




An 1851 Boston, Massachusetts, poster warning both fugitive slaves and free blacks of kidnapping risk following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850