Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Other Greatest Generation

Photograph of a remarkable man, Louis G. Gregory

Much has been made of the "Greatest Generation", the World War 2 generation and yet another documentary has come out as many of those who lived through the horrors and heroism of that time join their brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of Glory. There is another "Greatest Generation" that I often think about that I have yet to see a huge documentary project focused on, the "Freedom Generation", those who lived and loved through the decades immediately after the ending of chattel slavery in the United States. It was this generation that produced spiritual giants such as Hand of the Cause of God Louis G. Gregory. That a people, fresh from two centuries of systemic, mass trauma and dehumanization could do anything other than perish is remarkable. But this generation did much more than survive, they thrived. This generation founded schools and colleges to educate themselves and their children, they successfully ran for public office, they created and supported black owned businesses of all kinds, and founded vibrant faith communities and social organizations, many of which exist to this day. Yes, they suffered discrimination and domestic terrorism on a daily basis, yet they also succeeded against the odds. When I think about this group of freed African slaves must have experienced, I wonder if I would have been able to do the same under those circumstances. I don't know if I would have survived, but because they did, I am here today. This is why it is not necessary for me to seek a sense of self-worth in a remote and romanticized African past. My heroes and heroines are home-grown, right here in North America. This is the people to which I belong, that new creation, black Americans. I'll end with Baha'u'llah's testimony regarding the spiritual qualities of the early believers in Persia. I think it could be equally applied to what I am calling the Other Greatest Generation:

"Be fair: Is the testimony of those acceptable and worthy of attention whose deeds agree with their words, whose outward behavior conforms with their inner life? The mind is bewildered at their deeds, and the soul marveleth at their fortitude and bodily endurance. Or is the testimony of these faithless souls who breathe naught but the breath of selfish desire, and who lie imprisoned in the cage of their idle fancies, acceptable? Like the bats of darkness, they lift not their heads from their couch except to pursue the transient things of the world, and find no rest by night except as they labor to advance the aims of their sordid life. Immersed in their selfish schemes, they are oblivious of the Divine decree. In the daytime they strive with all their soul after worldly benefits, and in the night season their sole occupation is to gratify their carnal desires. By what law or standard could men be justified in cleaving to the denials of such petty-minded souls and in ignoring the faith of them that have renounced, for the sake of the good pleasure of God, their life and substance, their fame and renown, their reputation and honor?... With what love, what devotion, what exultation and holy rapture, they sacrificed their lives in the path of the All-Glorious! To the truth of this all witness. And yet, how can they belittle this Revelation? Hath any age witnessed such momentous happenings? If these companions be not the true strivers after God, who else could be called by this name? Have these companions been seekers after power or glory? Have they ever yearned for riches? Have they cherished any desire except the good pleasure of God? If these companions, with all their marvelous testimonies and wondrous works, be false, who then is worthy to claim for himself the truth? I swear by God! Their very deeds are a sufficient testimony, and an irrefutable proof unto all the peoples of the earth, were men to ponder in their hearts the mysteries of Divine Revelation. "And they who act unjustly shall soon know what lot awaiteth them!"..

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 181)