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pacifism

Chicago, Illinois

Hull House: The Social Gospel in Action

Born in 1860 to a long-time friend of Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams (d. 1935) dedicated her life to ensuring that even the nation’s poorest citizens would be able to realize their natural right to the “pursuit of happiness” central to the Declaration of Independence. Although Addams’ personal religious views are somewhat enigmatic, she fully believed that the human soul existed on a level above the merely material or even rational. A proponent of the “social gospel,” she emphasized those elements of Christian teaching that pointed to the dignity of every individual and the duty to ‘love thy neighbor’ as practical and not merely spiritual exercise.

Jane Addams, c. 1914. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-10598.

Jane Addams, c. 1914. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-10598.

In an essay on “Religious Education and Contemporary Social Conditions” (1911), Addams criticized traditional churches and religious organizations for failing to appreciate that the souls they longed to save had immediate as well as eternal needs. She warned church leaders that in doing so, they had left the poorest and most vulnerable members of society open to the false promises of evolution and materialism. Yet the very falseness of these philosophies–their inability to speak to the transcendent element of human nature–meant that there was still a “great opportunity” for religious educators to reach not only the poor and immigrant communities, but also the optimistic and secularized social workers who labored among them. Addams urged religious educators to harness their theology to compassion, to “transmute the comradeship of mutual suffering into a religious communion.” It was the “business of religion,” she argued, “not only to comfort and conserve, but to prophecy and fortify men for coming social changes.”

America’s First “Social Settlement”

In 1880s,  Addams traveled to Great Britain to study the “settlement house” movement. Although settlement workers often advocated for government reforms to improve living conditions in the crowded tenement housing of nineteenth century cities,  their most important contribution came in the form of hands-on volunteer work.Essentially an urban missionary effort, the movement recruited young men and women from the educated classes to live (or “settle”) among the poorest urban communities. There, they could put their education to use, offering services to their neighbors ranging from daycare, language, and health and hygiene classes to lending libraries, lecture series, and other forms of cultural enrichment.

Living Room, Tenement Apartment Near Hull House, 1910. Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4d95-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Living Room, Tenement Apartment Near Hull House, 1910. Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4d95-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

In 1889,  assisted by her friend Ellen Gates, Addams moved into the heart of one of Chicago’s largest immigrant neighborhoods to establish the first American settlement house.

New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-0451-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-0451-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

At Hull House, Addams and her coworkers put their progressive, practical morality to the test, offering a variety of social services and practical educational opportunities to immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Russia, and Poland. Subjects covered included: sanitation, midwifery, modern cooking techniques, and office skills as well as language and physical fitness.

Driven by Addams’ vision of dignified democracy,  these courses were supplemented with activities designed to uplift the human mind and spirit such as book clubs, lecture series, singing groups, and even an art studio and exhibition space. In these settings, Addams encouraged immigrant families to retain their traditional heritages while also adopting a respectful attitude towards those of others. She fostered a sense of unity within diversity at Hull House by welcoming all its members to share their traditions and talents with one another.

"The singing class at Hull House, Chicago, 1910." Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4db2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

“The singing class at Hull House, Chicago, 1910.” Lewis Hine. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 18, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-4db2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. As Hine noted: “This is characteristic of the friendly, constructive work that has always been done at Hull House with the neighbors.”

Although Addams fiercely criticized the majority of religious education as irrelevant, she appreciated the use of music in such settings. Group singing of religious songs, she observed, reinforced a sense of community among the participants: choral singers not only gained a skill that could provide enrichment and beauty to their lives, they also learned to work together with the rest of the chorus members to create the harmonies necessary for a richer, more nuanced song. Music practice, then, was also practice in the art of community building so central to the success of Hull House’s mission, and Addams even went so far as to encourage one of her coworkers to compose a series of Hull House Songs specifically for use at the settlement.

 


Pacificism

Atlanta, Georgia

Ebenezer Baptist Church: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Prophetic Voice in American Politics

Founded during Reconstruction, Ebenezer Baptist Church served not only as a place of worship and community for Atlanta’s newly freed black population, but also as a hub of black resistance to segregation and racial oppression, This aspect of the church’s identity grew over the course of the early twentieth century, and became an especially prominent element of its mission when it called Martin Luther King, Jr. (son of the church’s senior pastor) to serve as co-pastor with his father in 1960.

The name of the church is a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12 in which the prophet Samuel is recorded as raising a monument to the Lord in gratitude for His presence with Israel during their battle with the Philistines.  An “ebenezer” thus became tangible reminder of the providence of God. Similarly, church buildings in black communities offered both physical and spiritual shelter to their congregations, a reminder that God’s work in their community was not yet finished.

Interior, view from the balcony. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Ebenezer Baptist Church, 407 Auburn Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. HABS GA,61-ATLA,54--1

Interior, view from the balcony. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Ebenezer Baptist Church, 407 Auburn Avenue Northeast, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. HABS GA,61-ATLA,54–1

Churches like Ebenezer Baptist played a central role in the black community during the period between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, as seen in this image from Millard Owen Sheets’ series of murals on The Negro’s Contribution in the Social and Cultural Development of America at the Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C.

Religion by Millard Owen Sheets, 1943. Mural at the Department of Interior, Washington, D.C. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-highsm-24731.

Religion by Millard Owen Sheets, 1943. Mural at the Department of Interior, Washington, D.C. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-highsm-24731.

Note the central figure in the foreground of the image, whose dress and posture are both evocative of 18th and 19th century depictions of enslaved men. In contrast, the woman in pink to the far right of the composition, stands out against the more sober colored garments of the men around her., and she alone of the kneeling figures looks heavenward – perhaps a commentary on the central role of women in sustaining the African-American church.  The woman’s upward case is echoed by the singers in the background, as well as the dramatically extended arm of the preacher, and Sheets thus balances the humility and perhaps even lament of the figures in the foreground with a more hopeful perspective from those in the background.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Christianity and Social Justice

Within the African-American church community, such hope often found expression and support in the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Proponents of the Social Gospel emphasized the practical dimensions of Christ’s ministry to the poor and downtrodden in society, as well as the Bible’s overarching message of justice and mercy. As the son, grand-son, and great-grandson of Baptist preachers committed to the Social Gospel movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theology from the beginning was shaped by reflection on the practical as well as the pietistic. King would borrow heavily from the Social Gospel tradition, using his national platform to speak with a prophetic voice against the racial and class injustices he observed.

MLK, Jr. Interview on Look Here, 27 October 1957 presented by NBC News Time Capsule on Hulu

Although King’s denunciations of injustice were forceful, he maintained a life-long commitment to peaceful protest. In this television interview given three years prior to his sermon Can A Christian Be A Communist?, King discusses the influences on his understanding of Christian conscience and dissent, including what he refers to as “Ghandi-ism.” In what ways does this earlier, more conversational discussion of the necessity for African American Christians to assert themselves as actors within the civil sphere prefigure the themes of King’s later statement?

The hymn Jesus is Tenderly Calling, by Franny Crosby & George Stebbins, #229 in the Baptist Hymnal (1956) is referenced by King at the end of his sermon Can A Christian Be A Communist?. In what ways might the lyrics, with their emphasis on the response of the individual to the “call” of Christ have served to motivate King’s listeners?

Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights, June 21, 1964

Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights, June 21, 1964. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the University of Notre Dame in honor of the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C | NPG.2007.205.D1

Taken just two days after the U.S. Senate passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, at the close of a rally at Soldiers’ Field in Chicago when King and Hesburgh (president of Notre Dame and a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission) clasped hands in solidarity during the singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

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