Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Daniel Rudd's Cry for Social Justice

Seeing the sign “Sojourner Truth Highway” so often when driving on M66 in mid-Michigan, I quickly became curious about this person I did not know. On moving to Battle Creek, it did not take me long to learn that Battle Creek was more than Tony the Tiger and Post Cereals. Not only was it the home of W. K. Kellogg, it was the home of the benefactor for whom the hospital in my hometown of South Haven was named.  Truth be told; I went to church with Waverly Kaye Kellogg of South Haven who just happened to be the first baby born in her new year – at W. K. Kellogg hospital.

Battle Creek was also the home of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of the famed Adventist Sanitarium, where breakfast cereals were first offered as a medical break-through. C. W. Post, once a patient at the “San,” produced his own variety of breakfast foods, along with the “Postum” in the famed factory just blocks from where I sit writing. I have awoke many a morning inhaling the odors of cooking cereals.

But unless you want to re-write history, you must also admit that Battle Creek’s first rise to national prominence came not because of Adventism, or John Harvey Kellogg, or C. W. Post; rather, Battle Creek first became nationally known when former slave Sojourner Truth purchased her permanent home in Battle Creek. Thus today it is not uncommon for me to sit between services at church and “coffee” with 7th generation descendant of Sojourner, Tommie McCleitchey.

Nor is it an untruth to confess that I have read many black biographies since my retirement, beginning with Sojourner. Needless to say, Battle Creek has deep-rooted abolitionist roots in its history and I have visited Sojourner’s Memorial in Oak Hill Cemetery is little more than a stone’s throw from my home.  Abolitionist books inspire me and I could not get enough of Eric Metaxas’ classic Amazing Grace, the life of William Wilberforce (a Christian politician of great worth).

My most recent reading adventure came recently through a chance encounter with Dr. Gary Agee in Winchester,KY. Learning of his new venture as a visiting professor of History at Anderson University, I discovered Gary’s PH.D. thesis is a black biography: A Cry for Justice. Published in Fayetteville, AR, 2011, by the University of Arkansas Press, it documents the cry for justice of “Daniel Rudd and His life in Black Catholicisjm, Journalism, and Activism, 1854-1933.” 

This excursion into black Catholocism offered a new venture which the author handled very well. I found more interest in Rudd’s journalistic efforts, than his efforts as a Catholic, or as a black business entrepreneur. I found Rudd consistently “Catholic” in his life of activism. Interestingly, he called his publication “The American Catholic Tribune”—“the only Catholic journal owned and published by colored men.” 

As a black Catholic from Bardstown, KY Rudd became one of the best known of black Catholics, yet remained one of whom little was written.  Consistent throughout his life was Rudd’s appeal for the “establishment of a racially equitable society in America”  (p. ix). My suspicion is that although Rudd remained a loyal Roman Catholic, he may have become somewhat discouraged with the equivocation of the larger Catholic Hierarchy, although he always had a solid support from friends in the priesthood.

Agee tells the story well! Although written to document academically rather than tell a story, it is a well- researched and highly-interesting story. Moreover, I concur with Professor Agee that if we Americans read more black biographies than we do, we would better understand their continuing cries for social justice, and we might even do more about it than we do. Reading Rudd’s story. with its window into the Roman Church, also made me more aware that our Church of God Reformation Movement was conceived in a time of great social upheaval following the Civil War.
We have always prided ourselves as a Religious Body about our open racial stance. Yet I experienced numerous embarrassments through the years over the overt racism within our midst. I have asked myself, “Where is the Church of God Reformation Movement’s voice in regard to this or that issue relating to social and economic justice?” Obviously, we relegated such concerns to a minority status for Social Concerns committees here and there.
Thus, I conclude that as a movement we never really understood how “liberal theology” hijacked the orthodox gospel of social justice proclaimed by early Wesleyan and Holiness Movements during those fundamentalism wars of J. Frank Norris and others in the early twentieth century.
Rudd found a parallel between Ireland’s struggle for independence and the plight of African Americans, which Agee quotes on page 132: “It seems to us at this distance from the state of action, that if lost to all sense of duty and fairness to their fellowmen, commonsense would teach the land-lords and the Government of England that they are sowing seeds that will eventually disrupt the kingdom. But then we do not need to go to Ireland to find cases of injustice. America is full of them as a hill is of ants.”       
We still have our ant hills of racial and social injustice, but as Agee suggests, we can take courage from the dark days of Daniel Rudd, who “with the inspiration of a prophet, enthusiastically and courageously proclaimed what he believed to be the cardinal truth of the Catholic Church: the ‘Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man”

Rudd’s cry for justice offers an incomplete gospel from a theological perspective. Yet, out of his own personal transformation we find the roots of a common ground of a common humanity sharing a common faith. From Warner’s World, I am walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com                    

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