Dr. Featherstone, was an intern at my home Lutheran Church, Ascension, Toledo, as a student looking at grad schools,I visited him, while he lived in Cambridge,MA, so I have known him and his reluctance to be interviewed by me, so going back into his writings, has affirmed my impressions of WHO HE IS… The pages shared here are from the Consultation on Race, LCA, Pittsburgh, PA Sept. 21-23, 1967. Pittsburgh, PA.
The Rev. Rudolph Featherstone, Pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Detroit
It's Not Over In Destroy't
One of the things I took from Destroy't, one of the things that impressed me when I first came to Destroy't was that, over and over again I heard the comment that Detroit is a model city,
that we have no problems. And it bothered me so much that this was the type of thing reflected in the city. It seems to me that we are aware of the fact that we could look at the riot in three
different perspectives. I don't have time to develop this in seven minutes, and I'm not going to try.
First of all we need to talk in terms of preventative medicine
that seeks to deal with the urban crisis that exists in our nation today.
Secondly we need to talk about where are we now, and thirdly
we need to talk in terms of where we need to go in terms of future strategy. I'm going to shift from all of that because I don't have time to even talk about it.
Destroy't, .well it
seems to me that the Negro poet of yesteryear,
Paul Lawrence Dunbar depicted what are the causes of riots when he said:
"A crust of bread, and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh but the moans come double;
And that's life!"
Black life! Black life in the ghetto! There is the cause of your riots.
Four years ago
the author of a book that everybody who is
knowledgeable, and readable and intelligent read, James Baldwin
wrote: It is God's admonition to Noah, "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time."
Well, baby, we got the fire.
We got the fire, and we're
going to have the fire, and it's
not over in Destroy't, by any means.
One of the things, that we as
the church, it seems to me, and
I'm talking a bit ahead of myself, now, one of the things we need to think about is that riots are not merely of local or provincial concern, but they are national, and if the church is going to think about riots and what happens and what does not happen, it needs to think in terms of what do we do nationally as far as strategy is concerned.
I was interested in
the last issue of Interchange, and I was
interested because it bugged me a little bit. You know LCUSA it
seems, if this can be believed, has been designated as the agency, which basically is going to handle the response of the Lutheran Church across the board in riot situations. They are going to determine financial resources available in crisis situations. They are going to serve as coordinators of information in these situations. I wonder how they are going to do that. I'd like to find that out. And they are going to provide staff services in the field in one of these periods. And I wonder where staff are going to be, whether they are going to be over there where things are happening. You know a funny thing happened during Destroy't down on 12th Street, and perhaps this is one of the things the church needs to understand, down on 12 Street a white man couldn't walk.
Now, we are talking about--last night
I heard something of the
theme of black and white together. What they used to talk about
when we sang "we shall overcome." If the church is going to understand something of its role in a riot situation it has got to be willing to trust and to entrust to many of its black brothers the responsibility for whatever involvement the church is going to have. So long as, we've got to press the point, we have got to reach the understanding that in certain areas, like in Destroy't, if you were white you were dead, unless you came through it in a car, but if you were on the street your life wasn't worth a plugged nickel. Please understand that because I think it is very important.
What are some of the things that were done in the Destroy't
situation? Let me name just a few. We had a call from the
assistant to the president of the Michigan Synod. We had a call
from Herluf Jensen from the Board of Social Ministry relative to
my own person, relative to my own participation in what was going on, what was happening. We had some offerings that were received by the Lutheran Church, Michigan Synod. A letter that went out from the president of the synod, Dr. Madsen, asking all the congregations to send him money as a contribution to the synod fund.
It was interesting how our congregation responded. We responded in a manner that, in making the
appeal I personally, since I am involved in another organization, made an appeal but I made an
appeal directly for the other organization in order that the money might not be channeled in some other areas. And the money that our congregation did respond with the bulk of its money going to the organization that I had asked them to respond to.
But there was the creation of an Interfaith Emergency Committee
which sort of talks in terms of that we are going to attack this
problem, (is my time over yet, gee, one minute) if we are going to attack this problem on its right level, and in its right perspective, we have to talk about ecumenics.
Got to forget about talking about just Lutherans doing what is
necessary together, we have got to begin to talk about ecumenics
involving themselves in this whole problem of riots and what happens and what does not happen. One of the things we are also going to have to talk about, as I saw so many, and I say this in all candor, I saw so many of my good white brothers relieving their guilt consciences, when they were able to see the long black lines that were standing there at our office downtown when they brought in the bread and their milk, and their canned goods,--there you saw the system in all of its brilliance, and wonder, and splendor. Somehow or another we have to move beyond the immediacy of the welfare type of thinking, to where do we go from here, towards new and constructive programs.
I don't have time to get into all this, but, and these are just some thoughts about the riot, some initial
reactions. And I
could go into them for quite some time.
Question to Pastor Featherstone from Pastor Carter: Do you feel
that the church is geared for an effective job at the present time, which time is very short?
Featherstone: I got a long-distance call while the riot was going on, and I can't tell you from whom it came, and he said, "baby, I understand you have a fire going on out there." And I said, "yes, we got a fire going," and he said, "well maybe if we burn about five or six billion more dollars of buildings maybe they will hear what we are saying."
In answer to your question specifically, I'm alarmed and I'm
disturbed and I'm alarmed to where the guts on my inside are hurting, because it seems to me again that our structures and all our processes are not set up to deal with that fire next time. And if I could make a plea, my plea would be at this moment, that it is really later than all of us think. It is so late that many of us, don't know what the future holds. When Dr. Michaux talked in terms of the bomb and things of that nature, he wasn't joking. And as Pastor Carter says there is a real tension here, and I don't think my white brothers understand what we are trying to say here. That the tension is so great, the fire so close, that not only dates
have been set, but targets also have been picked. I think we need to be cognizant of this, and that the church needs to be about its redemptive and reconciliation efforts. I hope sincerely that this conference talks in terms of strategy, and not only talking, but that we move rapidly towards implementation. At this point, Pastor Carter, I am somewhat fearful, but I have hope, and I think my church won't disappoint me.