The emancipation of slaves in 1865 did not bring an end to economic exploitation. In 1896, the Supreme Court made racial segregation the law of the land until 1954, when the same court determined that separate but equal was inherently unequal and unconstitutional.
But legally dismantling segregation in public schools did not end racial segregation. It took marches and protest, sit-ins, boycotts, freedom riders, arrests, beatings, shed blood, the murder freedom workers, and all the social action and civil disobedience of the 1950s and 60s to bring about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and 1968 Fair Housing Act.
The passage of civil rights laws has not ended racial hatred and bigotry. You cannot legislate morality; you cannot pass laws that make people love one another. That takes a casting out of the spirit of fear and hatred; that requires an exorcism of all the demons that are loose. That type of spiritual exorcism is left for God. Over time the vestiges of overt racism are largely gone in the Deep South.
A change has come about which I, as a young girl, could never imagine. Even now when I return to Georgia and other parts of the South and I am welcomed to sit and eat at establishments that were once forbidden to me, I know that this is the type of change that only God can bring into being.
We can only do what we can do, but we must do what we can do. In the civil rights era that meant various acts of civil disobedience and in today’s time it means social and political action designed to pressure law makers and policy makers to adopts laws and public policy that does not favor the wealthy over the poor and most vulnerable and does not relegate them to second class citizens.
There is strength in knowing that our faith has power. If we do what we can do, we have the faith to believe that God is able to do the rest. When God instructed Joshua and the children of Israel on the seventh day to march seven times around the city of Jericho with seven priests blowing seven rams’ horns in front of the ark of the covenant, it was not the marching, the blowing of rams’ horns, or the loud battle cry that brought down and destroyed the walls of Jericho. It was the priests and the children of Israel doing their part and God doing God's will that brought about the destruction of Jericho.
God alone is able to do all things, but because God is in relationship with us God expects us to do what we can so that God can do God's will. Similarly, if we do our part and demand a fair just society for everyone, God will do what seems impossible and bring it into being, because God is Able to do all things.
Deborah Archie is a Church and Community Worker with the West Ohio Conference through the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. She attended the Proctor Institute, organized by the Children's Development Fund (CDF), at Haley Farm outside of Knoxville, Tennessee in July 2011.