GREAT MORNING BELOVED!!
Black History and the Unity Movement
We are going to do something a little different this morning. In observance of Black History Month, I thought I’d talk about that a bit and then go into some Unity history regarding the African American members of the Unity family.
First, as you know, Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed unofficially in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It’s surprising to me that the recognition has not gone further.
Black History Month started out as Negro History Week” back in 1926, started by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History when they announced it would be observed the second week in February.
Does anyone have an idea why that week was selected?
It was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates the black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.
And what were the reasons behind this celebration? Recognition and importance.
In 1926, knowing our countries history, we can kind of understand the lukewarm response that was received, but, maybe surprisingly, they did gain the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school Baltimore and Washington, D.C
By 1929, officials with the State Departments of Educations stated: “every state with considerable Negro population”, with only two exceptions, had made the event known to that state’s teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event”.
Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the mainstream and black press aiding in the publicity effort.
Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; resulting in an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. The Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.
So, after that little bit of history, let’s look at the Unity journey through segregation & de-segregation.
It took Unity more than several years to do some ‘practice what you peace’ consciousness. But we must remember, unfortunately, they did go with the times for a while.
It took some years for Unity to step away from city and state ordinances that didn’t allow for the mingling of the races.
Their statement, when questioned in the 1930’s after two Negro students were denied service at the on-campus Unity Inn were the students ate was: “It is not our province to force acceptance of the Negro race upon the public. We feel that we can do more to continue to help our colored friends by keeping a feeling of good fellowship between the races until full love—which we are teaching at Unity School—can be established within the hearts of men.”
A few people were instrumental in removing the restrictions that Unity had on the students of color.
One person was a Black playwright named Garland Anderson. He was planning to visit Ernest Wilson at Unity Village and while planning the trip, said: “I’ve looked forward to a meal at your famous vegetarian inn.”
And the Inn was famous. The Fillmore’s were vegetarians and the ‘farm’ at the Village provided the organic vegetables that were used at the Inn.
Keep in mind, this is still during segregation and Anderson put Wilson to the test. So, Dr. Wilson, Sr. minister of Unity and editor of their publications, had to work around the segregation laws and had Anderson go through the line to be served and then they took their food and went upstairs to eat.
Thus, the de-segregation of the Inn! One small step that led to huge results.
Another significant influence on Unity for Blacks was Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colman. Colman’s journey to Unity started with a phone call early one morning from her doctor telling her she had an incurable disease and had 6 months to live.
This is her telling the story:
As I passed the cocktail table a magazine fell to the floor. I picked the magazine up, I held it up and line jumped off the page. The line said, ‘God is your health, you can’t be sick.’ Now, I’m standing in the middle of the floor arguing with a magazine because how can you tell me I can’t be sick, and the man just told me I’m going to die in six months – something is wrong!
Her mother had been placing Unity magazines and other materials all around her home, hoping Johnnie would see them. She told Johnnie,
‘If you want to know anything about Unity School of Practical Christianity, you get on the train and you go there, and you ask them.’
I said, ‘Fine, I’ll go and ask them.’ I got on the train and went to Unity Village in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. When I walked through the gates, something hit me as I walked through, and I begin to feel a way that I had never felt in my life. The place was so beautiful. The hedges, the flowers were perfect, and the little squirrels were sitting up on their little back legs saying hello. It was the greatest place I had ever seen.”
While standing in awe, one of the Unity teachers walked up to JC, that’s what she became to be called, and began a conversation with her. JC told the Teacher that she had only a few months to live and the teacher said, “You don’t have to die.” JC told the teacher, “I really don’t want to die because I have not yet learned how to live. And the teacher said, ‘We will teach you how to live as long as you want to live.’ I said, ‘this is the place for me, sign me up.”
JC rushed back home to gather her belongings to prepare for the summer-long sessions at Unity. She continued in the program which lasted four years.
Her last year, she almost quit because of car trouble. Remember, this was still segregation time. She was living in Kansas City, about 15 miles away. Her classmates petitioned for her to be permitted to live on campus and so JC went back to classes, but they put her in a workers’ cottage at the end of the Village, making her the first African-American student to live at Unity Village.
She did received her teaching certificate and became an ordained minister.
She believed that not only was she being healed but she was also healing Unity.
Here’s another example of clearing the way for change in Unity. While in charge of the youth conference at the village, the Black children were invited. When they got there, they found out that the Black children were not permitted to swim in the pool or dance with the other children.
This is Dr. Colman’s answer to that:
“When they got there, I told everyone of them to go to their rooms and put their swimsuits on. When they came down to the swimming pool, I pushed them all in the pool! Then, I had a very lovely statement and affirmation for them at Unity. ‘Black does not come off in water! It’s all right. Be at peace.’ After that, they calmed down and the Black kids danced and swam with the white children and so it was.”
Dr. Coleman is famous for her mantra, ‘It Works If You Work It.’ She said; “If it’s not working, it’s not God’s fault it is your fault. In order for prosperity, health and peace to work, you’ve got to get rid of some things. You’ve got to let go of some things. You’ve got to stop gossiping. You’ve got to stop being jealous. You have got to let all of that go and realize that the same God that is within me is within you and can do for you the same things He has done for me.”
There are many other Black Unitics who helped to bring Unity through the de-segregation journey. Unity was, in many ways, the same as the country. But after the struggle through de-segregation, I believe they acted, often times behind the scenes, to promote equality for all.
Today, you will find Unity Centers and Churches and Study Groups all over our country and all over the world. Our Ministers and Licensed Teacher, as well as our Association Leaders are a diverse group of black, brown, yellow and white.
If you are interested in knowing more, check out TruthUnity and search Black History. There’s a neat video that ministerial students produced on the topic. You will enjoy the history.
So, what did you learn? What did you feel push back on? Take THAT into meditation.