Racism and Whites in the Delta
We were struck by the presence of African ministers and priests in predominantly white churches -- in a region in which Africans first came as slaves. They, and members of Danqua's church who had come with him, were keenly aware of the history of racial segregation in the United States. In Africa, being black is not remarkable. And in Canada, they told us, they do not feel specially marked because of their blackness. But in the United States, race is invariably a factor.
The minister of the Bible Believers church in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Brother David Wright, works hard to overcome racism. He has become extremely close to the two African ministers in the sister church in Toronto, Canada, John Danquah and Charlie Obimbo. "Brother David Wright is my brother," Charles Obimbo declared. "He's a pastor, he's my brother. And somebody actually put it this way, ... 'We ought to get so close together that we can chew one another's chewing gums.' Well, that's getting close."
Brother Danquah recalled, "I think about eight years ago, we had the same pastor here, Brother David, and it was tough at that time for his congregation that he had before this one, even to accept me as a black person coming to the church."
The family that invited us to the dedication of their church, however, did not remark upon Danqua's origin. Pennie and William French, and their daughter Wendy, urged us to come, saying only that people were coming from Canada to help dedicate the church, and that there would be a lot of singing. Everyone ate and drank together, intermingled on the long tables in a local restaurant.
How do these Africans deal with the racism they encounter?
Danquah forgave them, saying, "I did not blame them much because they don't know better. They've not traveled anywhere. They've lived in an area where to me segregation has been around for a long time."
Catholic priest Theophilus Okpara stressed his Nigerian nationality, saying, "We know the history of the origin of blacks in America. We know that very well. What we have to count on is, the racial discrimination is still on. Which I wouldn't want to get into, because I am not American. Whether African American or European American I am not. I am an African, and a pure Nigerian." Fr. Okpara also observed that he is accepted as a "man of God." "One mysterious fact of the Catholic priesthood," he told us,"is you are always accepted wherever you are, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. ... As a man of God I had no problem because I knew I was not coming for political reasons. But I was coming for spiritual reasons. For missionary reasons. And with that fact, you'll see yourself accepted everywhere. And so I don't feel the impact of the slavery, where it got to the black Americans. Because number one I am not a black American. Number two I don't have anything to do with political affairs. I have come to do with spiritual affairs. And within the realm of spirituality, the people of God will always accept the man of God, no matter from where he comes."
Both Pentecostal churches -- closely related to the Bible Believers -- and the Catholic Church have a long history of racial integration. We attended the United Pentecostal Church in Greenville, Mississippi, in which the congregation appeared equally black and white. Integrated revivals have long existed throughout the U.S. South. Approximately 40 percent of the students Catholic parochial school in Greenville are African American. This is part of the little-known history of the South.