Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Bit of History– My Church in Black and White


When my husband, Paul Elbridge Hirshson, finally got a full-time job at The Boston Globe, we moved, with our year-old daughter, Lauren, from Marblehead to Cambridge. We thought the city was the most enlightened in Massachusetts, and when we read in Gentlemen's Quarterly that it was "fashionable and feisty," our minds were made up. The following year Melissa Hirshson was born. In 1972, as our girls reached school age, we began, sporadically, to attend Christ Church in Harvard Square.

Paul and I had met at the Globe, where we worked during college. Paul had been an intern, editor, and, finally, reporter, covering the Cambridge beat. All four Hirshsons would fall in love with the English language. Over thirty years, three of us, especially Paul, would interview the Reverend W. Murray Kenney, Rector of Christ Church, Cambridge. We saved tapes, transcripts, and stories of those conversations.

On a hot, sticky August 28, 1968, as we moved into our new flat on Huron Avenue, Paul unpacked the television and turned it on to check the reception. On screen a violent confrontation played out between police and protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. We had to turn down the volume. We sat mesmerized by the sight of raucous crowds setting fires and raising fists at sweltering officers in short-sleeved summer uniforms. The police retaliated, spewing clouds of tear gas from a nozzle mounted on a truck bed.

The broadcast was neither the first nor last live news report of the hundreds of violent protests (and also peaceful demonstrations) that characterized the 1960s and 1970s. The children conceived at the end of World War II had grown old enough to want to reform the world. There did seem to be enough of them to do it.

Not every reformer was young. All sorts and conditions of humanity wanted change: disenfranchised blacks and other oppressed minorities, students, artists, drug dealers, dropouts, poets, poor people, laid-off industrial workers, and slum residents.

Some dissidents were idealistic flower children and the intellectuals who influenced them–the counterculture. They came from well-off families. There were also civil rights organizers and community organizers. Clergy were advocating for (and against) social justice. There were criminals, killers, and con artists. Demonstrations also attracted mentally ill folk, addicts, bullies, and other antisocial people.

Many activists were people who had moved north for work but had lost their jobs as industry relocated from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. Some were workers who had saved money but could not get mortgages because of racial discrimination.

Protesters were promoting creeds and causes: communism or socialism, open marriage, free love, cults, communes, nuclear disarmament, legalized marijuana, ending the war in Vietnam, ending all war.

Groups allied in various configurations to demand rights for blacks, farm workers, women, veterans, unions, homosexuals, students.

So much news was broadcast that people suffered from information overload. It was a good time to work for a newspaper. Paul was extremely busy. I was also busy with young children and part-time work at the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare.

I had started working (full time) for the children's division of the state welfare department in 1962. By 1965 I was seven months pregnant with Lauren and was about to go on maternity leave when Mothers for Adequate Welfare, part of the Boston Black United Front, crowded, hollering, outside the central office in downtown Boston. They carried their youngest children. Older kids held signs demanding a decent stipend.

Remaining in their offices, the welfare commissioners sent me outside, full-bellied and alone, to confront the mob. The women saw my pregnant abdomen, shouted words of sisterhood and encouragement, and moved off, grumbling. They would be back. Ever after, whether reading about riots, watching on television, or being there, I would respond to them with intense hyperawareness that they were real.

By 1975 the Hirshsons were "regulars" at the ten o'clock Sunday service at Christ Church. The people of the parish seemed to share our liberal views.

Parishioners and Rector–the Rev. W. Murray Kenney–welcomed us. Ethel Sigourney, Ray and Joan Walther, the Jacobys, Vaughan and Jim Barton, Helen Smith, Mel and Lissa Hodder, Lois Greenwood, Ann and Jack Austin, Anita Magruder, Connie Kenney, and many others greeted and encouraged us. We were invited to "house churches," supper gatherings in the tradition of early Christianity.

We were eager to absorb the "customs of the country," in what Mr. Kenney dubbed our "peculiar"[1] parish. On Sundays, the congregation muddled its way through trial hymnals and draft liturgy that eventually would be published as the revised Book of Common Prayer. Our ability to focus was challenged by the Rector who was inclined to–spontaneously–rearrange the order of service or to delegate priestly functions like sermons to the laity.

Preoccupied with keeping our eyes on the texts, meeting people, maintaining decorum, and directing attention to prayer and the Word, we Hirshsons were not aware that Christ Church had, from 1969 to 1972, with much soul-searching, made a handsome response to a desperate cry from Afro-American activists.

The Black Manifesto was a document put forward by James Forman and the Black Economic Development Conference (BEDC) in 1969. It advocated disruption of church services and seizure of church property. It began:

We, the black people … have been forced to come together because racist white America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor. For centuries we have been forced to live as colonized people inside the United States, victimized by the most vicious, racist system in the world. We have helped to build the most industrial country in the world.

We are therefore demanding … white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues … part and parcel of the system of capitalism … to pay reparations. … We are demanding $500,000,000. … This total comes to 15 dollars per nigger.

… We know that the churches and synagogues have tremendous wealth and its membership, white America, has profited and still exploits black people.

… Exploitation of colored peoples around the world is aided and abetted by the white Christian churches and synagogues. … Fifteen dollars for every black brother and sister in the United States is only a beginning of the reparations due us, people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized, killed and persecuted.

The tone of the Manifesto both expressed and provoked extreme rage. "Nigger" and "reparations" were incendiary words, evoking shame and blame, guilt and atonement. The initial responses of churches and the general public were denial, anger, and fear. Blacks were asking the impossible. Blood would be shed. The Manifesto did not name any denominations, let alone "Episcopal." It did not recognize the people who were striving for social justice. It did not admit to any progress or recognize people like Arthur Walmsley, John Snow, Ed Chase, Chuck Willie, Mary Peabody, Esther Burgess, William Scarlett, Arthur Lichtenberg, John Hines, Murray Kenney, Grant Muse, or John Morris. They were Episcopalians, and like many others, religious and secular, were working hard to fight discrimination and oppression.

The declaration made no mention that the Episcopal Church had established a "General Convention Special Program" in 1967, a commitment of personnel and millions of dollars given by the National Episcopal Church to the black community.[2] The Special Program exacerbated tensions between northern and southern Episcopalians, but, as the Reverend Canon Edward Rodman would write in 1989, it also "gave legitimacy to the concept of empowerment through self-help grants."

When the Church held an extra meeting of General Convention in 1969 to develop the Special Program, confrontations erupted and there was controversy over whether the monies dispersed by the Special Program were reparations or not.

Though a Gallup Poll reported that 92 percent of all American churchgoers said they opposed paying reparations, Murray Kenney, his Vestry and laity, went beyond a simplistic response. They studied the Black Manifesto. They understood the emotions underlying the threat to overthrow the American government. They noted that after the provocative preamble, the document contained constructive, intelligent recommendations for ways to use half a billion dollars. They grasped a compelling human cry for justice, opportunity, respect–and a need for cash.

Not yet members of Christ Church, Paul and I first learned about the Manifesto in the Boston Globe. We supposed churches were targeted because activists expected them to be more responsive than other organizations. In 1972, we had no idea that CCC leadership, clergy and laity alike, had responded magnificently to the Black Manifesto. It would be forty years later, on a cold Sunday morning, long after both Murray Kenney and Paul Hirshson had died, when I began to figure out the parish's peculiar response to a peculiar demand.

A Look Back in Time

On a clear January in 2009, before the ten o'clock Sunday service, Jake and Martha Jacoby sat next to the fireplace in the Christ Church library, reminiscing with fellow parishioners about the 1960s and 1970s. They were searching their memories for clues about The Committee of Blacks and The Committee of Whites. The people in the room represented different generations: from the youngest, in their twenties, to the oldest who had been adults during World War II. Also present was the "silent generation"–men and women reaching majority in the 1950s. The baby boomer generations, born between 1946 and 1964, were well represented. Now on the verge of becoming "Golden Boomers," they had been the largest, healthiest, and wealthiest generation of youth in all human history. They expected to improve Planet Earth. [3]

In 2009, the Rev. Joseph O. Robinson was in his third year as Rector. He had set aside time for a weekly class–Adult Formation Hour–between the two Sunday morning services. He invited the Jacobys to talk to the class about the parish's history of advancing civil rights.

Previously, Joe had asked Martha Jacoby a simple question. One day they had been looking at a set of hymnals in the pews, Lift Every Voice and Sing. He noticed that the bookplates acknowledged that "The Committee of Blacks" had donated the books to the church.

That was unexpected. A Mississippi man, Robinson thought that a segregated committee of black people, in a liberal Episcopalian parish, in abolitionist New England, was remarkable.

Wisecracking, he asked Martha if there had also been a Committee of Whites. He was surprised when she said she thought so. Later, she checked with her husband, Jake (whose real name is Henry). Neither could quite recall the particulars, but Jake had a file folder of notes and minutes from 1969 to 1972. He would look them up.

Joe invited "the Jakes" to talk to the group about what they remembered. People in the audience might jog each other's memories. The bookplates were proof that a Committee of Blacks really did exist.

Questions and Answers

Question: Was there really a Committee of Whites?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Why would a church segregate a pair of antidiscrimination committees?

Answer: The committees were not segregated or desegregated. They were separate.

Question: These came about as a reaction to black activism?

Answer: Yes, a response to the Black Manifesto.

Question: What was their mission?

Answer: The Whites would raise money. The Blacks would spend it.

Question: How would the money be spent?

Answer: That was up to the Committee of Blacks.

Question: Didn't they have to account to the treasurer or Vestry?

Answer: Only if they saw fit. There were no strings attached.

Question: But, no accounting? No auditors? Not very Episcopalian.

Answer: It was all about trust. You have to understand the times.

Some Things about the Times

Working memory can only handle so many events. My chief memories of the 1960s and 1970s center around my children, play groups, setting up house, my job at the welfare department, changing my career to nursing.

But say the words, "sitting on the dock of the bay," and I am transported to the sun porch of our first flat in Cambridge. There is a vinyl LP playing; the singer is Otis Redding.

Say "Orson Welles," and I remember a long-gone art movie theatre in Cambridge.

Say, "Cuban Missile Crisis," and I am watching President John F. Kennedy on television again. I feel intense fear.

Then, from nowhere, I flash to the slain president slumped over in a convertible and the first lady, her pink suit spattered with blood, trying to climb out of the car.

Here's a thought I don't recall having before: Was Kennedy killed because of his stand on Civil Rights?

An Experiment

Until I started writing about the Black and White Committees I never connected John Kennedy's assassination with his speech and bill to establish civil rights as law. There were so many things to remember about that time. Now I find specific words bring to mind streams of images, stories, and feelings, like a movie, remembrances of things past.

And so, Dear Reader:

As an experiment, to better recall the 1960s and 1970s, focus at random on these words and see what emerges:




Black Muslims

Black Panthers

Black Power

Bob Dylan

Boycott Grapes

Bread Not Bombs



Cold War





Cuban Missile Crisis


Detroit Riot

Draft Card


Earth day


Feeding crowds

Flower Power

Freedom Ride



I Have A Dream

Inner Belt Road

Jim Crow

Jimi Hendrix

Jonathan Daniels

Kennedy Brothers

Kent State

Ku Klux Klan




Malcolm X


1963 March in Washington, D.C.

Make Love Not War


Martin Luther King

Medgar Evers


National Guard


Prison Riots

Race Riots

Rock 'N Roll





Summer of Love

University Takeovers

War In Vietnam

War on Poverty

Watts Riot

We Shall Overcome


Some memories–burning cities, burning churches, violence, police brutality, raging mobs–may be too much to bear. An accompanying soundtrack of your mental video might be Bob Dylan singing the anthem he wrote for the age: "… the order is rapidly fadin' and the first ones now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin'. "

A Time to Rend

In the 1960s, as racial violence became common in all parts of the United States, it seemed as if the country were being ripped apart. From peaceful sit-ins at segregated lunch counters to the bombing of homes, the tension and terror escalated. From arrests and attacks on Freedom Riders to the murder of people helping blacks register to vote, ugly pictures filled newspapers and television screens. We watched the killings and bombings by racist whites, police brutality, and the burning of churches. We saw the slaying of President Kennedy, bloodshed in Selma, mob violence in Watts, and the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Race riots in New Jersey and Detroit lasted for days, with dozens killed, hundreds injured, acres burned, buildings demolished. The riots peaked in the summer of 1967, when they occurred in 125 cities. Some people thought these events were the breakdown of society; others saw a long-overdue revolution, a leap into black self-empowerment.”

In the 1960s the average lifespan of a black person in the United States was seven years shorter than a white's. Black children had half the chance of graduating high school, and their odds of finishing college or entering a profession were one in three. Afro-Americans earned half as much money as whites and were twice as likely to be unemployed. More than three quarters of the South's adult blacks were disenfranchised. In some places they could not vote, serve on juries, or enter public accommodations.

In the North, neighborhoods, businesses, and unions excluded blacks. There was soaring black unemployment. "If you're white, you're right" a black folk saying declared; " … if you're black, stay back."

The time had come to tear out racism from the fabric of the country.


It was not until the late 1960s that the National Episcopal Church faced the sin of racism in a consequential way. During the 1950s the General Convention and Executive Council[4] called for:

Opposing discrimination based on color or race …

Adding [the word] 'desegregation' to guidelines for 'Work of the Church among Negroes'

Affirming 'the dignity and value of every man (sic) … as created in the image of God,' and

Supporting 'equal opportunity in education, housing, employment, and public accommodations.'

On the whole, these words had little effect in the parishes.

In Episcopalians and Race, Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr. describes parish life in the late fifties and early sixties: "preoccupied with small … relationships, family life, and the parish family. This undermined "the traditional Anglican understanding that Christ came not to redeem the Church but the world."

At his installation as Presiding Bishop in 1959, Arthur Lichtenberger had preached that the church's mission was to transform society and establish unity across separated ethnic groups, but according to The Episcopalians, another book by Shattuck and David Hein,

Pressure from white church leaders in the South prevented the National Council from taking a definitive stand on the civil rights movement prior to 1963. … Most white Episcopalians were content to let the civil rights movements take shape without rousing themselves to aid it in any way. …

On January 14, 1963, hundreds of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews gathered at the National Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago, during which Martin Luther King Jr. exhorted the meeting to wake up and get involved in the struggle. On January 14, 1963, in Alabama, new Governor George Wallace was proclaiming to his constituents, "Segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever."

After protesters in Birmingham were viciously attacked in April 1963, Bishop Lichtenberger dispatched a "Whitsunday Letter" to rouse the faithful:

There is urgent need to demonstrate by specific actions what God has laid out for us. [We must] move beyond … penitence for our failures … to unmistakable identification … with victims of oppression. Only if we take every step possible … will our unity in the Spirit … become reality. …

… I would ask you to involve yourselves. Know what is happening. The crisis is mounting. …

… I would also ask you to give money. …

… I would ask you to take action. Discrimination within … the Church itself is … intolerable. Every congregation … [must] examine its own life and renew … efforts to insure [full] inclusiveness. …

… [I ask] the Bishops and the Executive Council … to [cut off moral or financial support to dioceses and parishes] if [discriminatory] practices are not eliminated. …

… Present events reveal the possible imminence of catastrophe. The entire Christian community must pray and act.

There would be significant action, following the long violent summer of 1967.

An Aspiring Parson Begins Seminary

The Rev. W. Murray Kenney served for twenty years as The Fourteenth Rector of Christ Church, Cambridge. In December 1985, just before his retirement, he sat down with Paul Hirshson, his friend and parishioner, to record an interview about his career. Excerpts follow:

Paul Hirshson: Talk about going … to seminary.

Murray Kenney: I wanted to go where someone became a good parson, a good parish priest. … One of the bishops told me Virginia [Theological Seminary] turned out the best parson, and that was the term Virginia used–parson–that wasn't used in too many other places.

I arrived at Virginia, just before Pearl Harbor. I had a hundred dollars and, going down, I hitchhiked. I had never been south of New York. I met a black kid in Washington, D.C., and we took the bus to Alexandria. He had never been south of Philadelphia. As we crossed the Potomac, the bus stopped.

I didn't know why; there was some sort of noise and consternation. Finally, I realized … everybody was looking at us. … The bus driver kept pointing to a sign that said you have to sit in the front or the back. To this day, I don't know whether I was supposed to sit in front or back.

I was sitting with this black kid, and he was sitting with me … and suddenly, the whole business of segregation hit me like a bomb and I felt embarrassed about him, me, the United States, and everything else. Well … we both moved to the back of the bus; anyway, we stayed together. And somehow, he tolerated that.

… The first thing I saw when I got to Alexandria … was the Confederacy flag flying outside of a house. Now I had seen the flag [before]… but I had never seen [that] flag–in a sense, of another country–flying outside a house in the United States. That shook me … I was beginning to feel a little uneasy about this trip to the South.

Lessons from Somerville

Murray Kenney had black friends all his life. For him integration was no big deal, yet had he been so naive about segregation that he was shocked by the incident on the bus.

Paul Hirshson: The tape is running. …

Murray Kenney: As kids and parents, our social life centered around the church.

Paul: Was that St James's Church?

Murray: St. James's Episcopal Church, Somerville, which was a daughter church of St. James's in Porter Square, Cambridge. My brother and I played basketball there….

Three of the team were blacks: Johnny Oxley, Bertie Oxley, and John Henry Burns. I had a black Sunday school teacher. ... There was a colony of blacks that lived around Cameron Avenue and Clarendon Hill and still do. Here was a church … that was integrated at least 50-60 years ago. No one made [any] great noise about it. …

Deep in his heart, Murray Kenney would always feel that the integration of races was neither more nor less than the normal way of life.

Lessons from St. Louis

Although he grew up in Somerville, Murray came to Christ Church, Cambridge by way of St. Louis. After ordination he had worked in Ohio as the priest in a country parish, a physical education director at a posh school, and the chaplain in a reform school. He was next called to St. Andrew's, Akron, where he served from 1943 to 1945. There, he met, fell in love with, and married Connie–Constance Chenowyth. They had four children.

His next call was to the Diocese of Missouri where he helped two mission churches become established as parishes.

Finally he got a parish of his own as Rector of St. Mark's in St. Louis. It was a little gem of a church, brand new, a short tower-shaped Art Deco building. Its glorious blue stained glass depicted the lion symbol of its namesake, as well as workers on strike, a man and a fish, and a woman holding a sign bearing one word, "UNFAIR."

Murray remained at St. Mark's for 19 years. The congregation was conservative and very small–200 seats, 300 parishioners. He soon became involved in the Diocese of Missouri.

On his last Sunday as Rector of Christ Church, the Rev. Gardiner M. Day described his successor, Murray Kenney, as "one of the leaders of the Diocese of Missouri." It was true.

Murray had been close to three diocesan bishops in Missouri. All were mentors and role models. He shared their theology and they sought his advice. They were liberal and active in civil rights.

Working with the Rt. Rev. William Scarlett, Murray learned that peaceful overthrow of racial discrimination was possible. Bishop Scarlett was an early supporter of the St. Louis CORE.[5] Thirteen years before the sit-ins in Greensboro, N. C., this group quietly sat down at lunch counters, pharmacies, and bus stations. They were courteous and intentionally avoided media coverage. The department stores and the Walgreen Pharmacies agreed to end segregation. By 1961, the St. Louis City Council passed an ordinance it had held in abeyance since 1948, and integrated its places of public accommodation.

As president of the local Urban League, however, Bishop Scarlett did draw media attention to problems in race relations. Murray had the opportunity to compare the outcomes of opposite approaches in dealing with the press. He also observed the dynamics of organizing and the conduct of business and executive boards.

The next bishop, Arthur C. Lichtenberger, served the Diocese of Missouri from 1951 to 1958 when he became Presiding Bishop of the National Church. Lichtenberger's emphasis in ministry had been on pastoral theology and care. As Presiding Bishop, he promoted the unity of Christian denominations on a global scale, traveling to New Delhi to attend a General Assembly of leading international clergymen. En route he visited Pope John XXIII. He was a member of the World Council of Churches, its Central Committee, and the Board of the National Council of Churches. He was the person who gave Murray's name to the Search Committee when Christ Church was looking for a new rector.

Unfortunately, in 1964, Arthur Lichtenberger's term as Presiding Bishop was cut short by illness. There was a General Convention that year. Murray had organized a Convention program on ecumenicism involving hundreds of people. Because Parkinson's disease impaired his speech, the bishop also called upon Murray to read aloud his farewell sermon to the assembly. Time magazine called the address "a stirring summons to renewal."

The Rt. Reverend George L. Cadigan was Murray's third Missouri bishop. He supported the ordination of women and the voice of laity in decision-making.

Serving under the bishops, Murray Kenney became Chairman of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Ecumenical Officer. He was a member of the Department of Christian Education, the Education and Youth Commission, and the Executive Vice-Chair of the Department of Missions and Strategy. He also joined such community organizations as the Metropolitan Church Federation of Greater St. Louis.

He told Paul Hirshson: "In St. Louis, I was head of this, head of that, head of this, head of that. At one time I was on nineteen committees that had to report to somebody–to the Bishop or the Council. I was very well known in the city and in the diocese, and to a minor extent nationally."

The Parson Comes to Cambridge

Paul Hirshson: Talk about coming to Christ Church.

Murray Kenney: I think the reason … Dr. Day left after a strong ministry–25 years–and he was an ecumenical, nationally and internationally known person, and one of the most respected. He was from a kind of a lay church, or low ceremonial, an evangelistic type person. … He left an enormous gap.

I think he made this parish one of the greatest in the Episcopal Church. So they were looking … far and wide, and they opened it up. They had a very able Search Committee of seven, and anybody could make a nomination. Well, obviously, if someone they knew made a nomination, they might look at that person more carefully. …

(My) only question was … 'Are you big enough for the job?' I mean, I was enough of an ego, and competent enough, to feel [unafraid] of 90 percent of all jobs in the Episcopal Church. This place … was very demanding, so the question was, 'are you worthy, or can you do it?'

But, your ego gets so involved, and I really needed a change. … I'd been 19 years in Missouri, so I decided to come.

I made a decision, for better or worse … that because of the transient and sprawling nature of the congregation, I would devote most of my time, at least in the beginning, only to the parish. I would not get involved in the Diocese.

Paul Hirshson: What was the acceptance like, initially, from the parish, the first month or six weeks?

Murray Kenney: Nobody knew me. Who would know me? I'd been away from here for 26 years. Cambridge, you know–when we were kids and you grew up in Somerville, you went to Cambridge to see odd people, you went to Harvard Square, and that was the pits. My first job was in a factory in Cambridge, so Cambridge was no flaming Mecca for me.

I felt like an outsider, like a little kid who was looking at a circus through a peephole, and wanted to get in, but wasn't sure he really had the ticket. I would look out of my window at funerals that I didn't know were going to happen because they had called someone else on the staff. … I had never been in a parish where I didn't have charge of the funerals. Weddings were held that I was no part of, set up several months before.

And then I felt I was being boycotted, which was a little paranoid on my part.

Now, in 1967 we had a trial liturgy. And we had opened our door to the youth culture; what I called our 'latrine ministry,' was beginning, and my–to some people–abrasive direct style of leadership–and then I had raised an issue with the Vestry.

Paul Hirshson: Were your leadership style and methods different from Dr. Day's or a continuation of them?

Murray Kenney: Well, I think Dr. Day's accents and mine were very similar on community outreach, ecumenical things … preaching. I think he put a heavier accent on intellectualism and scholarship, and not … on what I would call community building within the congregation. The Rev. John Snow was saying this church has been a church of different communities, much like Harvard University. …

This offended me. I didn't think these 'communities' were talking together. They would worship together, but I didn't think they had much [communication] amongst themselves. [I wanted] community building around the ministry of the laity.

The Vestry, which was excellent in many ways, saw themselves as a board of directors … behind the executive, [who] creates policy. If it's a life and death decision, the board will say yea or nay. But generally, policy creation was really the role of the executive. … I was trying to inject a team concept, in which the Vestry would create policy, so … they were in the water with me, not simply on the bank encouraging me to keep swimming.

I wanted them in there with me, and that was a struggle. … People who had been in business felt it was not the model I should use, so there was a certain amount of boycott.

They saw it too permissive in some ways but also they saw it as too demanding on [them]. Yet, I got tremendous support from–I hate to put a label on it–the Brahmin-Brattle Street type, [though] some of those people withdrew.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Paul Hirshson: What would you say is the most controversial thing you did?

Murray Kenney: I think the riskiest thing we did is when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited.[6] He came to Cambridge to make an anti-Vietnam [War] speech. I was told the day before that he could not get a place where he could have an international press conference with Dr. Benjamin Spock.

I wasn't sure what would happen, so I had an enormous amount of anxiety when I got that phone call. They assured me this would be all bona fide press. Well, I had seen King in St. Louis, and I saw the kind of security [he had]. I figured two people most in danger of assassination would be King and Bobby [Robert F.] Kennedy. My wardens were both out of town. I could make the decision to have him [here] but, because he was coming basically for a political reason, I could not let him speak in the church. But there was the Parish House, sitting there. It was clear [if] Harvard didn't give him space, nobody else, for whatever reasons, would give him space.

So, with grave reservations, the basis for my decision was: Here's a national leader; here's a Baptist minister; here's a leading Christian in the world. If we don't give him space and a platform, we would set back race relationships in this place maybe fifty years, and we'd had a fairly good record as a parish. So I got personal security, and lawyers, and then King had his security. Of course, the feds had their security and the Cambridge police.

It was a huge thing–seven or eight television cameras here–and he and Dr. Benjamin Spock on the stage gave their pitch. I never met them. I was way in the back worrying about everything.

Murray went on to tell Paul that, when he did speak to the Wardens afterwards, they told him they would have refused to let King use the church as a platform.

"I think that was the riskiest thing we ever did."

The racial crisis was reaching its culmination. Civil conflict was threatening to rend not just the fabric of the Church, but the stability of the nation.

One year later, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Three parishioners, Dr. Louis Sullivan, Henrietta Jackson, and Edward Chase, went to Atlanta for his funeral.

The CCC Vestry minutes record, "The Rector announced that the sermon on April 28 would be omitted so that [those] who attended the funeral of Dr. King could discuss their reactions to the experience."

At the end of April, James Forman issued the Black Manifesto at the meeting of the Black Economic Development Conference at Wayne State University.

A Time to Sew

Murray Kenney: The next most controversial thing we did as a parish was in response to the Black Manifesto. In the early 1970s, this church, upon stimulation from our Committee of Blacks, raised [almost $100,000] for the blacks of this parish to dispense as they might. The controversy was never over the [amount] of money. I pulled the sum out of the air and the blacks accepted it.

There was controversy first around the … preamble of the Black Manifesto which some … felt was too revolutionary and couldn't accept. The other thing was, in a New England culture, particularly, to raise charitable funds with no strings attached seems awful. Yet people do it all the time. People give to Harvard and trust Harvard will dispense the money. But when we give to something like blacks, or to someone we think is below us, we want strings; we want results.

The blacks in this congregation reminded us that they had been members here for 100 years. It took us a while to trust them to use the money as they saw fit. I would say we're the only church in the country–parish church–that raised such a sum of money–some dioceses didn't rise that much…. That was probably one of the high points of this congregation.

There were two pillars supporting Christ Church's response to the Black Manifesto. One was Murray Kenney's personal conviction of the significance of accepting a legitimate and compelling outcry, and following up with useful, substantial, meaningful action.

He was not intimidated by the document's angry tone. He could identify with the poor whenever he thought back to the Great Depression that had impoverished and demoralized his family, and led him to a constant scramble for dollars. When he remembered the menial jobs he took to survive, both as child and man, he could still feel angry. He knew life is unfair.

He recognized exclusion and dispossession. He had seen his father lose the family's social status when he lost his job. Murray became a Somerville "townie" who felt dismissed by Cambridge "rich people." He had grown up with black friends, and had experienced personally the humiliation of being sent to the back of the bus.

He had been close to three bishops who opposed racial segregation. He had observed successful and peaceful integration in St. Louis. He knew what good community organizing could accomplish.

He was aware of the problems within the General Convention's Special Program. Besides stirring a hornets' nest in the Church, it made grants only to projects desired by, and presented by the black community in advance for approval. The recipients were required to account to the Church for expenditures. This was not exactly "no strings attached."

The second pillar of the CCC response to the Manifesto was that it was an opportunity for the laity to show what it could accomplish in ministry.

Murray knew he had an able, creative, and talented parish. He visited them at home, and knew about their work and accomplishments. In the short time he had been in Cambridge, parishioners were already helping him minister to and feed the unwashed flower children beginning to accumulate across the street on Cambridge Common. Many white Christ Churchers wanted to help the black community. Among them were Peter and Susie White, Pauline Hollingsworth, Horace Goodridge, Helen Smith, Marion Highriter, Melville Hodder, and Manning Williams.

In September 1969 Murray asked a black member of the vestry, Louis W. Sullivan, M. D, to head a committee to analyze the Black Manifesto and make recommendations. On October 8, 1969, Dr. Sullivan reported that he, Ed Chase, the Rev. Gilbert Dent, John Dry, Mel Hodder, Murray Kenney, and Alvina Williams had met three times. They agreed that a CCC response should be directed toward local, as well as metropolitan and national needs. They submitted a report.

The committee had carefully deliberated their complicated recommendations: blacks should have no part in raising the funds, but they would have final authority on disbursement of funds. The report reminded the Vestry that handing over funds to blacks must not be paternalistic, because that would do more harm than good in the long run. It was considered prudent to have a special Vestry meeting on October 22, devoted exclusively to discussing the Committee's Report.

The Sullivan Committee proposed, "That Wardens, Vestry, and congregation of CCC commit to raising a fund of $100,000 (a sum thought to be realistic and not damaging to Stewardship efforts) for use by both local and national black community."

Specific recommendations were:

The Wardens would ensure that $10,000 from endowment was contributed to the fund.

The Vestry would commit $10,000 from stewardship, plate offerings, and gifts.

A special committee would be established in the parish to raise $80,000.

A date would be set to reach the final goal of $100,000.

Funds would go to local, regional, and national organizations concerned with the black community.

A committee of black parishioners would be formed to receive and process applications for the use of the funds, oversee the disbursement of funds, and serve as advisors and resource persons in the fund raising effort.

The raising of the money was to be the responsibility of white, not black, members of parish

Two concerns had been raised:

1. Might the funds be used to overthrow the government?


2. Could endowment funds be used in this way?

The Rector asked Hal (Harold J.) Berman, Louis Sullivan, Jake Jacoby, and Mel Hodder to amend the proposal.

On November 12, 1969, Jake Jacoby reported to the Vestry for the group. He said that the Manifesto had created in them "a common awakening." The parish was in unique position: it was able to "point the way to a solution."

The blacks understood the fears of the whites, and their profound need both to test their own faith and to respond to the challenges of the Black Manifesto. Jake said that the deep issue was, "Do we, as an institution, trust the recipients? Can we enable self-determination with all it implies?"

The whites also understood that the broad quest for black self-determination was evolving from sheer protest and rage to a more measured search for justice and opportunity.

The problem for the black leaders in Christ Church–who had managed, by virtue of their own strong families and great individual merit–to rise up in social and economic class, was also complicated. Accepting a large sum of money was a horrible reminder of the plight of their black brothers and sisters. The gift also posed the burden of administering funds, in effect becoming grantors of seed money. It would involve a lot of time and work.

The blacks saw sincerity in the whites and wanted to give them the opportunity to do the right thing. It was becoming apparent that blacks and whites in Christ Church were getting to know one another. They shared similar goals, valued higher education, felt the same sort of compassion, had the same kinds of ambitions. They valued knowing their neighbors. It was time to decide what to do next.

After long discussion, the following motion having been made and seconded, it was

VOTED: That an amount, to be determined by the Wardens and Vestry, be recommended by the Wardens and Vestry to the Parish of Christ Church as a symbol of our response to the needs of the Black Community.

That said monies should be raised from our congregation over a period of two years, from the Parish Budget and via a special campaign, beginning approximately February 1, 1970.

That the monies received be dispensed by a Committee of Black Members of Christ Church, to be appointed by the Rector.

Of the ten Vestry voting members at the meeting, nine were in favor of the Christ Church Response to the Black Manifesto and one voted present.

The January 18, 1970 edition of the Weekly Leaflet of Christ Church in Cambridge led with an article by the Rev. Kenney headlined OUR RESPONSE TO BLACK NEEDS. It invited the congregation to an informal meeting, to be held between the Sunday services, presided over by Senior Warden John Dry, the Vestry, and members of the Black and White Committees. The Rector wrote that it was common knowledge that the needs of black communities were overwhelming so that any action in response by the Church was little more than a SIGN, a holy symbol of what the greater society must do soon.

He pointed out that the decision to raise funds came from "our own people," and he emphasized that "the issue is not MONEY, but TRUST and the RIGHT OF SELF DETERMINATION … a holy priority, that the church is first Good News for people who need to hear and feel it, and secondarily physical structures and ancient history."

Questions and Answers, Part Two

Question: So there really was a Committee of Whites?

Answer: Yes, its formal name was the Committee of White in Christ Church. The founding members were:

John Dry

Melville Hodder

John Lynch

E. Allison Grant

John Austin

Henry Jacoby

Hope Hare

Ethel Sigourney

The committee's acronym was CWICC, or CW for short. Its purpose was to accrue $100,000 and turn it over to the Committee of Blacks.

Question: And this story is documented where?

Answer: Vestry minutes and Jake Jacoby's files. He had saved copies of original working memoranda, describing the CW's meetings.

Question: What did the Committee of Whites actually do?

Answer: Raised money. By March 1970 it determined start and end dates and a plan. They contacted prospective donors. On April 26, 1970 Mel Hodder preached the Sunday Sermon. That was the kickoff of The Christ Church Response and the announcement of the goal.

Question: Wasn't $100,000 an extravagant, unrealistic goal?

Answer: The CW did not think so. They brainstormed and they prayed. They recruited additional members to reflect the different factions in the congregation. They wrote letters to all parishioners, designed pledge cards, and stuffed envelopes. They made phone calls, arranged meetings, and educational programs.

Question: Why all this emphasis on fundraising? If, as Murray wrote in the Leaflet, money was just a symbol, why raise so much?

Answer: Mel Hodder said, "… for our wealthy church, it isn't a big sacrifice but a realignment of what was God's to give to people who should have had it all along."

In donating a large sum, "This church made a statement about faith and stewardship to the real world.…" It demonstrated that we were in earnest about change, and determined to make social justice a reality.

Question: Wouldn't the money fritter away?

Answer: Not if the Committee of Blacks had anything to say about it. It was an opportunity for them to show what they could do when blacks were in charge. A transfer of funds –no strings attached–was really a transfer of power and decision-making authority. .

Question: Did the fundraisers reach the goal?

Answer: Murray Kenney told Paul Hirshson they raised $97,000.

Question: And there really were no strings attached?

Answer: Yes. To this day some whites say they do not know or want to know what happened to it.

Question: Who did get the money?

Answer: The Committee of Blacks in Christ Church, Cambridge, also called CBICC or CB. The members of the CB were:

Eva (Ginger) Sullivan

James King

Louis Sullivan

Nina King

Faith Chase

Horace Goodridge

Mary Gardiner

Virginia Rice

and Ed Chase who also acted as liaison to the Committee of Whites.

Question: For those who do want to know, how did the Committee of Blacks spend the money?

Answer: Before dispersing any of it, they wrote a statement of goals and policy to guide their decisions. They would support activities that bolstered black self-confidence, self-sufficiency, independence, growth, and responsibility. They would request proposals. They retained all grant-making authority. Their policy included making the church more relevant to the larger society they so they chose to disclose their choices to the parish. On one occasion Ginger Sullivan issued a report at all three Sunday services.

They worked hard. CB members would make half-day long site visits for each application, and they presented findings every month to a project subcommittee for preliminary review. Experts were consulted when needed. Only when proposals were fully developed and evaluated were they brought before the full committee at monthly meetings for final approval. Some applications were denied or referred elsewhere.

The CB helped a number of applicants develop and improve proposals. On occasion a grant would be made to help a startup or an existing, struggling business. By 1976 funds had been allotted to:

A corporation refurbishing housing

A nursery school/day care center

Purchase of a bus for a community center

Purchase of sewing equipment for the elderly

Small low-interest loans

A community tennis program

Summer camp programs

A neighborhood health center

A black historic landmark

A drug rehabilitation center

The Committee of Whites had finished work in about two years, The Committee of Blacks remained active for five or six years.

The CB reviewed and responded to close to 100 requests. By mid 1970s as desegregation progressed, the educational opportunities for blacks were increasing and the opportunities for African-American leaders, was rising. Dr. and Mrs. Sullivan left Christ Church Cambridge, Louis to found Morehouse Medical School, and later, to serve as U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H. W. Bush.

In 1980, ten years after Christ Church Cambridge had wrestled with the question of how to respond meaningfully to the needs of the black community, Mel Hodder once again took the pulpit again on Sunday morning. He said, "In our response to James Forman's Manifesto, we really didn't accomplish anything earth-shattering in the way of accommodating Black Power into our structure. … but for those of us who participated in the process there was the experience of tension, forgiveness, and conversion. … What the church has to do is mediate … the balance of power in ways which heal human differences and bring [us together.]"

Question: What did the Sullivans have to say about it?

Answer: Ginger wrote, "What [was new]… was the leadership … by blacks. … Our experience taught us that … people who are poor… have very little power in our society … [but] the poor come in all colors. … The problems of blacks are intertwined with the problems of our society at large."

Question: So even if most of the committee members have left us, and no one remembers all their hard work, can it be said that both the Blacks and the Whites were successful?

Answer: We were part–we were leaders actually–of the larger social change all around us. We grew. We learned something.

Question: And that was?

Answer: We learned to–we learned how–to trust each other. Frightened as we were by violence and change, our faith in each other grew. In the end the story of Blacks and Whites at Christ Church in the 1970's was all about trust.

[1] WMK enjoyed using the word "peculiar" when he meant "particular." It probably appealed to his sense of humor because it is a polite euphemism for bizarre, but it also does mean unique, distinguishing, and exceptional.

[2] The plan of Special Program: appropriate nine million dollars over three years for black economic development.

[3] Seventy-six million American children were born between 1945 and 1964.

[4] The Executive Board of the National Church was originally called the National Council; the name was changed in 1964.

[5] In St. Louis, CORE was the acronym for the Committee of Racial Equality. It was an offshoot of Chicago's Congress of Racial Equality.

[6] April 23, 1967

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