On Race Relations Sunday in 1938, my grandfather Paul Becker held a sermon entitled ‘If I were a Negro’ at University Christian Church in Des Moines IA. The service was broadcast by radio, and the following week the church was packed. This past July, I visited the church, where I found Paul Becker’s portrait in the ’Heritage Room’ tucked away on the building’s 5th floor.
I wrote to Ryan Arnold, the current minister, about the sermon, and my brother tracked down the original text, scanned it and sent it to Ryan. The minister asked our permission to post it on the church’s home page. The neighborhood around the church has changed considerably, and the church is actively seeking ways to reach out to the mixed ethnic and mostly poor people who live nearby.
Ryan waited to post the sermon until yesterday, and wrote me to explain the delay:
‘We’ve been waiting to post Rev. Becker’s sermon knowing it will get more traffic if we wait until the social conversation moved back to racial injustice. Unfortunately, we assumed it was only a matter of time before our consciousness returned to the necessity of saying Black Lives Matter. Given yesterday evening’s release of the video showing police officers murdering Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, OK, we released the sermon moments ago. You can find it here.
Today, the police video showing Terence Crutcher’s death is receiving world-wide news coverage and has received over a million views on You Tube.
I know that Paul Becker would have been proud but humble that his important sermon can speak on behalf of Black Lives Matter. Nor would he be surprised to know that his granddaughter is involved in Screening Protest, a research project on histories of protest and the ongoing struggle for social justice in today’s news media.