In this episode of As In Heaven, Jim Davis and Justin Holcomb welcome back Ligon Duncan for the second of a two-part discussion of the history of black people in America. In the last episode, Duncan began with the onset of chattel slavery in 1619 up to the Civil War. In this episode, he addresses the sordid practices of peonage, vagrancy laws, and sharecropping—and how they helped pave the way for Jim Crow laws in America. Understanding these historical realities will help white believers grow in empathy for our black brothers and sisters. The group discusses:
- Reconstruction and its flaws, a lesser-known era (2:00)
- Black codes and Reconstruction (9:57)
- Sharecropping and its abuses (18:20)
- Self-perpetuation of “slavery by another name” (20:57)
- Discouraging black people from voting (24:07)
- A horrific legacy outside the law (26:30)
- The cloistering of black people (34:22)
- Isn’t it all just history? (38:25)
- Duncan and changing the Mississippi flag (43:01)
1. What narrative did you learn about the period following the Civil War, especially Reconstruction? How is that narrative different from the one Duncan shares?
2. What are some major events and policies from this era that created or maintained oppressive systems toward black Americans? How did those policies and events shape the future?
3. What are things from this era that have had a profound effect on America today? What about the church today?
4. Why might the histories presented in these first two episodes on the history of race in America be important conversations for the church?
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Ligon Duncan: It’s not about we’re good and everybody else in the past is bad or we’re trying to make bad guys of all the heroes. It’s just owning up to the realities that went on.
Matt Kenyon: You’re listening to As In Heaven, a Christian conversation on race and justice. This episode is part two in a two-part episode series on Black History led by Dr. Ligon Duncan. Dr. Duncan lead us from 1619 up to the Civil War in part one. And now we pick up with reconstruction. He unpacks the sordid practices of peonage and vagrancy laws and sharecropping, and how these helped pave the way for Jim Crow laws in America.
As I mentioned in the intro of the last episode, when we understand these historical variables and how they still impact our cultural moment today, it helps us have greater empathy for those who are affected by them. Jim Davis is your host, Justin Holcomb is the guest cohost on this episode. Mike Graham is the executive producer, Matt Kenyon, and without further ado, please enjoy this episode of As In Heaven with Dr. Ligon Duncan.
Jim Davis: All right, welcome back to As In Heaven season two. We get to have another episode with Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, where Justin, he teaches there, we both graduated from there. Dr. Duncan is somebody that I’ve appreciated for a long time as I’ve gotten to know you in Mississippi, you’ve preached in my church. Just really appreciate all the ways you’re navigating leading Reformed Theological Seminary in this unique COVID time. You are so helpful in this conversation on race for so many reasons. You walked us through the era of let’s say Jamestown to the Civil War. And now we kind of want to dive a little bit more into this next period of the Civil War to the Civil Rights era, because it really is one of the least known eras, and contributed arguably as much to where we are today as slavery itself did.
So, I don’t think it’s widely debated, I’m not the historian you are, but I don’t think it’s widely debated that reconstruction had some major flaws. Would you be able to walk us through some of those flaws as we tried to recover from the Civil War?
Ligon Duncan: Well, let me first of all start, Jim, by saying I agree with you. This is an era of history that is really not well known by your typical American when you’ve studied your American history at high school and college level. Most Americans don’t know this era. All of us, we tend to focus on the glamorous things and the heroic things. So we know the revolution and we know the war of 1812 and we know the American Civil War, and we know World War I and we know World War II. And maybe we get into a little bit of Vietnam and the unrest of the 60s.
But generally, this is a section of American history that people don’t camp on when they’re teaching. And by the way, it doesn’t matter where you study American history. One of the interesting things about the study of reconstruction in the last 30 or 40 years that has come out is professional historians have noted that the history textbooks in the northern United States generally gave sort of a southern take on reconstructionism. That is they were very, very sympathetic towards the southern complaints against the reconstruction governments themselves to 1877. And then not adequately talking about the social ramifications of that in Jim Crow culture.
So the first thing I want to say is that this is an area of history where we could all as Americans benefit from giving a little more attention. If I were to turn my camera somehow to show you my shelf here in my home office, you’d see an entire row of books that are on this era of history. Why? Because as a guy that graduated undergraduate in history at Furman that studied historical theology at the Masters level and the PhD level, I don’t know enough about this. And I’m trying to educate myself now, I’m almost 60 years old, about things that really I should have known in my 20s, Jim. If anybody thinks I’m wagging my finger at them, I promise you, I’m wagging my finger at myself before I’m wagging my finger at anybody else.
So, let me come back to reconstruction and say, here’s the typical way that reconstructionism is sort of taught at the high school or college level. In reconstruction, you had military and political occupation of the south by the union. You had a lot of cronyism and corruption and carpetbaggers and scallywags, and unscrupulous things. And finally, 1877, reconstruction in southerners throw off the oppressive yoke of federal interventionism and things start getting back to normal again and southerners could rebuild their way of life.
When you go into that history now with your eyes open, what you realize is that’s a terrible retelling of that history. And what actually happened is a lot of the worst things today, Jim, really, their roots are there, even even more than from before the war. I think a lot of the racial animus that exists in the southern United States derives from reconstruction, more than from before the war. Now part of that is because power dynamics have changed. Southern power in the dominant class is not threatened before the war, after the war it’s threatened. Power sharing is mandated during reconstruction. And then there’s an attempt to regrab the power by the dominant class. That’s definitely what is going on in the era right after reconstruction.
In the meantime, they’re working really hard to rewrite the history of the war. You have Southern leadership saying, we’re going to retell this thing in a way that is going to be more compelling and more favorable to us. And so, again, it doesn’t surprise me that southerners are unaware because there have been people that have been working hard for them to be unaware of these things. Both my father and my father-in-law were publishers. I’ve got books that they published that published this kind of view of reconstruction. And told us stories of the carpetbaggers and the scallywags and these awful, corrupt republican governments with incompetent people that were in the [inaudible 00:07:51]
I go back now and you find out about guys like Robert Smalls in South Carolina. There’s some amazing black leaders in that era. And I almost wonder, where did these people come from because they’re like these unbelievably classically trained well historically rounded people. I’m going to have in the world in the context of slavery were we able to produce people that know all these things and can function at this level? Every roadblock that could be thrown up against them was thrown up against them by the dominant white population.
By the way, one thing we haven’t said yet, I just want to mention it before we just pass on is this, the idea of white is really a 19th century idea. Whiteness, you’re hearing a lot of stuff about white fragility and whiteness and all this kind of stuff. And one thing that I would say to people today is be careful not to overreact against something that itself was a social construct with another social construct. Because the idea of whiteness is clearly a 19th century idea.
And by the way, it’s shorthand really for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant from Northern Europe, because there’s just as much prejudice with those kinds of people towards East Europeans, or Italians, or even Irish and Polish and other lower class immigrants as there are against other races. And so, this whole idea of whiteness and defining whiteness is a 19th century idea. And so I think it’s really important not to read that that back into the annals of all history. That in of itself was a social power construct that was meant to keep power for a particular dominant class. Of course, all sorts of stuff happens post reconstruction, Jim, that’s designed to do just that.
Justin Holcomb: You made a point that things can be interpreted to have gotten worse after the war regarding race, racial justice. In our last episode where we had you, you talked about slave codes. And now in this time, we have black codes. Can you explain what black codes are and how they affected the reconstruction?
Ligon Duncan: After the war, and especially after reconstruction, after all the federal constraints are gone, you immediately start seeing people in state governments write codes and even new constitutions, Justin, that are designed to disenfranchise black people politically and economically.
So for instance, in Mississippi in 1894, we write a new constitution. And interestingly, by the way, we adopt a new flag in 1894. And that new flag has the Confederate battle flag, the battle flag in the Army of Northern Virginia emblazoned in the upper left corner canton. It’s meant to send a message. Yes, it’s meant to send a message to Washington, DC, but it’s especially meant to send a message to a majority of the people that occupy the state of Mississippi who happened to be black. And the message is, this is not your state, this is our state. And we’re in charge here and you’re not.
And the Constitution of 1894 puts into place a range of electoral advantages to white people in Mississippi because again, white people, they’re threatened because they’re the numerical minority and they don’t want blacks to coalesce and have political power. There’re restrictions on black involvement in political parties. Things start coming into place like poll taxes and literacy tests and all manner of things in these sorts of black codes that are meant to limit and diminish black political power, and equal access to the law.
By the way, Mississippi’s constitution of 1894 becomes a template for how everybody else in the south is going to try and do this. And that’s really the beginning of Jim Crow. That’s what we now call Jim Crow. It’s all designed to restrict black political power and economic power and to continue to enfranchise that power in the dominant group in society.
Justin Holcomb: Am I correct to understand that it was primarily infringing on political power but also included all the way down to just real life just? Signing contracts, marrying, settling, where to settle. Was it just political or does it [inaudible 00:13:25]
Ligon Duncan: Absolutely. That’s right. It hits economic. It hits who can sign as a witness on a contract? Property rights. All manner of things are touched upon in that area. And let me say, here’s the other thing, I’m not sure when this dawned on me. There’s a little clip that you can get, maybe just Google it, of Martin Luther King talking about why African Americans are in a different position than other immigrants to the United States, and even the Native Americans. And he explains that look, the other immigrants were being offered 40 acres and a mule. Even as awful as the Trail of Tears is, there’s a US Bureau of Indian Affairs and at least some negotiations that are going along there providing not reparations but at least certain provisions for the Native Americans. But for black Americans, they were released from slavery with nothing.
I was reared on these stories. I don’t want to make complete fun off them, but here’s the family story that was told that my great grandfather McDowell in Liberty Hill, South Carolina after the war would plow in his frock tail coat because he no longer has slaves and had lived a patrician life and the only clothes that he had were what we would call today white tie and tails. And he would be out plowing in his frock tail coat. And then it would be told and all his slaves loved him so much that they stayed with him after the war.
Well, that kind of story can be told by white Southerners to buttress various myths. Ah, see, black slaves must not have been treated that badly. Why in the world would they stay around after the war? Here’s the question, where would they go and what would they do? And how would they feel, they got nothing. Okay, they’re free, but they’ve got zilch, nada. They have no property, they have no money, they have no social enfranchisement. Where exactly are they going to go? Really, the survival of American black folk descended from slaves. It’s one of the great stories in the history of the world, of people literally starting with nothing and being able to get where they are today. Look, that story is usually told the other way around. It’s told in a way that’s denigrative towards black people that were freed from slavery. Really, it’s remarkable they start with nothing and they have to get to where they get.
That’s during reconstruction that that happened, that’s not even after reconstruction. That’s the case. I’ve often thought that reconstruction would have started off so much better if Lincoln had not been shot because Andrew Johnson is not able to exercise the moral authority and probably doesn’t even have the inclination to do the things that Lincoln would have done. I know Lincoln would have been magnanimous and he would have had clout with the northern Radical Republicans that Andrew Johnson never would have had with them. I think that would have been a very, very, it’s ironic that Lincoln was hated so much by the American South. He was viewed as the great villain and people would celebrate when news of his death came. That probably hurt the American South and reconstruction more than any other thing is the loss of Lincoln.
But black folks were already in a world of hurt, even in reconstruction, even with federal intervention. When the federal troops are gone and the federal attention is gone, things go from bad to worse. And then the black codes are able to spread in an unfettered way. And they do for the next, well, really, they do for the next 80 years. Things like the black codes are going on all the way into the 1960s. Everything from where black people can buy homes, whether they can get loans. Every part of society.
Justin Holcomb: And this is a perfect transition to the next topic, which is what is now known as slavery by another name. And there are numerous aspects to this that we’ll unpack, but first, just getting to kind of the foundation and the basic of sharecropping. What is sharecropping and how is it abused?
Ligon Duncan: Again, if you are farming on land that belongs to someone else and you have limited investment in that, just like payday lenders can take 40% of your check, the guy that you’re farming the land from can take an inordinate amount of your yield all in the name of, hey, you don’t own the land, I own the land. I’m a businessman and I’m generously working with you on my land. And the cut of what you create disproportionately goes to someone else.
By the way, interestingly, Justin, an EPC minister in Louisiana has been, I won’t embarrass him by saying his name, but he’s been one of the real generous supporters of the African American leadership scholarship at RTS. He came to me, it was more than a decade ago when he said, “I realized that my family, they had massive plantations in Louisiana before the war. They had massive sharecropping farms after the war. And I realized that my family had disproportionately benefited from the labor of these African Americans, most of whom were Christians, Bible believing Christians like me. One thing I want to do is I want to give to this scholarship fund out my family money because I know that some of my family money exists day because of the labor of these folks.”
That kind of thing, that economic disadvantage, again, you can think, just like a person with bad credit or no credit is in trouble when you go to buy a car or get a loan to do something, think of that or worse in a system like sharecropping. You’re over a barrel in that kind of a setting.
Jim Davis: So sharecropping is one aspect of slavery by another name. You have peonage or debt slavery, you have vagrancy laws. And really, these things begin to work together to put African Americans in a position where they can’t get a job. There are actually laws that put them in jail because they can’t get a job that society doesn’t allow them to have. And it seems like it becomes this self-perpetuating thing. I’d just love for you to speak to that. I know in Mississippi, at one point, if my statistics are right, 70% of the state’s income was from African Americans in prison doing labor for them. So, flesh all that out.
Ligon Duncan: That would have been a part of history that I would have been completely oblivious to until, I don’t know, 20 years ago, Jim. One thing that I’ve kicked myself about is I took Old South New South at Furman University under an excellent historian, Albert Sanders. We read all of the classic stuff, Van Woodward, all of the stuff. And somehow, this did not register to me. I’ve even gone back, David Calhoun at Covenant Seminary taught, there was a THM level course called Southern Presbyterianism. I pulled my notes out about, I don’t know, five, seven years ago to that class. And he had sprinkled all the breadcrumbs out for me. I would have taken that somewhere in 1986, yeah, 1985, 1986, maybe early 1987. And it just didn’t click. I might as well have been studying ancient Italy or something like that. It didn’t click.
And so, I don’t think a lot of people know that, today, when people hear folks talking about criminal justice reform and prison reform, that there are things that we are dealing with today that are rooted in, you arrest a guy for vagrancy, you put him in prison, you give him this ridiculous sentence. And then you lease him out to do contract work for the local plantation. Well, he’s a free man. Now, there’s no slavery anymore, but he’s doing contract labor and the state’s making money off of it. This is happening all over the place in the southern United States.
So what you have is a legal system, an economic system, and a social system that is designed to thwart the purposes of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Bill of Rights, and all the other things that are ours as Americans, or a particular class of Americans. Everything from the black codes to debt laws to criminal justice, it’s all affected by this.
Jim Davis: And probably the most dangerous thing is black people having a vote now. So the next logical step would be to discourage black people from voting. How did that happen?
Ligon Duncan: We’ve said a little bit about that. Sometimes you do it through poll taxes. And people don’t have the money. They’re scraping by. They’re functionally living on a barter system. What are they going to bring, corn to the poll to pay their poll tax. Or you have some sort of a crazy literacy test or historical test that’s required. And all of it is designed to suppress the black vote. And again, it’s in a context where you have a large proportion of the population of the southern United States in that period of time is African America. If they’re politically enfranchised, they’re politically powerful. Whereas you had a lot of black party involvement during reconstruction, there are deliberate attempts after reconstruction to prohibit black participation in political parties and in voting.
Jim Davis: The KKK would be assumed very involved in that as well.
Ligon Duncan: And the KKK is not the only organization. In South Carolina, it was the Red Shirts. General Wade Hampton was a Civil War general, very prominent member of society in the up country of South Carolina, and he started the Red Shirts. And they were doing the same kinds of things as the KKK. You have on the one hand, these actual governmental legal law things that are being done. And then you have these extra governmental, extra legal, illegal things that are being done on top of that, basically, in order to terrorize people.
A lot of people have talked since 911 about the war on terror. I think people that look like me and that come from my background cannot conceive of what it is like to be in the United States of America and have your government against you.
Justin Holcomb: When you bring up the idea of terror and the use of terror, that leads right into this question, a horrific legacy of this period were lynchings and sexual mutilations that were executed outside of the justice system, and were still allowed to happen in the West and in the south. Then the purpose is to terrorize and to create fear, to get in people’s heads. But why would you say it’s important for future generations to know about this topic? And I’m thinking through the thousands of lynchings, the Tulsa massacre, the red summer rosewood massacre, all of these lynchings. Why is that important to point to, tell the truth about, and to tell current and future generations?
Ligon Duncan: For one thing, I do remember studying some of these things in history, in high school, in college and elsewhere. They were usually code words that were used. Like race riots would be used. And that’s often a code word for a race massacre. There are all sorts of ways that these things have been papered over in the history that we have studied in our schools that keep it from coming home.
Now, I’ve often thought, if you had lynched four and a half thousand white people between the 1870s and the 1960s, we would have destroyed the world over that. We would have been dropping bombs everywhere. We would have just going ballistic on that. And yet, that’s a story of a large population of our fellow Americans. As a southerner, southerners, we live in history. As a southerner of Scottish descent, I was taught that Midsummer’s day, 1314 is the year that Robert the Bruce defeated the wicked English and expelled them from Scotland and gained Scottish independence. That’s 700 and something years ago, Justin. And I’m being rehearsed this as a young southerner that I’m supposed to remember and have in my bloodstream. Well, good grief, if that’s the case, shouldn’t I care about these things that have happened to my fellow citizens, many of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s their history and so it’s my history too.
It’s an amazing perseverance that my black American friends have endured. All of us ought to care about that, that’s our story. And look, on this call, we’re all Calvinists. Now of all the peoples on the free earth, Calvinists ought to know that we are totally depraved and we should not be surprised when people act totally depraved in societies and governments and cultures. And we shouldn’t have some sort of a Disney-fied view of history that everything is all sweet and nice and wonderful. No, there’re awful, horrible things that have happened. And that’s part of the truth too.
So part of telling the truth is coping with those awful horrible things, and owning them. Because oftentimes, you’ll know this even at the level of personal counseling, Justin, until you can face the reality, sometimes you get trapped in it and you can’t move on. I really think that has socially happened almost at a pathological level for large parts of our culture. We’re trapped in a myth and we can’t move on. We got stuck in history because we can’t face up to it. I want to know those things because that’s an experience of a large portion of our fellow citizens, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And that makes it our history collectively as Americans, that’s all of our history.
But it’s also a special experience of American history and life and government and culture that most people that look like me have never experienced. There was never anything like that aimed at people that look like me at any time in the 400 year history of this country and culture. So, that’s just super important for us to pay attention to.
Justin Holcomb: And you mentioned just the pastoral, just as a side note, there is real power in what you called it naming, naming it, acknowledging and just pastoral care, or in Luther’s term as his reflection on the Heidelberg was calling a thing what it is. That phrase is used theologically, but naming and acknowledging, because then you’re actually, you’re not denying it, you’re not minimizing it, you’re not dismissing it. There’s a power and there’s a power in doing that historically. It was powerful hearing you just talk about, crying thinking about like, this is our history. This is my brother and sister in Christ. And you feel it a lot more, the 4743 people who were lynched, that’s a different story when it’s our history.
Ligon Duncan: Yes, amen.
Jim Davis: It’s so important because I grew up in Orlando, I’m third generation Orlando, which means my people were here before there was a good reason to be here. And if you ask most people from Orlando what’s the biggest massacre in your community’s history, I think everybody would say Pulse, the Pulse shooting. It was a horrible tragic shooting but it’s not actually the biggest one, the Ocoee Massacre, one of these massacres probably was larger than Pulse. But I didn’t even know that that was a thing until very recently. So I appreciate that you said that.
Ligon Duncan: That’s part of my experience, too, Jim. I just didn’t realize these things. There’s been a little controversy going, it’s been bubbling for a few years in South Carolina over the name of the largest, oldest building, not the largest, but the oldest building on the Clemson University campus, the Ben Tillman Hall. And the controversy has been because Tillman was a notorious racist, he was the governor of South Carolina. The reason his name is on the hall is his son was on the board of trustees and wanted his father honored for the role that he had played in having a land grant institution established. But Tillman was involved in one of the worst race massacres in the history of the state of South Carolina. And today, he would be in prison or going to the electric chair for doing the things that he had done.
All of us ought to care about that. It’s not about we’re good and everybody else in the past is bad, or we’re trying to make bad guys of all the heroes. It’s just owning up to the realities that went on. It’s very interesting, and reading the works of Francis Grimke. Grimke talks about Tillman all the time because he ended up being a US senator. And Grimke just takes him down. In his writings. I had known a little bit about I mean, his nickname in South Carolina is Pitchfork Ben Tillman. And in the upstate, he’s mostly known as being an anti Columbia, Columbia is our state capitol, an anti Columbia, pro upstate politician. But he did awful things and was involved in things like you’ve just described. And it’s important for us to know that and care about that.
Jim Davis: Well, one thing I’d like to ask you to drill down on a little bit. We’ve already kind of touched it in the periphery.Wwe know that many tactics were employed to keep people of color not just without power but in one area of town. So how was that done and how did the cloistering of black people into ghettos affect generations of accumulated wealth for blacks versus whites?
Ligon Duncan: There are different names that have been given to that. One name that comes into play in the 20th century is redlining. And there would be literally places in town where black people would not be sold to. And so, there were only certain parts of the town that they could go to. And that clustering also led to the creation of what become the ghettos. And by the way, that’s a thing not just in the southern United States, that’s a thing in the northern United States.
One of the books that I was trying to reach down and grab is called Sweet Land of Liberty. It’s basically the forgotten history of the story of the Northern civil rights struggle. These realities are not just Southern realities, they’re, again, just like we were saying, in the last show, that they’re continually realities in every part of the United States, north, south, east, and west. Not only to black people lack the capital that most of the dominant culture has at its disposal, but they’re trapped in not being able to buy in the best parts of the city where they’re going to hold, instead of their investment depreciating, it’s going to appreciate.
Those sorts of things have a generational effect. Property, especially. There are a few things that are more important in terms of building wealth, in terms of property and being able to hand it on. And when you don’t have access to decent areas and you’re kept in the worst parts, it puts you at a disadvantage that can’t be overcome in any other way.
Jim Davis: It’s funny you say that. When we bought our very first house in Starkville, Mississippi, walking distance from downtown, we had this deed that was given to us that said, the kind of the neighborhood covenants, and I could only have one cow. If I had a tractor, I’d have to park it over here. And the house could never be sold to a black person. And I remember thinking, I can’t sign this. The realtors were like, there’s nothing to sign. But my neighborhood and I think that’s deed-based restrictions, I think that’s the term.
Ligon Duncan: That continued even after all of the laws that were passed in the 1990s to try and redress those kinds of situation. For instance, I remember as my wife and I were looking for our first home. We had a realtor that knew northeast Jackson very well. And we would look at a particular area, and she was not allowed to say that’s a mixed race neighborhood because of the new regulations that had been passed trying to deal with these. But realtors had code words. So she said, “No, you don’t want to look there, that neighborhood has lost its luster.” And so, she had not violated the law that had been passed that told them that they couldn’t do things like that, but she had sent us a cue. You don’t want to look there because that’s a mixed race neighborhood or black people live in that neighborhood.
Those are just continuing realities that are artifacts of things that were actually written into law and to code in earlier times.
Justin Holcomb: We’re turning the corner to the finish line. So I have one last question, and then Jim will finish things off with, I think he has another question or two. I’m asking you for advice. Imagine a conversation where someone says something like this, and I would like your response. Why do you keep on bringing up slavery, Jim Crow laws? All that stuff is a distant history to us, so why do you keep bringing this up? Now you gave a hint of it when you started talking about lynching and is in our history, but kind of the larger story of why talk about reconstruction and redlining and Jim Crow laws, slavery by another name. Why talk about all this if it’s such a distant history? There seems to be behind that kind of question the type of suspicion of why would you tell that story. So as a historian, how do you respond to that?
Ligon Duncan: Here’s the way I talk to southerners, Justin. To other southerners, I say, look, we’ve been taught never to forget. We’ve been taught always to remember. Why do we suddenly want to develop amnesia in this other area? We want to never forget that our ancestor was in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, but we do want to forget that 35 years ago, this guy couldn’t get a job because he was black. And you don’t think that impacted his family? I can tell you family stories about how we don’t like parts of the family because of what they did in 1873. But we don’t care about what happened to a person in 1934, or 1954, or 1964, or 1972.
That history is a lot closer than people realize. You’ll get a kick out of this. In 1999, after I had been the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson for three years, I did the funeral of a daughter of a confederate veteran. Now, you’re saying the math doesn’t add up, hold on, listen to me. He was 16 years old when he fought in the Civil War. He married, outlived his first wife, remarried, outlived his second wife. And in the 1890s. He married again, a third wife, he was 30 years older than she was. And in the year 1900, they had a daughter. So, he had fought in the Confederate Army and his daughter was 99 years old in the year 1999, and I did her funeral.
So, the Civil War is closer than a lot of people realize to us. Still, white Southerners are told remember that, remember that because that’s really important. Why wouldn’t we want to remember these other things? That’s one thing that I would say, Justin.
The other thing is, this has immediate today affects in ways that I think because most white people have not been affected by this, we don’t realize. So, I’ll give you an example. One of my professors, Dr. Carl Ellis, is a provost professor of theology, he teaches mostly in Atlanta but he teaches at Jackson and DC and all over the place. Dr. Ellis’s dad was one of the Tuskegee Airmen. And when he came back after the war, his dream was to be a commercial pilot. Guess what he couldn’t be because he was black? He could not be a commercial pilot.
Now, do you think that that economically impacted Carl Ellis and his family that his dad could not be a commercial, you better believe it dramatically impacted his family that he could not be a commercial pilot. Well, Carl Carl Ellis is my friend. So what happened in the 1940s after Carl Ellis’s dad fought for our country, risked his life for our way of life and for freedom here and around the world, and then came back and could not be a commercial pilot, that has an impact today. All of us ought to care about that. All of us ought to care about that, and especially about fellow Christians.
I think those are the two ways, Justin, that I would start that kind of conversation with a fellow southerner who’s may be skeptical about this.
Jim Davis: Well, Dr. Carl Ellis is going to tell that story on this podcast. So I’m glad you could give that cross promotion there. My last question for you. You started out talking about the flag and you were involved and influential I would say in the process of changing the flag this year. Can you speak to your thoughts and what drives you to be a part of that process in the great state of Mississippi?
Ligon Duncan: Again, a lot of it, Jim, is just realizing the huge lost gospel opportunity that has been this long, sad story of Jim Crow and lynching and anti civil rights and all the other stuff. Can you imagine the gospel impact if Bible believing Protestants, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, had said of their Bible believing Christian Brothers and sisters in Baptist churches and elsewhere, you’re not going to kill our brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re not going to defraud our brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re not going to wrongfully imprison our brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re not going to mistreat our brothers and sisters. Can you imagine the gospel impact of that?
It’s going to take us 100 years to overcome the trust issues that have come out of that. I tell people, my very best black friends have trouble trusting me for really good reasons, because people like me have been doing awful things to them and to their families for four centuries. It’s going to take a while before the trust issues that exist between otherwise good friends in Christ, are going to be addressed. We’ve got generational issues here.
So, for me, being able to work on the flag was just one small symbolic thing, one little thing that we could do, and by the way, it was a wonderful unifying thing. It brought together people from really, really different backgrounds and political persuasions in the state. It was amazing to watch that process. It kind of took everybody to get it done. It was one way that as a Christian, I could help say, we want everyone in this state to know that you’re our neighbor and we want to love our neighbors. And you’re in the image of God, and we want you to be treated with dignity. And this state belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. This is your state.
I saw wonderful things happen in that process, Jim. And I had a very, very small role. There have been people that have been working on this for 50 years. Black legislators like Hillman Frazier and others, they’ve been working on this for years and years and years. I’m a Johnny come lately to this. I had been talking for five or six years with a group of guys about what we could do to get this change. And we thought we might be able to get it changed after the killings in Charleston, South Carolina. There was a little bit of political energy here in Mississippi when South Carolina took the Confederate battle flag off the State Capitol grounds that maybe we could get it done then. That failed. Right when I came to Mississippi, there was a flag referendum and it failed.
Several things coalesced and this was the time. It was a privilege to be involved in that. I think we’re going to end up with a good unifying symbol for the state that everybody’s going to feel much, much better about as signifying our way forward in the state of Mississippi.
Jim Davis: Well, Dr. Ligon Duncan, it always amazes me what you can just pull out out of the top of your head. I’m thankful for your time, I consider it a privilege to call you a friend. You make me proud to be an RTS alum. We’re thankful for your voice, thankful for your time, and certainly praying for you and your ministry.
Ligon Duncan: Thank you so much, Jim and Justin. It’s been great to talk with you about these things. Thanks for doing this series and I hope it’s a real blessing to the folks that listen.