It is the 7th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1892.
For the 400th anniversary of Columbus' maiden voyage, a Baptist minister by the name of Francis Bellamy composed a short pledge. It was designed to be used by members of any nation to swear allegiance. The short pledge was published in "The Youth's Companion" for the Chicago World's Fair and Columbian Exhibition of that year. Of course, this pledge of allegiance to a flag was changed in 1923 to be specifically a pledge to the American flag. Initially, the pledge began with the crowd saying "to the flag" in unison while raising their right arms in salute. You can imagine how quickly that went away in the 1930s with the rise of Hitler and his Nazi pals.
In 1943 the first of a few Supreme Court decisions ruled that students could not be expelled from school for refusing to say the pledge. Today the court has given freedom of expression rights to anyone who chooses not to say it but has ruled that reciting the pledge does not constitute the establishment of any religion. The question of whether the pledge attempted to inculcate belief came only after 1954 when the phrase "one nation under God" was added as a finger poke in the eye of those godless Communists.
In 1892 the ideals of this pledge would be called into question when Homer Plessy was removed from a train car in Louisiana. The Separate Car Act of 1890 required that trains must have separate cars for white people and non-whites. Homer Plessy was 7/8ths Caucasian and was hired by a group that included rail owners themselves to challenge the law by being arrested. The rail companies did not like having to supply extra cars and thus helped fight the law themselves. The case arising from this event led to the supreme court case Plessy v. Ferguson. In it, a 7-1 majority ruled that the principle of "separate but equal" was consistent with the recently ratified 13th and 14th amendments. "Separate but equal" became the law of the land until the case Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka overturned it in 1954.
And it was in the context of a nation finding its footing post-Civil War that the country lost one of its geniuses on this the 7th of September in 1892. The Quaker, poet, abolitionist, and defender of the Christian faith, John Greenleaf Whittier, died.
Whittier was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1807. He was raised a Christian, but not a Quaker. He came to join the Society of Friends (as they were also known) because of their tolerant spirit and long opposition to slavery. Whittier is mostly known today for his poem "Snow-Bound." His poetry was popular enough that he ran in the circles of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His journalism and writing on behalf of abolitionism gained him the attention of William Lloyd Garrison. Whittier was one of the original writers for the Atlantic Magazine founded by Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
While Whittier found the worship and activism of the Quakers to be attractive, he made sure to distance himself theologically from some of the more radical Quakers. Despite Unitarianism being the theology du jour for the literary set in the 19th century, Whittier argued for the historical doctrines of both the two natures in Christ and the Trinity. His theology can be found in his collected writings and letters, and his poetry is laden with theological allusions.
In 1892 he published the poem "My Psalm." The ending reads:
And so the shadow falls apart,
And so the west winds play;
And all the windows of my heart
I open to the Day.
In the year he wrote this, on this day, the 7th of September, in 1892, John Greenleaf Whittier died. Born in 1807, he was 85 years old.
The reading for today comes from Whittier, this from his poem "My Namesake."
"Still Thy love, O Christ arisen.
Yearns to reach these souls in prison!
Through all depths of sin and loss
Drops the plummet of Thy cross!
Never yet abyss was found
Deeper than that cross could sound!"
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who only pledges for public radio drives and jogathons, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.