In the 1930s and 1940s, many Black Americans’ responses to the Nazi regime and World War II were shaped by their religious beliefs and their own experiences with racism in the United States.1 Many Black Americans questioned whether the United States had the moral authority to condemn Nazi racial policies when they still faced so much racial discrimination and violence at home.2 Some Black American Christians believed that defeating Nazi Germany was not enough—they declared that people everywhere had to face their own sins and embrace the teachings of Jesus in order to establish a peaceful and just postwar world.
The featured editorial—published in a Black newspaper from Birmingham, Alabama called The Weekly Review—suggests that the "suffering and cleansing ordeals" of World War II were the "inevitable results of our sins." Appearing on October 9, 1943, this article by editor Robert Durr warns that society must "cleanse ourselves from the selfish materialism that brought about this crisis and this ordeal." Durr’s editorial condemns Nazism and fascism as well as communism, and he suggests that the world must heed the teachings of Jesus instead.3 Durr argues that "Hitler…is a symptom—not the disease. He is the bad boil that has come out on the body of humanity, a boil that tells us that infection is in the rest of the body, in us."4
This was not the only time that The Weekly Review framed the war against Nazi Germany with religious and medical analogies. In 1942, the paper had published an editorial by Gordon B. Hancock, a Black Baptist pastor in Virginia. Hancock wrote that the United States "must either practice Christianity and democracy among all elements of our population or we shall lose irretrievably our opportunity to assume the moral leadership of the world." He urged readers to think of the war against Nazi Germany as "a major surgical operation. If Hitlerism is to be cut out of the body of mankind, then we may as well do a little exploring and take our race prejudice also."5
The Weekly Review was not affiliated with any one religious group, although Durr had served as the pastor of a local African Methodist Episcopal church for several years.6 Durr often invoked God in his writings about racial injustices and other issues. The Weekly Review regularly reported news about different Black churches, and it published many articles that used Christian teachings to frame events. Later in his life, Durr also became involved with the Baháʼí Faith—a religious movement founded in the 19th century that accepted the prophets of several different religions as manifestations of the same God.7 In the 1940s, The Weekly Review started to add some editorials with Baháʼí perspectives. As the featured piece shows, Durr considered Christian and Baháʼí teachings to be in harmony with one another—particularly on the issue of racial equality.8
Durr’s editorial argues that it was not enough to defeat Nazi Germany—the whole world must go through a spiritual renewal. How are Durr’s religious beliefs and his commitment to racial justice reflected in his opinions about Nazi Germany and World War II? In what ways might his editorial be seen to reflect—or differ from—the perspectives of other Black Americans at the time?