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Robert Durr: “Oh, Church Wake Up, For the Sake of Peace”

Durr Editorial
The Weekly Review

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?

To learn more about Black Americans' responses to World War II and Nazi Germany, see the related Experiencing History collection, Black Americans and World War II.

During World War II, the "Double V" campaign urged Black Americans to fight for a double victory—a victory for peace and democracy abroad and a victory for racial justice and equal rights at home. To learn more about such responses, see the related Experiencing History items, "Should I Sacrifice to Live 'Half-American?'" and "Can America Afford to Condemn Hitler for His Racial Policies?"

Like many Americans, Durr grew increasingly anticommunist during the years of the early Cold War. In June 1952, he would write that "Russian communism must be destroyed…It is a denial of God and His authority…Russian communism is the most deadly menace ever to threaten America and all humanity." Robert Durr, "Voice of the People: Russian Communism Must Be Destroyed," The Birmingham News, June 7, 1952, 4.

Durr often urged his readers to seek ways to better themselves in order to disprove racist beliefs and improve their lives. This approach and the slogan visible under the paper’s banner—"CLEAN-CONSERVATIVE-CONSTRUCTIVE!"—both reflect the widespread strategy of "respectability" that many Black Americans adopted as a response to racial discrimination. To learn more about so-called "respectability politics," see Kali N. Gross, "Examining the Politics of Respectability in African American Studies," Almanac 43, no. 28 (April 1, 1997); and Victoria W. Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

Although the featured editorial does not specifically address Nazi racial policies or the persecution or mass murder of European Jews, other articles published in The Weekly Review directly condemn Nazi racism and "the Nazi attempt to stir up suspicion and conflict between Negroes and Jews." Arthur B. Springarn, "Let's Stick Together," The Weekly Review, 30 January 1943, 3; and Gordon B. Hancock, "Between the Lines," The Weekly Review, 12 December 1942, 3.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a predominantly Black American Protestant denomination of Christianity. It grew out of the Methodist Episcopal Church (today called the United Methodist Church) in the late 18th century. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was the first independent Christian denomination in the United States founded by Black people.

Baháʼís believe that Jesus was one of several manifestations of God. It is unclear if Durr self-identified during this period of his life as Christian, Baháʼí, or both. He continued to reference Jesus in his writings and still regularly addressed Christian congregations. When Durr died in 1954, the Christian and Baháʼí faiths were both represented in his funeral services. To learn more about the Baháʼí Faith and Black Americans’ self-identities during the first half of the 20th century, see Guy Emerson Mount, "W.E.B. Du Bois and the Baha’i Faith," Black Perspectives (October 16, 2016).

The Baháʼí Faith attracted many Black Americans in the early 20th century because of the movement’s strong support for racial equality and social justice. To learn more about Black Americans and the Baháʼí Faith in the early 20th century, see Christopher Buck, "The Baha’i ‘Race Amity’ Movement and the Black Intelligentsia in Jim Crow America: Alain Locke and Robert S. Abbott,” Baha’i Studies Review 17, no. 1 (September 2012); and Louis Venters, No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina's Bahá'í Community (University Press of Florida, 2015).

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
The Weekly Review
Date Created
October 9, 1943
Page(s) 1, 5
Author / Creator
Robert Durr
Language(s)
English
Location
Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Document Type Newspaper Article
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