Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I first began to come across writings of a mysterious S.R. Cassius in the late 1990s when doing research on a term paper at Harding Graduate School. I was caught off guard by this man's bold and even daring pen. I began amassing a file on him and then discovered later my friend Edward Robinson, now at ACU, was doing a dissertation on him. Robinson has since published two volumes on Cassius: To Save My Race From Abuse: The Life of Samuel Robert Cassius and To Lift up My Race: The Essential Writings of Samuel Robert Cassius. I had most of the writings in the collection except the exceedingly rare Third Birth of a Nation ...
One hundred years ago the only voice agitating the "race issue" among Churches of Christ was Samuel Robert Cassius (1853-1931). Called the "Booker T. Washington of Oklahoma" by Fred Rowe , Cassius was really a mixture of Washington, Frederick Douglass and the radicalism of W.E.B. DuBois. Cassius was born a slave, became "contraband" in Washington D.C., learned how to read, and met five Presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield. He named one of his sons for his hero: Lincoln (Amos Lincoln Cassius was a well know evangelist among Black Churches of Christ in the 20th century). He began the Tohee Industrial School in 1899, modeled after Washington's Tuskeegee Institute, as the first school for African-Americans in Churches of Christ.
While many thought the Instrument, the Society, or the "Woman" question was the major hurdle of the church at the edge of the century. Not so with Cassius. He declared in bold language that it was the "race issue." He wrote passionately in any journal that dared to print his articles. The Christian Leader, published out of Ohio, was open to his contributions. He said, "the race problem is the paramount issue of the day and only the church can settle it" 
Cassius wrote bitterly about ruthless lynchings taking place every year -- many by so called "Christians." He was an outspoken critic of the doctrine that the black race was inferior to the white race. But Cassius was denied pulpits to preach and journals in which to write. Yet, he refused to be defeated. He believed the bottom line was anti-Christian race hatred plagued the brotherhood despite our claims to have restored NT Christianity. The problem was one of
"full of race prejudice and hatred, inbred by three hundred years of schooling of a purely one-sided nature . . . I may arouse passions that will cause my people to be hung, shot and burned under every tree in the South, or I may start a wave of sympathy that will roll over the land which will make such common things impossible for these to occur again."
I find it unnerving that Cassius mentions the possibility of violence against blacks for his views being published in a brotherhood paper. Later Cassius responds explicitly to the superiority question:
"If there is superiority in race give us an example of it by being better morally, physically and intellectually; and if God loves whites more than us, prove it by loving Him more and doing His will better than any other. Then and not until then will I concede that you are better than I am" 
The majority, however, followed the prevailing winds of the time: blacks have no souls, that they are decedents of Cain or that they have the so-called "Curse of Ham."
J.D. Tant summed up the views of the majority. Tant had taken an evangelistic tour of Kansas in 1898 and reported his adventure in the Gospel Advocate. He writes of his sheer amazement of how well blacks were treated in that state.
"Negro equality runs high here. Negroes ride in the same coach, go to the same school, eat at the same table with white people, and sometimes sleep in the beds of their white neighbors; all of which I am glad to say, is NOT tolerated in 'heathen' Texas." 
But America, nor the Church, was transforming into a place of equality among the races. Novels like The Clansman and the film The Birth of a Nation deeply trouble Cassius. So by 1920 Cassius had embraced a separatism between the races. Thus in his Third Birth of A Nation, a response to the film, he does not back down an iota from but argues that blacks could only ever experience freedom and equality if they were separate whites.
Cassius addressed many concerns besides race though. He even weighed in on the "rebaptism" issue. He writes ...
"I take this stand that if a person has heard the gospel preached and has believed it, and has obeyed the command and been baptized, simply because they get into the wrong crowd when they start out in the new life is no reason that they should be baptized again ... we should not make rebaptism a test of fellowship but should gladly accept them in the name of the Lord" 
I added this portion after the initial post of this piece. I wanted to say something of Cassius opinion of David Lipscomb.
When David Lipscomb died in 1917, Cassius eulogized Lipscomb giving us valuable insight into how this man was viewed by African American Christians. He writes,
"I never saw Brother Lipscomb but once; but he knew me and tried to draw from me the possibility of a writer, but I failed so completely ... It was perhaps that failure to make good on that book, 'The Negro a Beast,' that awoke in me a desire to be ready at all times to give a reasonable reason for any thought on those things that affected me, my race, or my religion ... [Lipscomb] regarded the negro as a man, and a negro Christian as a brother ... In his death the colored disciples have lost one of their best friends." 
It is unfortunate that Cassius is practically unknown in our collective memories. He was a fascinating individual and his story deserves to be recalled. There are lessons to be learned from this father in our family photo album. What are we blind to simply because it has "always been so?"
quoted in Cassius, "The Tohee Industrial School" Christian Leader 13 (15 August, 1899), 13.
 Cassius, "The Race Problem," Christian Leader (10 March 1903), 9.
 Cassius, "The Race Problem" Christian Leader (1 October 1901), 12.
 Cassius, "A Trip to the Golden State," Christian Leader (19 August 1902), 5.
 J. D. Tant, "In Kansas," Gospel Advocate (5 February 1898), 71.
 Cassius, "Among the Colored Disciples," Christian Leader 28 (6 October 1914), 13
 Cassius, "A Colored Brother's Tribute," Gospel Advocate 59 (6 December 1917), 1189.