Clergy in Alabama Meet to Examine Racism

Twenty-five white clergy from across Alabama will convene in Birmingham this month to examine and discuss the issue of racism in America. The conference, “Reframing the Dialogue on Racism,” hosted by UAB (the University of Alabama at Birmingham), will be held January 12-14 at the UAB Continuing Education Center, 1919 University Boulevard.

January 7, 2000

BIRMINGHAM, AL — Twenty-five white clergy from across Alabama will convene in Birmingham this month to examine and discuss the issue of racism in America. The conference, “Reframing the Dialogue on Racism,” hosted by UAB (the University of Alabama at Birmingham), will be held January 12-14 at the UAB Continuing Education Center, 1919 University Boulevard.

The religious leaders were invited to attend the conference by members of a steering committee made up of Alabama ministers who helped plan the event. Organizers say the Birmingham event is the second in a series of conferences that will be held in other regions of the United States. The goal is to recruit, train and support 100 white clergy to develop ministries that effectively address the issue of racism. The pilot conference on “Reframing the Dialogue” was held in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1997.

“We targeted white clergy because we wanted to begin examining the internal manifestations of racism,” says the Rev. Samuel E. Mann, pastor of St. Mark Church in Kansas City, Mo. Mann co-founded the conference series. “Our focus is to deal with the sin of racism within the white church. For many whites, the solution to racism has been integration, multiculturalism and diversity. But it’s one thing to sit down at the table together. It’s another thing to root it [racism] out of your heart.”

The idea for the conference came from Mann and the late Rev. Mac Charles Jones through their involvement with the Burned Churches Project of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. The two men believed that people had to go beyond rebuilding black churches to deal with the atmosphere that led to the burnings, says Mann.

The Birmingham conference is designed to bring together scholars, racial justice activists and white religious clergy to discuss the question of integration as a sole response to racism and the need to continue rethinking American history to include accurate portraits of American ethnicity, gender and power. Conference participants will attend plenary and break-out sessions and tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“It is most fitting for this event to occur in Birmingham,” says Tennant McWilliams, Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and one of the coordinators for the event, “not just because of Birmingham’s past with regard to race relations, but more importantly, because of the contemporary presence of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Cities like Boston and Williamsburg, Virginia, are often the settings for serious thought about the American Revolution, and for obvious reasons. In the same way, Birmingham increasingly has a role to play on the national and international scenes as a place for serious thought about race and human relations.”

McWilliams will kickoff the event with a presentation on “Deconstruction,” where he will discuss the need to deconstruct myths of the past to reconstruct a more realistic view of history. Also, Robert Corley, Ph.D., director of the UAB Center for Urban Affairs, and an expert on race relations and conflict resolution, will give a presentation on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The other presentations include “The Reframing of the Dialogue,” “Rewriting American History,” “U.S. Icons: Symbols of Diversity or Fear?” and “Reparations: Necessary for Reconciliation?”

MEDIA: For more information, contact: Tennant McWilliams, Ph.D., dean, UAB School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, (205) 934-5643; Robert Corley, Ph.D., director, UAB Center for Urban Affairs, (205) 934-3500.

FYI: We are UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Please use our full name on first reference and UAB thereafter.