The congregation I serve is named after the third President of the United States -- Thomas Jefferson. We're located in Charlottesville, in the shadow of Monticello and literally up the road from the University of Virginia. The presence of "Mr. Jefferson" is still felt in places, so it makes sense that when our congregation was formed it would be named for him. He did, after all, write the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, was one of the so-called "Founding Fathers" of the nation, and was draftsman of the Declaration of Independence with its stirring words about liberty and freedom. (He also said some very nice things about Unitarianism, such that for a long time he was claimed as "one of our own." We now somewhat sheepishly acknowledge that he maintained membership in the local Episcopal church throughout his life.)
He also wrote other things, though. His Notes on the State of Virginia contains some deeply racist thoughts about "the Black race," which he considered fundamentally and irredeemably inferior. An argument could be -- has been -- made that he was just a person of his time, his thinking conditioned by the thinking of his day just as our is now. Yet Jefferson's views on the inherent differences he saw between Whites and Blacks was not universally held. Even in his day he could have thought differently.
The link I make between Cry the Beloved Country and the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson is that he, too, recognized the likelihood that the treatment endured by enslaved people at the hands of their enslavers would most likely lead to an explosion of violent rage. In explaining his position that freed Blacks should not be allowed to continue to live in Virginia he wrote:
"It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies when they leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."One hundred and forty-one years ago Jefferson predicted that "deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; [and] new provocations ..." could predictably lead to the development an unquenchable anger, hatred, that would no doubt end in violence. In those one hundred and forty-one years since those "ten thousand recollections" have not dimmed, and the "new provocations" have not ceased.
Do I think that our country's ongoing history of racism will end in "extermination"? I don't. I have too much hope and faith in the power of Love for that. But when folks like me who have been raised to think of ourselves as White wonder what all the anger is about ... Well ... I think we ask because we just don't want to look at the truth before our eyes.
Note: the image is a composite of a well-known portrait of Jefferson, with that of Isaac Granger Jefferson, one of the enslaved workers at Monticello.