Am I from a Racist Family?
The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, introduced by Representative Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican from Saint Louis, Missouri, in the US House of Representatives in 1918, was directed at punishing lynchings and mob violence.
Lynchings were committed mostly by whites against blacks (88% of victims were black) in the South (59% of lynchings.) They first peaked in the years immediately following the Civil War, falling off sharply with the dissolution of the first Ku Klux Klan. They reached a second peak in the 1890s and continued at relatively high levels for two decades, in what is often called the nadir of American race relations, a period marked by disfranchisement of blacks and Jim Crow in the South, and discrimination against African Americans across the country. – Link – Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill
The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill had already passed the U.S. House, despite efforts by Southern U.S. Representatives. My great-grandfather, Bill Greene Lowrey was one of them! It seems that Bill Greene Lowrey (1862-1947) was too old to get caught up in World War I. He was probably the first and last of my ancestors NOT to join the military… Well, that’s OK, because he decided to get into something much dirtier… Politics!
Bill Green Lowrey was elected to Congress as a U.S. Representative from Mississippi in 1921. He was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-seventh and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1921 – March 3, 1929). Apparently one of his accomplishments was voting AGAINST the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill!
Although the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill passed in Congress, it was destined to fail in the U.S. Senate because of Southern U.S. Senators (Democrats). A poster issued by the District of Columbia Anti Lynching Committee North Eastern Federation of Colored Women’s Club lists all of U.S. Representatives who voted against the Dyer Anti Lynching bill. You will find my great-grandfather’s name, together with all the other U.S. Representatives from Mississippi. – See Poster
There is little doubt in my mind that the Lowrey family, being a typical white Baptist family from the South (meaning from the Southern states of the USA), were indeed a bunch of racists. However, it appears that none of the Lowrey’s who lived before the American Civil war had enough money to own slaves. I doubt if any of the African Americans who still carry the Lowrey name as their surname got it from my direct ancestors, however anything is possible.
At its peak in the mid-1920s, the the Klu Klux Klan organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population. It is reported that in the 1920’s, Klan membership exceeded 4 million people nationwide. – See Photo
In the early 1920’s, the KKK controlled many Congressmen, Senators, Governors and other people of authority. How many Lowrey’s belonged to the KKK? It seems likely that many of the Lowrey family men at the time were members of the Klu Klux Klan. I have never heard anyone in our family talk about this. I never brought up the subject with my father or grandfather so I honestly don’t really know.
When my brothers and I were still very young, my father took us to enjoy many of the Lowrey Family Reunions. They used to organize these very popular family events next to a beautiful lake in Mississippi. I remember our family used to stay at the ‘Holiday Inn’ close to the Mississippi river. The Holiday Inn was actually a very popular hotel back in the 1960’s. I remember all of the cooks, maids and helpers at the reunion were African Americans. Of course nobody called them that back then – they were all “colored” folk. All I remember about them is that they were a happy group of people who were always laughing or joking about something. They did all the cooking, cleaning and such, but it didn’t damper their spirits! The food was fantastic!
I know my grandparents didn’t like black people. I can remember my grandmother’s comment when she heard that my older brother Gray was going to get married to a “special” woman: “Well, we certainly hope she isn’t a colored girl!”
I remember that when my father was stationed in Macon, Georgia in the early 1960’s our maid was an African American woman. But to be honest, if you wanted a maid in the 1960’s in the state of Georgia, I don’t know who else you would have hired? So I really don’t know if this reflects any racism on my parents views at the time.
I can honestly say that I never heard my mother or father cursing black people or using racist terms while growing up. So while our family may have some racist history, I am not sure how far that continued into our direct family history.
Both my father and my grandfather graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. The Naval Academy was clearly a racist institution during their days: Wesley A. Brown was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He attended there after my grandfather but 6 years before my father:
First black man to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD
Mr. Brown, who entered the academy in 1945 and graduated in 1949, was the sixth black man admitted in the 100-year history of the Annapolis military college but the first to withstand the kind of hazing that had forced the others to leave within a year, according to Navy historians.
White midshipmen refused to sit next to Mr. Brown, racial epithets were whispered behind his back, and fellow plebes barred him from joining the choir — all of it mixed with and hidden behind a torrent of regular hazing that underclassmen were expected to bear. He told interviewers that not a day passed when he did not consider quitting.
But unlike his predecessors, he said, Mr. Brown had the support of a handful of fellow midshipmen, who were friendly to him despite receiving threats from hostile classmates, and from the academy commandant, who intervened to protect him from excessive harassment. “If not for that, I’m not sure I would have made it,” Mr. Brown told an interviewer. One midshipman who visited his dorm room to talk and encouraged him to “hang in there,” Mr. Brown said, was Jimmy Carter, the future president, who was then an upperclassman and fellow member of the academy’s cross-country team.
Blacks had served in the American armed forces since the Revolution. But for the most part they remained in segregated units until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman ordered the integration of the services. Attempts to integrate the academies, beginning after the Civil War, had met intense resistance. Only a half-dozen blacks had graduated from West Point, for instance, by the time Mr. Brown decided to seek a commission as the first black graduate of the naval academy.
Throughout his life Mr. Brown loyally attended class reunions. In a 2006 interview with The Baltimore Sun, he described former classmates who sometimes approached him. “They’ll say, ‘I was very mean and ugly to you when you were a midshipman,’ ” he said. “Lots of times I’ll say, ‘I don’t remember you and don’t remember you doing anything like that, so forget it.’ ” – See Article
While growing up we moved every year or two as my father was stationed at one military base or another. But I don’t remember having any bad experiences with black people in my whole childhood. After my father died, my mother moved us all to New Mexico. I was in 6th grade at the time. There wasn’t a single black kid in my elementary school. There weren’t very many black people in New Mexico. I know I certainly had my share of problems with “Mexicans” (Hispanic is the “politically” correct term today, but I can guarantee you that nobody called them Hispanic back in those days).
I was a “biker” before embracing Islam in 1988. There were no black bikers in my day. I know that I certainly had some racist tendencies when I was trying to act the part of a real “biker”. I used to use the “N” word sometimes when I was around other bikers… However, I can honestly say that I wasn’t much of a racist before I became a Muslim. I might have ran my mouth off sometimes, especially in front of other bikers. But to be honest, there was never any real hatred in my heart towards black people, or anyone else for that matter.
After becoming a Muslim, I read many things concerning racism.
Abu Dharr and Bilal, the Abyssinian, both of whom were among the earliest Muslims, once quarreled and insulted each other. Carried away by his anger, Abu Dharr said to Bilal, “You son of a black woman!” Bilal complained about this to the Prophet (salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam), who turned to Abu Dharr, saying, “Are you taunting him about his mother? There is still some influence of jahiliyyah (ignorance) in you!” Hadeeth: Saheeh Bukhari
Abu Dharr narrated that the Prophet (salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam) said to him, “Look! You are no better than a white or black man unless you excel in the fear of Allah.” Hadeeth: Saheeh Bukhari
The Prophet (salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam) also said, “You are all children of Adam, and Adam was created of dust.” Hadeeth: Ahmed
After someone embraces Islam, they usually have some hurdles to jump over concerning emotional or cultural “baggage” from their past lives. My biggest hurdles were with my beliefs concerning Jesus Christ, not with any racist views. I readily accepted the fact that God Almighty (Allah, Subhanahu wa ta’ala) does not look at what color we are in determining our worth.
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam) as saying: “Verily Allah does not look to your faces and your wealth but He looks to your heart and to your deeds.” Hadeeth: Saheeh Muslim
There is a silly saying about racism: “I’m not a racist, some of my best friends are black people”. Sounds like something Archie Bunker would say… Well the funny thing is that almost all of my closest friends really are black people.
My first real African American friend was brother Nasirudeen. I first met him at Jumah (Friday) prayer at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He called the Adhan (the Muslim Call to Prayer) at every Jumah prayer in Albuquerque. He had a beautiful voice masha’Allah. We naturally gravitated towards each other. Our Muslim community Albuquerque is what is known as an “immigrant” community. It was made up of mostly immigrants from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, etc. etc. Nasirudeen and myself were the only American converts to Islam in the community who came to the mosque on a regular basis. You have to understand that Americans who grow up in the United States have certain common values and understandings of things, regardless of their color. You know, like having things “organized” (something that I later found out is generally missing from Muslim nations of the world…). So it is not that hard to understand how Nasirudeen, an African American who embraced Islam in Harlem way back in 1960’s, became a good friend with an ex-biker who newly embraced Islam in the 1980’s. When we met together, we couldn’t find a single thing that we didn’t agree upon! Especially when it came to the “unwise” way we felt our “immigrant” brothers were running the Mosque. When I later made Hijra from the USA to the Muslim world, Nasirudeen is one of the few brothers who I used to correspond with by letters. I lost contact with him over the years, before the “internet” became part of our lives. I am afraid he has already passed away, as he was much older than I. I ask Allah the Most High to Bless him, to honor him for all the beautiful Adhans that we enjoyed from him, to widen his grave and make easy his wait until the Day of Judgment, to rise him up together with the Prophets and the Martyr’s on the Day of Judgment, to have Mercy on him, to Forgive his sins, and to enter him into the highest part of the Jannah (Heaven). amin.
I can not and will not list the names of all of my African American brothers in Islam who are very close to me. First of all they are too numerous to list, and I would undoubtedly forget to mention someone. Secondly, some of them might not appreciate me listing their names in this book. I will definitely be writing about so many close friends in my life story as there is no way to leave out people who have had a great influence in my life.
I will, however, mention a few more stories here that relate to the subject (racism)…
Muhammad Ali (no, not Muhammad Ali Clay, the famous boxer) was a new African American brother who started attending the Islamic Center of New Mexico about a year or two after I became Muslim (maybe 1990). We immediately hit it off. He was ex-military and was working in security. We used to go target practicing together and we both loved firearms. (You have to remember that back in those days, this was no problem. If Muslims today go target practicing like we did, they will put them in jail for “training for a foreign jihad”) Muhammad Ali stayed with his “live-in” girlfriend at the time. I used to come down on him pretty hard when I saw him praying at the mosque. One day I said to him: “Muhammad Ali, do you think that all these prayers are doing you any good, when you go home and make adultery/fornication every night? Do you think that you are fooling Allah? Because you certainly aren’t fooling me!” Well, my words seemed to have a negative effect, because suddenly he wasn’t praying with us in the mosque anymore. All of the brothers in the community blamed me for being too hard on him… “You chased him away from Islam, brother…”. Well, about two months later, Muhammad Ali showed up on Jumah prayer with his live-in girlfriend in-tow. She embraced Islam and they were married in our mosque. The funny part of that story is that she became the religious one in the family. She started wearing hijab and following Islam in all parts of her life. If I am not mistaken, she is still an outstanding member of the Albuquerque Muslim community until this day. I heard that Muhammad Ali left her and New Mexico, long ago…
Muhammad Ali is the first black American Muslim who I found was involved in a racist group. This was my first, but certainly not my last, experience with “reverse racism”. I found him listening to some lectures on cassette tape by some joker who was cursing white people. Calling them “devils” and claiming that they would all go to Hell on the Day of Judgment. I remember the guy even using verses of the QUR’AN to support his views: “The Day the Horn will be blown. And We will gather the criminals, that Day, blue-eyed.” Qur’an: 20:102 He said that this was evidence that the “white man” would go to Hell.
I wondered how this joker explained this verse: “On the Day (i.e. the Day of Resurrection) when some faces will become white and some faces will become black; as for those whose faces will become black (to them will be said): “Did you reject Faith after accepting it? Then taste the torment (in Hell) for rejecting Faith.” Qur’an: 3:106
Then I wondered how Muhammad Ali could be a close friend of mine? If he believed this nonsense, was he really my friend? Maybe I was the first white man that he was ever friends with! It is amazing how Islam brings people together.
You have to remember that I was very naive about the state of Muslims in the world at the time I embraced Islam (1988). I didn’t know that white Americans who embraced Islam often fell into Sufi groups. Black Americans who embraced Islam often fell into different racist groups who hated white people. I didn’t even know about the Nation of Islam or Elijah Muhammad. I had a lot to learn about what was going on in the world.
When I first moved to Saudi Arabia in 1993, I attended Hajj again in Makkah. (I made Hajj the first time from America in July, 1990) I ended up staying in Mina next to a group of African American Muslims attending from a famous mosque in New York. I met a very muscular brother who was not very amicable. His arms were about 3 times the size of mine, masha’Allah! From his rough demeanor and “prison muscles”, I thought it likely that he was an ex-con. There is no where in the world today where racism is a more serious issue than in the American prison system. I am not an ex-con, by the grace of Allah! (meaning that it’s amazing I didn’t end up doing serious time in jail, the way that I was before Islam…) I did however know some ex-cons from my biker days. He might have been a correctional officer, as I heard many Muslims held those positions on the East coast… Anyway, the brother’s tough attitude didn’t stop me from greeting and talking to him every day. I never forgot what he told me on the last day of Hajj: “Brother Omar, I just wanted to tell you that you are the first white man who I ever felt was my brother!” He was dead serious and I could see it was a life changing realization for him.
That reminds me of another African American’s story of Hajj:
When he was in Makkah, Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X’) wrote a letter to his loyal assistants in Harlem… from his heart:
“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
“I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka’ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat.”
“There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.”
“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white – but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.”
“You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”
“During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”
“We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.”
“I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their ‘differences’ in color.”
“With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster – the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.”
“Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth – the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.”
“Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors – honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King – not a Negro.”
“All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds”
Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) – See Source
At the end of this section I just want to say that it is hard to be proud of your family history when you know they were a bunch of racists. Honestly Muslims should not be proud of anything in this life. We cannot be proud of our color or race, we cannot be proud of our nationality, we cannot be proud of our family ancestry, we cannot be proud of our wealth or of our careers, we cannot be proud of our wives or of our children or of any of the things that Allah has Blessed us with in this life. Did we make a deal with Allah to born into a White, Black or Arab family? Do we have an accord with Allah to be born into a Muslim family or a non Muslim family? Do we have any agreement with Allah to be blessed with any of the things that we have been blessed with? NO. Allah could have put us in any family, of any color and of any status in this world. The simple fact is that the only thing that we can be proud of in this life is that Allah has chosen us over all creation to be Muslims. May Allah, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, make us of those who live on Islam and die as Muslims, amin.
“Narrated Uqbah Bin Aamir: The Messenger of Allah (salla Allaahu ‘alayhi wa salaam) said: These lineages of yours do not make you superior to anyone. You are all sons of Adam. No one has superiority over another except in piety and consciousness. It is sufficient shame for one to be foul, evil, or stingy.” Hadeeth: Declared Saheeh By Sheikh Albani