An African-American Baptist leader joined NFL players across the country in a symbolic “kneel-in” Sunday, Sept. 11, to show solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose refusal to stand during the national anthem at a preseason NFL game sparked a national debate over police brutality and patriotism in the United States.
Wearing a replica of Kaepernick’s No. 7 football jersey, Pastor Amos C. Brown invited worshippers at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco to join him as he knelt on the platform while singing The Star Spangled Banner. The congregation followed with a rendition of the “black national anthem,” James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.
“We are going to stand with this young man all the way,” said Brown, a board member of the NAACP. “Why? Because he has pricked our conscience, and he has gotten something together that is not just talk.”
Prior to Sunday Brown encouraged churches across the country to participate in the “kneel in” in his capacity as chairman of the Civil Rights and Political Action Commission of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
“The convention supports Kaepernick for his refusal to stand for injustice in this nation,” Brown said in a newspaper column Sept. 10. “His call comes at a critical time, with the presidential election just two months away. Moreover, with Republican nominee Donald Trump flirting with the White House, it is important now more than ever to remind voters of the GOP’s continued suppression of African-American voting rights.”
On Sunday several NFL players joined Kaepernick’s protest of injustice toward African Americans by taking a knee during the national anthem, locking arms in solidarity and raising clenched fists reminiscent of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they stood on the podium following their 200m final at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
Pastor Brown said before the controversy many people singing the national anthem were unaware of a seldom-sung third stanza with “clear and dark lines which condone slavery and remind us all that slaves found no refuge from the Colonial War of 1812.”
Brown said Christians ought to “question” and “have dialogue” with words in the national anthem, as well as other questions like: “Why is it that America fails to be fair and just and loving to the sons and daughters of Africa? Why do we put down women? Why do we make negative statements about people who are gay?”
“We ought to raise that question and get the answer in the context of the Christian gospel,” the pastor said.
Brown, who was mentored as a boy by Medgar Evers and one of eight students in the only class at Morehouse College ever taught by Martin Luther King Jr., described Kaepernick as a “courageous 28-year-old prophet, who has challenged America to match its creed and pledges with actions of justice, equality and peace for all.”
“We’re going to let the world know that we are still behind Brother Kaepernick,” Brown told his congregation Sept. 11.
Kaepernick, who entered the NFL as a Christian celebrity because of Bible verses tattooed up and down his arms, was expected to attend Third Baptist Church on Labor Day weekend for a service recognizing “his principled and courageous stand by holding on to truth, integrity and honor.”
“Yes, Mr. Kaepernick, you are the man to follow in the tradition of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and WEB Dubois, who were willing to face consequences, unafraid,” said a section of the Sept. 4 worship bulletin.
Brown announced at the service that Kaepernick could not attend because of “rigors of training” but would speak to the community at a later date. Media reports called it a no-show, but San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler quoted a “very reliable source” saying that Kaepernick hadn’t agreed to appear in the first place.
“This could be a case of the Third Baptist people making an incorrect assumption, or a simple mix-up, but it wasn’t a case of Kaepernick blowing off a commitment,” Ostler wrote Sept. 4.
Kaepernick, who is currently the backup to Blaine Gabbert, has pledged to donate the first $1 million of his $11.9-million base salary this season to groups that focus on the type of racial and social inequities he discussed in the aftermath of his protest. The San Francisco 49ers promised to match his gift with an additional $1 million.
Brown said Kaepernick’s message is gaining momentum, with other African-American pastors including Frederick Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, also taking part in Sunday’s “kneel-in.”