By Demetric Muhammad
4 Murdered Black Girls and a Christmas Boycott
Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins were murdered by Alabama racists in 1963 as they attended Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Their sweet innocent faces grace many a Black History bulletin board in schools and churches throughout the Black community. We love them and we miss them even though most who are alive today never got to know them. But we do know that the trajectory of their lives, had they not been brutally massacred by white terrorists, would have carried them to wonderful destinations. And all would have benefitted from their growth, maturation, and achievements.
They were “church girls” who obeyed their mothers and fathers and studied hard in school and were respectful of their elders. Yes, these four precious children would have been a blessing to their people and to this nation. And according to the predominant custom within the Black community at that time, they would most likely have married their male counterpart among the “church boys” of their peer group and created families. Who knows what their children would have achieved and accomplished. Perhaps, as Minister Farrakhan has taught, the cures for debilitating diseases or great technological advances would have been the outcome of their sons’ and daughters’ achievements. We can only reflect upon their important but short lives and wonder what might have been.
While we can only imagine who these young princesses might have become, a good indicator of the greatness, brilliance, tenacity, and intelligence of the Black girls of Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s can be found in the life story of Condoleezza Rice. Madame Secretary Rice was a childhood friend of Denise McNair. They played with dolls together. Secretary Rice went on to accomplish great things in her life, earning a Ph.D. in political science and becoming a Stanford University professor. She also served as an advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and held other weighty positions in government before becoming the first Black woman to serve as Secretary of State for the United States of America. Secretary Rice and her accomplishments represent the caliber of human beings that were murdered when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed by racist anti-Black terrorists.
These young women are martyrs of the Black man and woman’s struggle for liberation in America. And it was in response to this act of savagery and barbarism that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous young popular artists and entertainers united to call for direct action. Specifically they sought to rally the entire nation of Black people to convert their nickels, pennies, dimes, quarters, and dollars into “weapons of mass destruction.” The idea they had in mind was a complete economic withdrawal from the most prosperous season of the year in America’s capitalist economic system. Dubbed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “sacrificial Christmas,” the primary call to action was for all Black people to withhold their usual billions of dollars spent on Christmas shopping, in an act of revolutionary defiance. Congressional legend and Black activist Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was a supporter of this idea and even offered a thematic catch phrase to capture the sentiment of the time when he suggested that Black people “hold your dollar and make the white man holler.”
Secretary Rice offered a priceless service as America’s chief diplomat, a role that helps American businesses gain lucrative contracts abroad while preserving the lives of American service men and women through successful international negotiations that avert wars and conflicts. If we multiply her contribution by a factor of four, we only approximate the value that we were deprived of in the terroristic murder of Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. So Dr. King and the call for a “sacrificial Christmas” in 1963 was a well-conceived strategy. It was the idea that since Black people had lost an inestimable value in the murder of four precious Black girls, our oppressors should lose an equivalent amount as a direct result of our boycotting their biggest money-making season. This idea of “redistributing the pain” was born out of an enlightened attitude among many in the Black community and reflected the zeitgeist of the times, which was that we simply must stop using our money to financially support the murderers of our children.
Christmas Boycott Theologically Justified
Dr. King’s activist strategy of boycotting the Christmas shopping season makes all the sense in the world. However, there is a peculiar aspect to Dr. King’s decision: Why would Dr. King, as a Christian minister, make a call to boycott Christmas? The same Christmas claimed to be the celebration of the Christian Savior. This could not have been an easy decision for Dr. King. Or was it?
First of all, we must remember that “Dr. King” is called “Dr.” for a very good reason. Most people forget that he received a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University. He is therefore a scholar of religion. As a religious scholar, he was a possessor of knowledge about religion that the average person is not privy to. Within the realm of religious or spiritual knowledge, there is a hierarchy that has God (the Supreme Being) at the top. He reveals some of His secret knowledge and wisdom directly to the prophets, and after the prophets religious knowledge is found among the scholars of religion. The scholars of religion are the teachers of the preachers of religion, who in turn preach of religion to the “laymen and women.” In Dr. King’s case he occupied the position of both scholar and preacher, or academician and evangelist. But most have not been acquainted with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his important but often overlooked role as Religious Scholar.
The reason he, as a Christian pastor, was comfortable with calling for a Christmas boycott may surprise some and shock others: Dr. King—religious scholar—acknowledged the pagan origins of the Christmas holiday. What I am specifically referring to is Dr. King’s research conducted while a student at Crozer Theological Seminary. His 1949 paper titled “A Study of Mithraism” received an academic letter grade of A. His professor Morton S. Enslin wrote of Dr. King’s paper: “This is an exceedingly good paper. You have given a very complete picture of the essential details and you have presented this in a balanced and restrained way. And furthermore you know how to write. You should go a long way if you continue to pay the price.”
Dr. King writes:
It is well-nigh impossible to grasp Christianity through and through without knowledge of these cults. That there were striking similarities between the developing church and these religions cannot be denied. Even Christian apologist had to admit that fact. For an instance, in the mystery-religions identification between devotee and the Lord of the cult was supposed to be brought about by various rites of initiation; the taurobolium, or bath of blood; the eating of flesh of the sacrificial beast and the like. Now there was something of this in Paul too, for he thought of the believer as buried with Christ in baptism and as feeding upon him in the Eucharist. This is only one of many examples that I could give to prove the similarity between the developing Christian Church and the Mystery Religions.
In Dr. King’s discussion of the specific cult religion known as Mithraism, he documents that Mithra was believed to be the “genius of celestial light,” who in his chariot “goes through heaven with a team of four white horses…‘ever watchful’” and that “Mithra was the god of wide pastures and the giver of gifts.” What Dr. King documents is that the modern Christmas tradition of light decorations and an all-seeing (all-knowing) Santa Claus with reindeer originates in an entirely different religion and has nothing at all to do with Jesus the Christ!
As a scholar, Dr. King cites his sources. He refers often in his paper on Mithraism to the earlier more expansive work of Franz Cumont titled The Mysteries of Mithra. Referencing Cumont’s work, Dr. King writes about the “Syrian merchants who established trading posts throughout the [Roman] empire.” These merchants were primary transmitters of the cult of Mithra. Citing Cumont, Dr. King notes that
most of these Syrians belonged to the upper classes and were not true worshippers of Mithra…. [I]t was the slaves and servants of these merchants who were followers of Mithra…
Again, knowledge of this history enabled Dr. King to draw clear and strong parallels between the slave followers of Mithra and the Blacks in America who were chattel slaves during the antebellum period and the economic slaves to the modern merchants in his own lifetime. The belief of the Roman slaves in a gift-giving celestial god of light that traveled the night sky in a chariot drawn by horses is no different from Blacks in America ritually displaying Christmas lights and indoctrinating their children in the belief that Santa Claus travels the night sky with reindeer, giving gifts.
It is a marvel that Dr. King remained a devoted minister of Christianity as the true religion of God when we consider his study and knowledge gained as a religious scholar. For as we see from his own academic research, astute writing, and powerful documentation, the main teachings and practices of Christianity originated in the early “mystery religions” like Mithraism—the same religions that most Christians today would consider heathen and pagan cults!
In the section of Dr. King’s paper titled “The Influence of Mithraism on Christianity,” he writes:
When Mithraism is compared with Christianity, there are surprisingly many points of similarity. Of all the mystery cults Mithraism was the greatest competitor of Christianity. The cause for struggle between these two religions was that they had so many traditions, practices and ideas that were similar and in some cases identical.
Dr. King goes on to highlight the fact that because of these similarities “many believed the Christian movement itself became a mystery cult.” He then lists 6 areas where Mithraism and Christianity are virtually indistinguishable from each other:
(1) Both regarded Sunday as a holy day. (2) December 25 came to be considered as the anniversary of the birth of Mithra and Christ also. (3) Baptism and a communion meal were important parts of the ritual of both groups. (4) The rebirth of converts was a fundamental idea in the two cults. (5) The struggle with evil and the eventual triumph of good were essential ideas in both religions. (6) In both religions only initiates who passed through certain preliminary phases of introduction were admitted to the mysteries which brought salvation to converts.
We get a sense of Dr. King’s feeling about these non-traditional histories of the origin of Christianity in his acknowledgment that there are so many similarities between Christianity and Mithraism that “the general effect is almost startling.”
Dr. King concludes his short essay with a bold confession. He writes:
That Christianity did copy and borrow from Mithraism cannot be denied…. Many of the views, while passing out of Paganism into Christianity were given a more profound and spiritual meaning by Christians, yet we must be indebted to the source.
It is a shame that we have not been properly introduced to Dr. King as a religious scholar. For as a religious scholar we see him come into agreement with the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who taught for many years that the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25th is of pagan origin.
King, Muhammad, and Christian Scholars Agree
And as Dr. King’s research led him to the pagan god Mithra as the source of the December 25th celebration of Jesus’ birthday, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad introduces us to the role of the pagan worship of Nimrod. Consider now some of the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad on the pagan origin of Christmas. In his illuminating book Our Saviour Has Arrived, Messenger Muhammad writes:
So you go out and spend your hard-earned money to worship with white people. They force you under disguise and defraud you into worshipping the birthday of that wicked old Nimrod on December. And if you knew the truth of him, you would not dare to worship it….
Nimrod gets a great ovation on the 25th day of December; one of the most wicked leaders that ever lived.…
The great false worship of December 25 is a lie. The worship of Jesus’ birthday, which they claim is on the 25th of December, is one of the most open lies against the truth. And the authors of their religion, Christianity, know that they are wrong in trying to tell the world that that is the day Jesus was born on….
God taught me that the 25th day of December is the day of the birth of Nimrod, and that the scientists know that that is Nimrod’s birthday. Nimrod was a leader, born as an opponent of Moses’ teachings….
Notice that the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad is exposing knowledge to the public from the highest level of the religious knowledge hierarchy. In these passages He lets us know that Allah (God) taught him the truth of Christmas and that the religious scholars are in agreement with that truth, which he is exposing to his deceived and manipulated people!
As proof that the “authors” and “scientists” of the Christian faith know the truth of what Mr. Muhammad and Dr. King have attested to, we bring to the “witness stand” noted author and evangelist Ralph Woodrow, who wrote the book Babylon Mystery Religion. On page 151, Woodrow quotes from James George Frazer’s book The Golden Bough: “The largest pagan religious cult which fostered the celebration of December 25 as a holiday throughout the Roman and Greek worlds was the pagan sun worship-Mithraism…This winter festival was called ‘the Nativity’—the ‘Nativity of the SUN.’” Woodrow continues, “Was this pagan festival responsible for the December 25 day being chosen by the Roman Church?” Woodrow cites The Catholic Encyclopedia to provide a definitive answer to that question:
The well-known solar feast of…Natalis Invicti [the Nativity of the Unconquered Sun] celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date [of Christmas!]
Moreover, Woodrow writes: “As pagan solar customs were being ‘Christianized’ at Rome, it is understandable that confusion would result. Some thought Jesus was Sol, the sun-god!”
Woodrow’s research and admissions even strike a blow at the gross consumerism of the Christmas “winter festival.” He condemns the rationalization that gift exchanges should be the primary way to celebrate the birth of Jesus. According to Woodrow,
[S]ome have sought to link Christmas gifts with those presented to Jesus by the wise men. This cannot be correct. By the time the wise men arrived, Jesus was no longer ‘lying in a manger’ (as when the shepherds came), but was in a house (Matthew 2:9-11). This could have been quite a while after his birthday. Also, they presented their gifts to Jesus, not to each other!
On the use of Christmas trees Woodrow states:
The Christmas tree, as we know it, only dates back a few centuries, though ideas about sacred trees are very ancient. An old Babylonish fable told of an evergreen tree which sprang out of a dead tree stump. The old stump symbolized the dead Nimrod, the new evergreen tree symbolized that Nimrod had come to life again…
In addition to Ralph Woodrow, popular 20th-century Christian evangelist and scholar Herbert Armstrong ruffled many feathers when he published his popular The Plain Truth About Christmas. In it he notes that “recognized historical authorities show Christmas was not observed by Christians for the first two or three hundred years—a period longer than the entire history of the United States as a nation!”
The Rev. Herbert Armstrong’s scathing revelations about Christmas’ true origin also agree with those by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On page of 11 of his pamphlet-size exposé, the Reverend Armstrong discusses Nimrod. We read:
From many ancient writings, considerable is learned of this man, who started the great organized worldly apostasy from God that has dominated this world until now. Nimrod was so evil, it is said he married his own mother, whose name is Semiramis. After Nimrod’s untimely death, his so-called mother-wife, Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod. This is the real origin of the Christmas tree.
The history of Christmas’ true origins made it a lot easier for Dr. King, the religious scholar, to call for a complete economic withdrawal from the Christmas shopping season. In his example we see the value of academic knowledge as a guide for social activism. Looking at Dr. King as a scholar of religious knowledge opens up an entirely new vista through which to explore his thinking, strategies, and evolution. It seems as though this side of the great leader of the Civil Rights Movement has been omitted or kept hidden from most discussions about him. From my perspective, this is done intentionally by those who would like to keep Dr. King in a box and deny the fact that he had much in common with the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and other revolutionary thinkers.
Dr. King was not able to convince the masses of Black people to join him in his call for a “sacrificial Christmas.” Yet despite the fact that only a few cities participated, the boycott injury to their local economies was significant. This year we encourage all to support the call for a “sacrificial Christmas,” a call that has been renewed by the heir to Dr. King’s role as the most respected Black leader in America—the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. For just as the murder of 4 innocent Black children served as the context and inspiration for such a call in 1963, the senseless and barbaric murders of Black men, women, and children today give us the motivation we need to pick up Dr. King’s brilliant idea of economic withdrawal and execute it for maximum impact.