Interview by Donald E. Lacy Jr.
Donald E. Lacy Jr.: Joining me right now, and it’s a pleasure, and I do mean a pleasure to welcome to my program for the very first time a man I’ve been hearing great things about, and I’m so honored to have him with me right now this morning: the senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church, the one and only Freddie Haynes. Good morning, sir.
Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes III: What’s up, my man, Donald Lacy. How’re you doing?
DL: Man, I am so blessed and honored to have you. I have been hearing so much about you and your Afri-centric point of view with the word. Talk about how you were shaped in your early days in the ministry to get where you are now.
FH: Ah, man, thank you, I appreciate that. Well, No. 1, I grew up blessed to be in a wonderful family. My grandfather, Frederick Douglas Haynes Sr., was the first African American to run for the Board of Supervisors in the City and County of San Francisco, and he had that kind of consciousness – it was in his DNA. As a matter of fact, he named himself after the silver-tongued leader of the abolitionists, Frederick Douglass. And so with that in my DNA, I was blessed to be exposed to the social consciousness of the pastor of Third Baptist Church now, Dr. Amos C. Brown.
Then going off to school, man, I just became the vicarious protégé of socially-activist consciousness from Martin Luther King to Adam Clayton Powell Jr., because the more I read about them, the more it hit me that if we’re going to have a relevant ministry that deals with where people are, we’re going to have to have a consciousness that reflects not only telling people who they are, informing them who they are and unbrainwashing us, but we also have to have a ministry that is aware of the times in which we live.
And so I really have learned a lot about our history, which informs who I am and what I’m to be doing in this time, in this era, because of the fact that we as a people are still catching hell. I mean there’s just no other way for me to go about ministry. It’s both my history and my education.
DL: You know, I imagine for preachers who don’t necessarily have that Baptist point of view, is it alarming to see someone like you come and advocate for the Black community? You know, in other churches that I’ve been to you don’t necessarily hear that.
FH: I think it’s a bit uncomfortable. Pastor Amos Brown said that only 3 percent of Black churches and preachers were involved in the civil rights struggle. We always try to make it out like everybody was involved. That’s a trick. And so what I’ve come to accept is, I’m going to make people uncomfortable, but that’s all right. I’m hoping that in the discomfort, they will think – and in thinking, start thinking for themselves.
DL: Now, let’s talk about your church in Dallas. How long have you been the pastor there and how did you come to be in Dallas?
FH: Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve been here now for 30 years next month at Friendship West Baptist Church. I was going to school at Bishop College, and while I was there the pastor who had organized this church had heard about me because he and my father had been good friends and so he invited me to come preach.
Unfortunately, he passed away shortly thereafter. I was the last voice they heard and the church really took a liking to me. I was only 21 years old at the time, and they called me to pastor the church, and the rest is history.
DL: Any how many members do you have there now at your church?
FH: They say we have about 14,000.
DL: Wow. Congratulations, man. In 30 years. And obviously the work that you’re doing is ministering to the people. What are some of the biggest challenges you see that the Black community in particular is facing right now in 2013 even though we have a Black president?
FH: No. 1 for me is the lack of economic equality. One of the last things that Martin King said that we don’t hear quoted – we always hear the “I Have a Dream”; we don’t hear about the nightmare he talked about – is as long as there is economic inequality, there will be racial inequality. The lack of economic empowerment in our community comes from economic dysfunction that is a result of – let’s be real – racism as it relates to how this country has been structured so that the classes, in a real sense, exploit the masses, and especially people of color and, without a doubt, African Americans.
You can’t talk slavery honestly without talking about the economic impact it had both on the slave owners and the enslaved and so we are still – over 100 years removed from slavery – we are still living with the aftermath. I’m preaching on that tomorrow, as a matter of fact, that the classes, the upper class, they still benefit. That’s why they call it “old money” and we have old dysfunction as it relates to money, because it goes back to how this country was formed and built. And until that structure is addressed and changed, we’re just playing games.
DL: You’ve brought up some very good points that I want to elaborate on with you. This is of course the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and all these films are out. In fact, I was talking to one of my friends in L.A. yesterday and I didn’t know that there’s seven movies in the pipeline right now in the next two years about slavery and I guess it’s good news. But again, why are people still uncomfortable, and as you so eloquently pointed out, afraid to deal with those issues in terms of the economic disparity that exists as a result of slavery?
FH: Well, my thing is the 51st state in this country is the state of denial, and I’m not just talking unfortunately about White people; I’m talking about Black people who don’t want to deal with slavery. It trips me out, man, whenever I’m preaching, sometimes people will say: “There you go. That’s why I don’t go to that church, ‘cause he’s too Black.”
We are the only people in the world who can be too much as we were made. Have you ever heard anyone say he’s too Chinese? But can you actually be too Black? That’s a trip. That sends me over the edge. I say, “Well, hey, I’m with James Brown.” I say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud.
So my thing is that a state of denial in both our country and our community is because we don’t like to deal with the harsh reality of slavery and how evil it was, because when you have people in the right wing talking about American exceptionalism, well, you can’t talk American exceptionalism and then say well, oh yeah, we got slavery over here, which is our un-confessed sin – not only our un-confessed sin but we have yet to repair the damage that was done to the people who we kidnapped and enslaved.
Then you have Blacks over here who basically say, hey, that was back then. It doesn’t affect us right now, even though the structure of the economy was built on our backs and to this day we still find ourselves living in an underclass. And we don’t want to admit that what happened back then still is handcuffing us right now.
DL: Absolutely. There’s been a lot of discussion and debate particularly in the Black community on that subject, noticing the film Django, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see that. Did you see that?
FH: Oh yeah.
DL: And what are your comments about that film?
FH: Well, several things. No. 1, what hurts me on the negative end is that we still are not telling our own story enough. As long as someone else tells your story then you’re subjected to what they say and their perspective on your story so that’s one point I’m uncomfortable with. Now the other part is positive. I love the fact that Django, my man Jamie Foxx, was the hero of the story and too many times in Hollywood when they tell our story we are not the heroes. I mean how can you even talk about Mississippi Burning and the other films they’ve done rooted in Mississippi and you always have someone White coming out as the hero, not Medgar Evers, not Sammy Lou Hamer, their story is not told. I mean even the piece on Lincoln trips me out. Because how are you going to do Lincoln without any mention substantively of Frederick Douglas. I mean even Lincoln does not become Lincoln if he doesn’t have Frederick Douglas critiquing him and pushing him and so my thing is oftentimes Hollywood doesn’t give us the hero status that we deserve but we don’t tell our story and then the second thing I loved about it was it was a story of Black love. It’s real rare when you hear something, again, coming from Hollywood putting the spotlight on Black love. Django was in love with his honey and I was down with that and thirdly, for me some of it was humor, maybe they were making fun, I don’t know, but what I felt good about was the fact that they exposed the evil brutality of oppressive slavery. Never in the history of humanity have a people suffered so much for so long as we did under American slavery and apartheid and so I appreciate the fact that Tarantino exposed slavery and all of it’s evil and horror and so people got upset about the overuse of the “N” word … and that’s exactly what we were called because we were treated like that.
DL: It’s funny to me that people are making a big deal about that. If you turn on any station, BET or whatever, you hear it more and at least back in them days the concept of slavery gave that “N” word some context. You know what I’m saying. I don’t get that.
FH: I think it’s that whole state of denial that we want to stay in. As long as we act as if it didn’t exist or existed as bad as it was then, we think we can move forward. But my thing is until we honestly move forward as a nation and as a people and face up to what happened – as my mentor Jeremiah Wright Jr. says, if you don’t face it, you ain’t gon fix it.
DL: Now, I want to talk to you about – and I’m sure the problem exists there in Dallas as it does in Oakland – you know we’re dealing with this inner-city violence, particularly with our youth, these alarming murder rates and in Chicago, Obama city, a record number of people being murdered. God is an equation in many of these people’s lives, but what do you see are some things, from where you’re sitting, that can really make a dent in this problem?
FH: I’ll answer that with a piece I saw. Martin Luther King, Jr. was being interviewed in 1967 by Mike Douglas, and they were trying to trap him on the impudence of the nonviolent struggle because there had been violent uprisings in major urban cities across the country. Dr. King responded by quoting Victor Hugo and he said, “In darkness, crimes and violence will be committed.”
The real criminals are not just those who commit the crimes but those who cause the darkness. So for me when you look at Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, Oakland – all of these major urban centers where the violence has broken out – I say the vast majority of it has to do with a darkness of despair, hopelessness.
It’s really a trip that there are no gun shops in Chicago. The gun shops come from the suburbs and so you have jobs that left Chicago so guns could make it into Chicago. So there’s a darkness that sets the climate for the kind of criminality, hopelessness, despair and – let’s go there – self-hatred that has been bred in that kind of dysfunctional darkness.
So for me, one of the things we have to look at is self-love. Until we as a people come to love ourselves enough to hate the system that is trying to deny our humanity and deny our possibility, only that kind of self-love will insist upon creating and building our own communities.
Claude Anderson is one of my favorites. He did this piece on Black labor/White wealth years ago, and he took off about the importance of us creating our own communities and owning our own communities. If we don’t own it, then guess what? We have nothing to live for.
One of the things I read years ago that blessed me was by James Baldwin. He said, “The most dangerous person is the one who feels he has nothing to live for.” And that is where we are in too many of our communities. We ain’t got nothing to live for, we own nothing, jobs have left, guns have come in, and then that self-hatred that comes out of that despair and darkness – all of that must honestly be dealt with if we are serious about rectifying the violence in our communities.
DL: Well said. That’s the voice of the senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church, Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes. Man, you didn’t have no other choice but to turn out right with that name! Now let’s talk about your ministry. I’ve come to know a little bit about you. I imagine you deal with a lot of different issues with your ministry and the different programs that you have at your church. Is that right?
FH: Oh yeah, as a matter of fact one of the things I’m so excited about is that we have a reputation for being a social justice church, so I get a lot of hate about that, but really it’s fine with me. But my thing is we have to deal with issues of justice if we’re going to honestly raise and lift our community.
There are two major issues concerning our community. I’m in Dallas, Texas. Dallas County and the state of Texas lead in the number of people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, most of them Black. And so my thing is, OK, there’s something wrong with this system when we are so gung-ho on locking people up in the name of being tough on crime, and so we’ve done several things in that regard.
Fortunately, the D.A. of Dallas County, who really led the fight to get these brothers out of prison, who went in even though they were innocent, was a member of our church, Craig Watkins. We partnered with him, not only in adopting the brothers who had been released, because they, of course, were institutionalized in the process.
We’ve also worked to pass laws. No. 1, we had a piece passed two years ago in the Texas Legislature that took all the taxes off all of the dollars that were given to the brothers who were placed in prison when they were innocent. So we do things like that where we’re fighting the system.
We’re also now doing what we can on the state level to apply what was passed on the federal level in terms of the disparate sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We know what that’s all about. Race is at the root right there, so for me it was so vital that it’s now 18-1, so we’ve got to bring that down to 1-1 if we’re talking about real equality and real justice.
And the other piece that we’re doing, God has blessed us to work with several judges here. When someone, especially one of us, stands before a judge on a petty drug offense, we say don’t lock them up. They don’t need prison; they need treatment. And so we have a number of brothers – I can’t even count right now – who are in our treatment program instead of going to prison and they are being mentored by brothers at the church and they’re being basically put on the road not only to healing and recovery but the road to fulfilling their real possibility.
The second piece we’re doing, which I’m really proud of, is we’ve taken a stand against the payday and car title loan industry. It’s more payday and car loan and title loan industries in Texas than McDonalds and Burger Kings combined. They target certain communities where people are desperate.
So over two years ago we got legislation passed in Dallas where the zoning laws restrict where these payday loan operations can set up. Then on the state level we had some things passed.
At the same time, trying to be a part of the solution, we have started a micro-loan fund so the people who are desperate can come to the church and get a micro-loan with interest rates that are compatible with banks. Because we are under-banked, we’re pimped by these car title loan stores, and so our vision is to have this micro-loan fund so our people won’t get pimped by these creditors.
DL: Man, congratulations. That is just outstanding and wonderful and you are to be commended for the fabulous work you’re doing. That’s incredible. I hope that more churches can adopt the format that you’re doing and spread that gospel everywhere around the country.
FH: I appreciate that. Well, one of the things that happened is that I was privileged to meet in D.C. with Richard Cordre who’s over consumer protection. I shared with him the vision and he was real excited and he said, man, we’ve got to make this a movement across the country. So I’m hoping we can do that, because again until we are economically empowered, we will continue to be an impotent people in this nation socially.
DL: Absolutely. So what’s the website where you’re at for your church and how people can contact you?
FH: Yes, look us up at www.friendshipwest.org right here in Dallas, Texas.
DL: I’m gonna have to come down there and see you, brother.
FH: Man, you got to and you got to bring “Color Struck,” because that’s all I’m hearing about.
DL: We’re definitely going to do that, and I might just have to move to Dallas so I can hear you preach every week. God bless you, man, and it’s such a privilege and an honor to talk to you. To me you’re the example of what Dr. King’s dream is. It’s brothers like you who are really about uplifting the community, and I’m just so honored and privileged to talk to you this morning.
FH: Man, it’s an honor. I’ve heard about you for so long and then what you’re doing in terms of not only your consciousness but how you use the platform that you are blessed with to uplift people and to educate people and to make us laugh all in one. I appreciate you doing what you do, and I look forward to working with you.
DL: There he is, ladies and gentlemen, the one and the only Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes III.
Donald E. Lacy Jr. is a famous name in both Black theater and Black radio. Playwright and star of “Color Struck,” his one-man show that has toured the world, Lacy has also for the past 33 years hosted Wake Up, Everybody, broadcast Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. to noon on Black-owned KPOO 89.5FM or kpoo.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This interview was transcribed by Adrian McKinney.