James H. Cone’s masterful thesis in The Cross and the Lynching Tree asserts that the Black person hanged on the lynching tree participates in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Christ unites himself to and reveals himself in the suffering, oppression, and state-sanctioned execution of Black people. His resurrection gives us hope that our suffering in this life is not the last word. The belief that he makes us in his image and likeness and that he identifies with those who are unjustly persecuted has inspired Black Christian communities to stand up to injustice and fight for the equal treatment they deserve.
In his book, Cone examines how Black church hymns and spirituals, as well as secular blues music, paint a vivid picture of this tension between hope and suffering, faith and doubt, faced by Black Americans. Rapper J. Cole’s “Javari (Want You to Fly)” brings Cone’s theological vision to life in a way that speaks to the current struggle against police brutality and the hope for a more just America.