You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Senate chaplain reflects on Parks, being first African-American in role

For Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, this month is an "important reminder." Roll Call recently sat down with this nonpartisan fixture of the Senate — the first African-American to hold the role. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Roll Call: What does it mean to you to serve the whole Senate, the whole institution, as the first African-American chaplain? Your prayers, at least in the immediate vicinity, are going to a body that is historically more white. Even now, I believe we're at a high water mark in terms of African-Americans in the Senate, (with three,) but it's still a very low number. Is it a poignant reminder?

Barry C. Black: It really isn't. I really rarely, when I awaken in the morning say: "You're an African-American." Even when I'm looking in the mirror and, you know, shaving and the whole nine yards. I think that my greatest identity is the fact that I believe that I am a child of God, as I believe the people for whom I minister are children of the most high God.

RC: What are some of the events in your time here, your tenure here, that stand out to you in terms of African-American history being made in (the U.S. Capitol)?

Black: I had the privilege of offering the invocation when Rosa Parks was lying in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Now imagine this: I was in Alabama in the '60s when segregation was legal and to fast-forward and years later, I'm standing in the Capitol Rotunda, with President George W. Bush to my right, and I'm able to frame that moment with a prayer. Come on, I mean, I feel like Forrest Gump sometimes — in the right place, at the right time. There are always those Walter Mitty moments, where you're saying — "Let me pinch myself, could this be true?" as the eyes of the nation are on that Rotunda and I am the one who's given the privilege of offering this prayer. It's brought to me, and I'm given that awesome privilege of being a part of African-American history. So it's very, very special.

RC: Ultimately, we're in this strange interregnum of history it seems, where President Barack Obama — the first African-American president — he lifted off from the East Front of the Capitol into retirement just a few yards away from a commemorative marble that commemorates the workers, many of them slaves, who helped build the Capitol. Some people would say, why do we need a Black History Month to commemorate this, we've had a black president now? What would your feelings be about that?

Black: I would say that there is enough evidence of polarization regarding race in America that we still need to be reminded of the contribution of non-majority individuals. So I think that, even with an African American president, that we still need to gently remind one another that John Donne, the British poet, had it right. No one is an island, each person is a piece of the continent — a part of the main. Every person's death diminishes us for we are involved with human kind, therefore send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us. And that when the ebony threads are missing from our history ... or forgotten ... or airbrushed, that we do not really know true American history. So I think maybe the day will come when that is no longer necessary, but I don't think it has come yet.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Palm Beach County worried about proposed hike in homestead exemption
Palm Beach County worried about proposed hike in homestead exemption

Legislation that could lead to the expansion of Florida’s homestead exemption could blow a $29 million hole in Palm Beach County’s budget, county officials warn. The Florida House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on a joint resolution (HJR 7105) that would have voters decide if they want to increase the homestead exemption...
Trump expected to order study of federal role in education
Trump expected to order study of federal role in education

 President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that would require Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government "has unlawfully overstepped state and local control," according to a White House official.   Trump has repeatedly pledged to downsize the Education Department and its role...
Trump changes course on childcare benefit after criticism he would mainly help well-off families
Trump changes course on childcare benefit after criticism he would mainly help well-off families

 The White House is pursuing a new approach to providing relief for families burdened by childcare costs after receiving criticism that a campaign proposal would have done little to help working-class families while providing disproportionate benefits to well-off parents.   President Donald Trump's administration is now looking to bolster...
White House scurries as 100-day mark nears
White House scurries as 100-day mark nears

The final frenzy at the White House began Monday, with a private reception for conservative news publications, a tariff on softwood lumber imports from Canada and the late-night debut of a website highlighting President Donald Trump's "First 100 Days" achievements.   It continued Tuesday in the form of an executive order designed...
PBC commissioners blast workforce housing program’s poor performance
PBC commissioners blast workforce housing program’s poor performance

Palm Beach County commissioners blasted a county program designed to provide housing to middle income workers in the county, saying it has not provided enough assistance while costs continue to rise. No single family houses have been built in the workforce housing program’s 11 years of existence, and only 754 multi-family units have...
More Stories