AGO Affirms That Black Lives Matter

The American Guild of Organists recognizes and affirms that Black lives matter. We call upon every chapter and all of our members to speak out against racial bias and take action to make the world a better, safer, and more secure place for the members of the Black community.

Now is the time for us to search our souls for ways to be more caring, to be better brothers and sisters to our Black colleagues, and to demonstrate our unwavering support for their professional advancement and success.

The tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the equally senseless killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta on June 12, and the death and injury of so many others are heartbreaking and inexcusable. We extend our condolences to their families and friends, and we stand in solidarity with the countless thousands of people around the world who have marched to protest systemic racism against the African-American community.

It is our turn to step up to the challenge. We must listen to diverse voices in crafting solutions to our problems. We must reach out to find new partners to help us chart the best path forward. We must engage.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

― Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We are indebted to AGO Past President Eileen Guenther who brought to our attention the accompanying commentary which she recently updated at our request. Dr. Guenther in turn has acknowledged with thanks the theologians Drs. Douglas Strong, Willie Jennings, and Soong-Chan Rah, who developed most of the material in the post.


It was not ALL lives that were ripped from their homes in Africa;

It was not ALL lives that were separated from families and marched to the West African coast;

It was not ALL lives put into the dank, dark tombs of the slave castles;

It was not ALL lives crammed into European (and, in North America, particularly British) slave ships;

It was not ALL lives laid side by side like cargo in the hulls of the ships;

It was not ALL lives that were force fed because they staged hunger strikes;

It was not ALL lives that were casually thrown overboard to be devoured by the sharks that followed the slave ships;

It was not ALL lives that were brought to the New World as slave labor;

It was not ALL lives stripped naked and put on the auction block;

It was not ALL lives that were bought and sold by “God-fearing Christians”;

It was not ALL lives that were whipped and beaten on the plantations;

It was not ALL lives that were systematically and repeatedly raped by white slave owners;

It was not ALL lives who were hounded by attack dogs, beat with cruel instruments of torture, and intentionally sold away from their families when they dared to try and escape the horrors of slavery;

It was not ALL lives who were daily assaulted in their very identity, denied that they were made in the image of God;

It was not ALL lives who were repeatedly told they were less than human;

It was not ALL lives who were diminished by the 3/5 compromise, the Missouri compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Dred Scott decision;

It was not ALL lives whose communities were wiped out because they sought to build a life for themselves after emancipation;

It was not ALL lives that were told “separate but equal” with the “equal” never being equal;
It was not ALL lives but black lives that hung from trees throughout the country during the Jim Crow era;

It was not ALL lives, it was Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Roberson, and Carol Denise McNair, four little black lives who were blown up at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church;

It was not ALL lives that were beset by attack dogs and by fire hoses;

It was not ALL lives but the black lives of Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X who were systematically assassinated;

It was not ALL lives that have been victims of police violence, but it was the black life of Michael Brown;

It was not ALL lives, it was the black lives of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland;

It was not ALL lives, it was the black lives of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons, Sr., DePayne Middleton Doctor at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston;

It was not ALL lives, it was the black life of Alton Sterling;

It was not ALL lives, it was the black life of Philando Castile;

It was not ALL lives, it was the black of lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks…and so many others;

It is not ALL lives that are targeted with unequal charges for drug offences, thereby resulting in mass incarceration;

It is not ALL lives that the prison industrial complex exploits.

These historical events did not involve the destruction and death of ALL lives, they were black lives that have been systematically targeted and abused by American society. Yes, all lives matter, including those of police officers, but black lives have NOT mattered for 400 years, and that’s why we must vehemently and consistently assert that they matter now–and in the future.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

― Elie Wiesel

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

― Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

AGO partner organizational statements on how Black lives matter…

RCCO (Royal Canadian College of Organists)

EMA (Early Music America)

NPM (National Association of Pastoral Musicians)

ACDA (American Choral Directors Association)


  1. John West says:

    It’s disappointing to see so many miss the ENTIRE point of the statement. But it is not surprising considering the demographic of the AGO in general. As a black American, thank you for this statement.

  2. Max Walker says:

    Black Lives Matter is an openly Marxist organization that is at open ideological war with the founding principles of the USA and of the AGO. They are a violent insurgent group, not civil rights activists. As I type this, BLM is burning our flag near the White House. Is this what you stand with?! I call on the AGO National Council to recant and to denounce BLM.

    • James Thomashower says:

      The AGO’s policy statement was intended only to affirm that Black lives matter. The statement was neither written nor disseminated with the intention of endorsing an organization. We were supporting a principle. The initial caps were used for emphasis only, nothing more. — James Thomashower

  3. Stephen T Roberts says:

    Whatever one may think of this issue, and the earlier actions of the AGO in regard to the “Me, too” movement, one question should be obvious: why on earth does the AGO have to get involved with such controversial matters? The AGO is rapidly losing membership, and the cancellation of the national convention is bound to have severe and negative financial ramifications. Sometimes I get the idea that those people at AGOHQ are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I am a long time member of the Clarence Dickinson Society who originally had planned to leave a large portion of my estate to the AGO. Now I shall only leave a pittance. To Hell with this organization!

    • James Thomashower says:

      Stephen, thank you for your comments. The AGO National Council chose to prepare and disseminate a statement affirming that the Guild supports the fundamental principle that Black lives matter. This decision was reached after thoughtful discussion and debate in response to the extraordinary and emotionally charged outpouring of international grief and outrage over racial injustice. We could have chosen to stay absolutely silent, but as we thought about and discussed that option, we felt the best way forward was to join with other organizations like NPM, ACDA, and EMA that have stepped up to issue their own statements in support of those who protest racial injustice.

  4. Dorothy Riess MD says:

    Is this an official statement from AGO, or your personal opinion? Since when does AGO “support” an organization without approval of the membership? It is my understanding that BLM is a front for DNC.

    • James Thomashower says:

      Yes, this is an official statement of the AGO. It is not a statement in support of any organization such as nor was it ever intended to be, but rather a statement supporting the concept that Black lives matter. We simply emphasized the point by putting initial caps at the beginning of all three words.