The Night Jefferson Pierce Became King

The night before the 50th remembrance of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the CW network had either the good fortune or the great foresight to air an episode of its hit series “Black Lightning.” The episode was entitled: “Black Jesus: The Book Of Crucifixion.”

The parallels between Dr. King and Black Lightning’s alter ego, Jefferson Pierce, cannot be ignored.

Both men are well-dressed, charismatic leaders. Both are seemingly larger than life and are proud pillars of their respective communities.

Both men are respectable, and it is that respectability that juxtaposes with mistreatment by police so bitterly, yet so profoundly.

Even now, when one looks at a mugshot of Dr. King, it almost looks unbelievable.


What did he do to deserve this?

It couldn’t have been because of any wrongdoing on his part.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

— Letter From A Birmingham Jail

When Freeland Police rushed the campus of Garfield High School and searched Jefferson’s car, the students and faculty were struck with disbelief.

What did Mr. Pierce do to deserve this?

It couldn’t have been because of any wrongdoing on his part.

Even as police apprehended the people’s principal, Jefferson’s daughters and his students came to his aid. Those three incidents — a trinity of conflict featuring Jennifer, Tavon and Anissa — show his impact as a father and a father figure.

The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming for the viewer, and Jefferson reciprocates that feeling as he looks out of the back of the police car, which is on the way to a nearby jail. That feeling took us back to the opening scene of the pilot episode, where Jefferson is essentially pulled over for a DWB — “driving while Black.”

At that time, he struggled to control his power in a moment of tense conflict. During this episode, that struggle played out masterfully and in heartbreaking fashion.


First, there were the mugshots. Then, the fingerprinting. Later, there was a moment, after Jefferson was dragged through a hallway by Freehand Police, that played out almost biblically:

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. — John 19:34

In this episode, one of the policemen pierced Black Jesus’ side with a punch, bringing a sharp pain and a hint of electricity.

Prior to a commercial break, Jefferson was forced to strip down as part of a cavity search. Again, the crackle of electricity shown in his eyes. It was a watershed moment, a moment where, on Twitter, I said, “That lightning in the eyes of #BlackLightning represents the sentiments and frustrations of (most) every Black man in America.”

Imagine Jesus on the cross, Jesus in custody, with the power to break out of that situation, yet choosing to remain in bondage for the good of the people. As a Black man, that frustration is a recurring nightmare, albeit in a more helpless and almost hopeless situation, when we think about the likes of Stephon Clark, Oscar Grant and countless others.

It begs the question — an existential question, as a powerful dialogue between Jefferson and Anissa described earlier in the episode:

Anissa: “So then, I don’t know, shouldn’t we all just get along?”

Jefferson: (corrects Anissa) “Can’t we all just get along?”

Anissa: “What?”

Jefferson: “No. Rodney King asked, ‘Can’t we all get along?’ It’s an existential question, rather than a directive.”

Anissa: “OK, so can we?”

Jefferson: “I don’t know.”

The dialogue referenced Jefferson’s frayed relationship with Peter Gambi, but it just as easily speaks to the human condition and, specifically, racial discrimination. It was another touch of irony in an episode rife with it, as Jefferson went from correcting his daughter to reflecting upon her response.

The episode itself had a happy ending — Jefferson was exonerated by a Black cop, Bill Henderson, who himself had to to weave through the corrupt inner workings of Freeland’s police department. Yet, much like the Black experience, you couldn’t help but look over your shoulder, a feeling that the writers played upon with a simple knock on the door.

Altogether, this episode showed the evolution of the series and the evolution of Black television — a series that could touch on the entire spectrum of Black issues, not in a corny fashion, but in a real and rugged way.

It was a fitting tribute worthy of Kings.

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