The Religious Frederick Douglass

On June 19 a 7-foot high statue of Frederick Douglass was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol.  Over at Religion News Service, Adelle Banks offers five religious facts about Douglass:

1.  He was a licensed lay preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Bedford, MA.

2.  He published The North Star from the basement of an AME church in Rochester, NY.

3. His home in Washington included images of Jesus and photos of Washington’s Metropolitan AME Church.

4.  He attended several churches in Washington.

5.  There is a church named for him in Elmira, NY.

The "Quandary of African American Evangelicalism"

Over at the Anxious Bench I have been wondering why there is not more scholarly work on the history of African-American evangelicalism.  See my posts here and here.

I am pleased to see that Miles Mullin of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a scholar who knows more about this subject than I do, has decided to weigh-in.  Check out his post, “The Quandary of African American Evangelicalism.”  Here is a taste:

In the twentieth century, African American leaders recognized that a successful struggle towards full equality depended upon solidarity, and they turned the racial identity hoisted upon them by others to their own purposes.  As they struggled towards full equality, they embraced race vis-à-vis any denominational or pan-denominational (e.g. evangelicalism) as their primary self-identity.  Early in the century, works written or edited by black intellectuals set the trajectory for this reality.  Volumes by W.E.B. DuBois (The Negro Church, 1903), G. Carter Woodson (The History of the Negro Church, 1921), and Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph Nicholson (The Negro’s Church, 1933) demonstrate the manner in which doctrinal differences were subsumed by racial solidarity.  Organizers and activists of a later generation followed in the same mold. Thus, Orthodox Presbyterian Minister C. Herbert Oliver, theologically progressive Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., and atheist A. Philip Randolph all made common cause in the freedom struggle for African American equality.

These historical developments in the twentieth century shaped the historiography of both African American religious history and evangelical history of the late twentieth century in two important ways.  First, racial solidarity became the dominant historiographical lens through which African American religious history was assessed.  For instance, despite the fact that groups such the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) differed in practice, religious commitment, and goals, the hegemony of race as an interpretive paradigm led many historians to synthesize and find continuity between the groups.  Both Gayraud S. Wilmore’s acclaimed Black Religion and Black Radicalism and Baer and Singer’s useful African-American Religion in the Twentieth Century: Varieties of Protest and Accommodation serve as examples of this approach.  Religious particularities were subsumed under rubrics such as the “black church.”  Second, historians told the history of twentieth-century American evangelicalism largely without reference to African Americans. For example, one would be hard-pressed to find references to race or African Americans in the histories produced by Timothy Weber, George Marsden, Joel Carpenter, D.G. Hart and others in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  As evangelical historians spilled much ink over the issue of evangelical identity in the 1980s and 1990s, they largely ignored race as an important element of that question.  Thus, history and historiography excluded African Americans from the twentieth-century evangelical narrative, just as it excluded any meaningful implementation of evangelical as a religious category from twentieth-century African American history.  As a result, there is a paucity of works on African American evangelicalism qua evangelicalism.

For all its foibles, the racial reconciliation movement of the last few decades demonstrates that there is something that draws evangelicals together across racial lines, and recent historical works give hope that things are trending in a different direction historiographically.  For example, A.G. Miller (Oberlin College) has written on Fundamentalist African American Bible Schools and studies of black Pentecostalism have proliferated, while historians of evangelicalism have intentionally embraced race as a category of analysis.  (Mark Noll’s American Evangelical Christianity and God and Race in American Politics are good examples.)  Hopefully, additional works of this sort will continue to emerge, eventually leading to a general work on black evangelicalism in the twentieth century.  If it does, I suspect we will learn some things about evangelicalism—black and white—that we did not know before.

This Week’s "Anxious Post" at Patheos: Where Are the Studies of Twentieth-Century Black Evangelicalism?

I am working on some revisions to an article on evangelicals and political engagement in the twentieth century.  If all goes well, the essay will find its way into a collection of essays stemming from a series of Catholic-Evangelical dialogues that have taken place over the last several years at Georgetown University.  One of the readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript noted that my story of twentieth-century evangelicalism was too “Anglo” and “white.”  It was a good point.  Much of the historiography of evangelicalism in the past century has focused on white actors.  I thus set out to do some reading so that I could strengthen the essay along these lines.

In the process I made another discovery.  While there are a lot of good books written about African-American religion and political engagement in the twentieth century, almost all of them focus on Black Protestants of the liberal or mainline stripe.  Where are the black evangelicals?  What were they doing during the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement?  How did Black evangelical congregations and denominations respond to Protestant fundamentalism, the rise of neo-evangelicalism, and the emergence of the Christian Right?  What do we know, for example, about the history of the National Black Evangelical Association (organized in 1963)?

Read the rest here.

In Search of a Good Primer or Synthesis on 20th Century African American Evangelicalism and/or Hispanic Evangelicalism

I am trying to finish up an essay on twentieth-century evangelical political engagement and need to say more about African American and Hispanic American evangelicalism in the 20th century (or in any more specific era in the 20th century).  What are the best books on the subject, keeping in mind that I want to learn more about evangelicalism and not liberal or mainline Protestant African American religion?

African-American Religious Studies: The Next Generation

This blog post by Matthew Cressler is getting a lot of attention by the American religious history-types on my Twitter feed and Facebook wall.  Cressler is finishing a Ph.D in Religious Studies at Northwestern under the direction of Robert Orsi and writing about African American Catholics in Chicago.

His dissertation work has led to some very insightful observations about the current generation of scholars working in African American Religious Studies.  This generation is challenging three “persistent theses” about African American religion:

1.  That black people are naturally religious, or at least more religious than other Americans.

2.  That black religiosity is emotional and “politically liberationist.”

3. That if a black people are not religious in an emotional and politically liberating way, then they are “racially suspect.”

The members of this so-called “next generation” include scholars such as Curtis Evans, Barbara Dianne Savage, Danielle Brune Sigler, Sylvester Johnson, and Kathryn Lofton.

For those of us who do not work in African American history, Cressler’s piece is a very helpful overview. It will certainly aid me in my teaching.