Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Perry, “May We Forever Stand”

9781469638607

I was a twenty-something in Washington, DC, when I first heard a choir perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at an outdoor concert in Rock Creek Park, and the song has stuck in my head ever since. The melody, by John Rosemond Johnson, is dignified and stirring, and the words, by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, are moving. Also known as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice” has a large place in the history of the civil rights movement. It serves as a reminder of the role religion played in that movement, and, more generally, the role religion has played in our national experience.

A new book from the University of North Carolina Press, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, by Princeton scholar Imani Perry (African-American Studies), tells the song’s story. The title refers to the final verse:

“Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.”

The publisher’s description follows:

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day.

In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.

Weisenfeld, “New World A-Coming”

In February, New York University Press will release New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration by Judith Weisenfeld (Princeton University). The publisher’s description follows:

A New World A Coming.jpgWhen Joseph Nathaniel Beckles registered for the draft in the 1942,  he rejected the racial categories presented to him and persuaded the registrar to cross out the check mark she had placed next to Negro and substitute “Ethiopian Hebrew.”  “God did not make us Negroes,” declared religious leaders in black communities of the early twentieth-century urban North. They insisted that so-called Negroes are, in reality, Ethiopian Hebrews, Asiatic Muslims, or raceless children of God. Rejecting conventional American racial classification, many black southern migrants and immigrants from the Caribbean embraced these alternative visions of black history, racial identity, and collective future, thereby reshaping the black religious and racial landscape.

Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement, and a number of congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, Judith Weisenfeld argues that the appeal of these groups lay not only in the new religious opportunities membership provided, but also in the novel ways they formulated a religio-racial identity. Arguing that members of these groups understood their religious and racial identities as divinely-ordained and inseparable, the book examines how this sense of self shaped their conceptions of their bodies, families, religious and social communities, space and place, and political sensibilities.

Weisenfeld draws on extensive archival research and incorporates a rich array of sources to highlight the experiences of average members. The book demonstrates that the efforts by members of these movements to contest conventional racial categorization contributed to broader discussions in black America about the nature of racial identity and the collective future of black people that still resonate today.

 

Robinson, “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”

In April, Wayne State University Press will release “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”  by Julia Marie Robinson (University of North Carolina at Charlotte). The publisher’s description follows:

During the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the local black church was essential in the making and reshaping of urban areas. In Detroit, there was one church and one minister in particular that demonstrated this power of the pulpit—Second Baptist Church of Detroit (“Second,” as many members called it) and its nineteenth pastor, the Reverend Robert L. Bradby. In Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit, author Julia Marie Robinson explores how Bradby’s church became the catalyst for economic empowerment, community building, and the formation of an urban African American working class in Detroit.

Robinson begins by examining Reverend Bradby’s formative years in Ontario, Canada; his rise to prominence as a pastor and community leader at Second Baptist in Detroit; and the sociohistorical context of his work in the early years of the Great Migration. She goes on to investigate the sometimes surprising nature of relationships between Second Baptist, its members, and prominent white elites in Detroit, including Bradby’s close relationship to Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford. Finally, Robinson details Bradby’s efforts as a “race leader” and activist, roles that were tied directly to his theology. She looks at the parts the minister played in such high-profile events as the organizing of Detroit’s NAACP chapter, the Ossian Sweet trial of the mid-1920s, the Scottsboro Boys trials in the 1930s, and the controversial rise of the United Auto Workers in Detroit in the 1940s.

Race, Religion, and the Pulpit presents a full and nuanced picture of Bradby’s life that has so far been missing from the scholarly record. Readers interested in the intersections of race and religion in American history, as well as anyone with ties to Detroit’s Second Baptist Church, will appreciate this thorough volume.

Dixie & Eisenstadt, “Visions of a Better World”

Last month, Random House released the paperback edition of Visions of a Better9780807001721 World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence, by Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt. The publisher’s description follows:

In 1935, at the height of his powers, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal trip to India that would forever change him—and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.

When Thurman (1899–1981) became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he found himself called upon to create a new version of American Christianity, one that eschewed self-imposed racial and religious boundaries, and equipped itself to confront the enormous social injustices that plagued the United States during this period. Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of satyagraha, or “soul force,” would have a momentous impact on Thurman, showing him the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.

After the journey to India, Thurman’s distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi’s prescient words that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” Thurman went on to found one of the first explicitly interracial congregations in the United States and to deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers—among them Martin Luther King Jr.

Visions of a Better World depicts a visionary leader at a transformative moment in his life. Drawing from previously untapped archival material and obscurely published works, Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt explore, for the first time, Thurman’s development into a towering theologian who would profoundly affect American Christianity—and American history.

Warnock, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness”

Next month, NYU Press will publish The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness by Raphael Warnock (Ebenezer Baptist Church). The publisher’s description follows.

What is the true nature and mission of the church? Is its proper Christian purpose to save souls, or to transform the social order? This question is especially fraught when the church is one built by an enslaved people and formed, from its beginning, at the center of an oppressed community’s fight for personhood and freedom. Such is the central tension in the identity and mission of the black church in the United States.
For decades the black church and black theology have held each other at arm’s length. Black theology has emphasized the role of Christian faith in addressing racism and other forms of oppression, arguing that Jesus urged his disciples to seek the freedom of all peoples. Meanwhile, the black church, even when focused on social concerns, has often emphasized personal piety rather than social protest. With the rising influence of white evangelicalism, biblical fundamentalism, and the prosperity gospel, the divide has become even more pronounced.
In Piety or Protest, Raphael G. Warnock, Senior Pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,traces the historical significance of the rise and development of black theology as an important conversation partner for the black church. Calling for honest dialogue between black and womanist theologians and black pastors, this fresh theological treatment demands a new look at the church’s essential mission.

Lloyd, “Race and Political Theology”

From Stanford University Press, a new collection of essays, Race and Political Theology, on how the experiences of Jews and African-Americans inform discussions about religion and politics. Vincent W. Lloyd (Syracuse) is the editor. The publisher’s description follows.

In this volume, senior scholars come together to explore how Jewish and African American experiences can make us think differently about the nexus of religion and politics, or political theology. Some wrestle with historical figures, such as William Shakespeare, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nazi journalist Wilhelm Stapel, and Austrian historian Otto Brunner. Others ponder what political theology can contribute to contemporary politics, particularly relating to Israel’s complicated religious/racial/national identity and to the religious currents in African American politics. Race and Political Theology opens novel avenues for research in intellectual history, religious studies, political theory, and cultural studies, showing how timely questions about religion and politics must be reframed when race is taken into account.

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