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That two of the leading black denominations still retain “African” in their titles shows the extent

to which black churchmen still identify themselves as African peoples. Also, the recent growth

of black caucuses within predominantly white denominational structures and the formation of

the all-black national Committee of Black Churchmen (NCBC) attest to the growing sense

of solidarity among all black churchmen, regardless of denominational differences.

Left: Gayraud Wilmore                                                                                                                                                                              Right: James H. Cone



 Books by Gayraud Wilmore

Black Theology (1980)  / Black Theology: A Documentary History: Volume Two: 1980-1992 (1993)

 Black and Presbyterian: The Heritage and the Hope (1998)

  Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans (1998)

Dissent and Empowerment: Essays in Homor of Gayraud Wilmore (1999)

Pragmatic Spirituality: The Christian Faith Through an Africentric Lens (2004)

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A Review of the Black Church by Cornish Rogers (1971)

Pan-Africanism and the Black Church

A Search for Solidarity

By Cornish Rogers


The ideology of pan-Africanism has made its rounds among black American intellectuals and militants. Ever since the middle of the past century, when Martin Delany championed a black back-to-Africa movement, organized pan-Africanism has been a live option for American blacks in their continuing struggle to free themselves from oppression. Marcus Garvey’s is the name most closely linked with that ideology in this country, but such disparate black heroes as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and George Padmore espoused significant aspects of pan-Africanism – which is simply the affirmation that a special relationship exists among all black people, coupled with a strategy for their liberation everywhere, with Mother Africa as the home base.

Pan-Africanism can be approached from several directions – political, cultural, economic, aesthetic, etc. – but all approaches are designed to lead to black solidarity and liberation. The back-to-Africa movement represents only one aspect of the pan-African ideology, and has by no means been the dominant one. (This year’s February and March issues of the Black Scholar magazine are devoted exclusively to the many facets of the pan-African ideology.) And for some Africans, that ideology is viewed exclusively as a belief in the political unity of the African continent.

A cursory study of the history of the black church in the United States clearly reveals that its emergence was, to an amazing degree, an expression of pan-Africanism, for the occasion of its institutionalization was to protect black people from the effects of oppression and to provide them with a vehicle for solidarity. In the 19th century Bishop H.M. Turner, Alexander Crummell and Edward Blyden were prominent among American black churchmen in advocating religious and cultural contact with African churchmen.

That two of the leading black denominations still retain “African” in their titles shows the extent to which black churchmen still identify themselves as African peoples. Also, the recent growth of black caucuses within predominantly white denominational structures and the formation of the all-black national Committee of Black Churchmen (NCBC) attest to the growing sense of solidarity among all black churchmen, regardless of denominational differences.

Last year, in an attempt to be of use to the emerging African nations, the African commission of NCBC established a Pan-African Skills project. This sought to link the technical skills of American blacks with the technical needs of maldeveloped black African nations by recruiting black applicants for two-year tours of service to an African government. The modest success of that project led the commission to sponsor a consultation between American black churchmen and African religious and government leaders.

The consultation took place last August at Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, and had as its theme: “Black Identity and Solidarity – The Role of the Church as a Medium for Social Change.” For a week, intensive discussions were held around the topics of economic development, education and theology, based on thoughtful papers presented by Africans and Americans. Lively panel discussions dwelt on the most germane issues raised. By the week’s end, the participants acknowledged that they had learned much about each other.

It was the first time in the annals of institutional history that American black churchmen were given an opportunity  to meet face-to-face with African churchmen, without having to relate to them through the missionary structures of the Western churches. Before and after the consultation, the American delegates met with church officials in Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as with the administrative officers of the Organization of African Unity. Those meetings served to validate the conclusions reached at Dar-Es-Salaam.

Economic Development

In the field of economic development, the parallel between the concept of Ujamaa and the self-help projects of the historic black church is striking. Ujamaa (a Swahili word meaning “familyhood”) conveys the concept of African socialism , as distinct from European socialism. Unlike the latter, African socialism involves no theory of inevitable conflict between the “landless” and the “landed.” As explained by Tanzania’s President Julius Nyere, Ujamaa derives from tribal socialism, the foundation of which is the extended family. But today, maintains Nyerere, that extended family goes beyond tribal limits to embrace all the peoples of the African continent, and it should be the basis of pan-Africanism. He expresses the hope that some day it will extend even further to encompass all mankind.

But for now, the small Ujamaa village is Nyerere’s primary concern. His government’s attempts to persuade Tanzanians to organize themselves into cooperative self-sustaining villages bear a remarkable resemblance to what some black activist groups in the United States are trying to do toward economic development. Cooperative farming groups in the American South are working in ways strikingly like those followed in a Ujamaa village the delegation visited.

This village grew, harvested and processed cashew nuts. Like American cooperatives, it carried on without the help of a sophisticated technology. But in both African and the U.S., such enterprises find it difficult to demand a fair price for their products in a market controlled by capitalistic powers. One of the firm conclusions reached by the consultation was that there is urgent necessity for black American economic development projects to link up with African projects in such a manner that each can provide a market for the other’s goods.

The basic aim of Ujamaa is not to make anyone rich but to make everyone self-sustaining. Nyerere wants to enable Tanzania to produce all the foodstuffs and other staples it needs for its people’s survival, without having to “sell its soul” to Western capitalists. To American blacks, “black power” carries a similar meaning and motivates all black economic development projects in the United States.

Here, however, most of these projects are church-sponsored (or at least partly financed by church groups), while in Africa such projects are sponsored by the government. The role of the  African church is merely to encourage participation in the government’s projects. Curiously, then, the link-up is not between the American black churches and the African churches, but between the former and the African governments. Whether or not such an “apples and oranges” mixture can succeed remains to be seen.

In any case, it underlines the fact that for its adherents the black church in America has been virtually a “government” institution since its beginnings. The consultation revealed that the visiting American officials’ views more compatible with their own than with those of the African churchmen – perhaps because African churchmen need be only churchmen, while American churchmen have to fill several roles for their people.


At Dar-Es-Salaam, education for both Africans and American blacks was defined in political terms. The title of a paper presented at the consultation by one of the Tanzanian participants was “Education for Self-Reliance as a Springboard to African Liberation.” He and his fellow Africans recognized that though their nations were independent, their minds were still – as they phrased it “colonized” by European ideas of the good, the true and the beautiful. In their view, then, the function of education is to enable Africans to rediscover their African-ness and to make them self-confident; in other words, to provide them with the kind of training that will be helpful in freeing their governments from economic and cultural bondage to European powers.

As a matter of fact, some African countries have eliminated exams of the sort introduced by the colonialists and have designed others based on their own standards of excellence. University education has been relegated to its proper place in relation to what the country deems important for its development. Vigorous efforts are made to ensure that university education will not foster an elitism that creates disdain for manual labor.

Compare these ideas and efforts with what is going on in the United States. The rapid rise of “liberation” schools in the black communities and the demand for black curricula in predominantly white schools reflect the growing awareness of black people that something vital has been missing from their education. Education is supposed to ennoble and to equip the student for survival, but for blacks it has often been degrading and nonliberating. Therefore, like their African counterparts, blacks in America are experimenting with new forms of education designed not only to enhance self-identity but also to empower them to determine their own destiny as a people.

Again like their African brothers, American blacks are emphasizing not only black history but also the development of skills leading to self-reliance – for example, biomedics and agriculture. Recent attempts by black nationalist groups to acquire rural property in the south attest to the growing importance of the land to black Americans. It is as if, like the mystique between identical twins, the Africans’ repossession of their own land stimulated a hunger for land in American blacks.

Since one important aspect of education is communication, the consultation strongly recommended the introduction and use of a common African language unflawed by European nuances. While Tanzania and other East African nations are fortunate enough to share the same language – namely, Swahili, a genuine lingua franca among them – other African nations are not so blessed. The organization for African Unity has to carry on its program in the three languages of former colonial rulers: French, Spanish, and English.

One needs only to listen to American black “soul” stations on radio or watch black-produced television programs to discover how widespread the use of Swahili words is in the black community, especially on the part of young activists. This affinity for Swahili shows that the hunger for a common African language is pervasive – is indeed another expression of pan-Africanism.


At the consultation, a common African language would have been extremely helpful – above all in the discussion on theology. Papers presented by American and African theologians provoked a stormy debate on the meaning of “black.” On one hand, the African theologians were unacquainted with the symbolism of that word; on the other, the younger American activists present, not being theologians, preferred “African” to describe all black people’s theologies.

Moreover, it became clear that the kind of bloodless philosophical theology which European missionaries had taught African churchmen made it difficult for them to understand the ethnic ground of black theology, even though, obviously, the theology of the Old Testament is ethnically derived. Besides, there is a distinct difference between African and black theologies, owing mainly to the different historical experience of the two groups the past 300 years. While African theology, after European theological overlays are removed, has about it a refined gentleness and a meditative spirituality, black theology assumes a hard-nosed, militant posture.

Space does not allow for detailed comparisons of the two theologies, but three brief observations should be made. First, African Christian theologians have not gone as far as American black theologians in incorporating the meaning of the colonial/slave experience of the past several centuries into their theology.. Much of the African’s need t make sense of his past was satisfied by his recent acquisition of political independence. He is busily hammering out his theology in the institutional structures of his new nation.

Second, the respected African theologians represent, for the most part, churches that are (or have been) controlled by European missionaries and thus are related to the indigenous or independent Christian movements, many of which took the lead in fighting for African independence. Third, African theologians are not as color-conscious as black theologians. The African’s grievance against the colonialists was that he was oppressed not because of his color but because he was African and the colonialists wanted his land and the fruits of his labor.

Therefore color is not as important a symbol in African theology as it is in black theology, although much of the difference is admittedly semantic (African nationalists talk of having been brainwashed into believing that the “European” way is the best way, not that “when you’re white, you’re right.”)

At a deeper level, however, African theology and black theology are contending against the same principalities and powers, from which Christ came to liberate all men. As theologians James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore wrote in the paper they presented jointly at Dar-Es-Salaam:

African theology is concerned with Africanization. Black theology is concerned with liberation. But Africanization must also involve liberation from centuries of poverty, humiliation and exploitation. A truly African theology cannot escape the requirement of helping the indigenous churches to become relevant to the social and political ills of Africa, which are not unrelated to Euro-American imperialism and racism.

As African theologians seek to recover their pristine ideas about God and as America black theologians seek to discover within the black community evidence of God’s liberating acts, a continuing dialogue between them might uncover a new understanding of God that will be truly liberating for all mankind. The pan-African impulse may indeed be a part of God’s plan to redeem his people.

Source: The Christian Century (November 17, 1971)

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Gayraud Stephen Wilmore—writer, historian, educator and theologian—was born on December 20, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother was a domestic worker and his father, a World War I veteran, was an office clerk. His parents were active in the community where he grew up, and his father founded the first Black American Legion Post in Pennsylvania. . . . Wilmore has written and edited sixteen books including Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans, which was published in 1998, and Pragmatic Spirituality, which was published in June 2004. He is also the recipient of innumerable awards and honors. . . . From 1959 to 1963, Wilmore was an assistant professor of social ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. From there, he served as the executive director of the United Presbyterian Commission on Religion and Race until 1972. In that position, he helped to organize and train ministers who participated in boycotts and protests in the South during the Civil Rights movement. From 1972-1974, he taught Social Ethics at Boston University School of Theology, and then taught Black church studies at Colgate Rochester Divinity School until 1983. Wilmore served as the dean of the divinity program at New York Theological Seminary until 1987 before becoming a teacher of church history at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. In 1990, he became the editor of The Journal of the ITC, and he remained in that post for five years. From 1995 to 1998, Wilmore was an adjunct professor at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Wilmore has written and edited sixteen books including Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans, which was published in 1998, and Pragmatic Spirituality.—Historymakers

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 28 March 2012




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