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6 - Freedom Now! Civil Rights, Black Power, and Anticolonial Insurgencies, 1945–1976

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2019

Dennis C. Dickerson
Vanderbilt University, Tennessee


Internal tensions within the ecclesiastical operations of African Methodism coexisted with the broad activism of African Methodist Episcopal members (AMEs) in civil rights, Black Power, and anticolonial insurgencies. The bishops and other clerical and lay leaders whose vocations focused on denominational affairs contrasted with militant ministers and members who defined African Methodism through a praxis that aimed at societal reconstruction in the United States and ending colonialism in Africa. The objectives of denominational governance, however, diverted attention away from energized opposition to hegemonic structures and practices that harmed AME constituencies. Though the maintenance of African Methodism as a proud and independent religious body remained as a worthwhile demonstration of black self-determination and institutional autonomy, this preoccupation caused some leaders to extend only perfunctory support to significant initiatives against white supremacy. Some clergy, however, balanced their immersion in denominational affairs with social activism. Such ministers similarly advocated significant reform within the AME Church to effect fiscal accountability and greater democracy in ecclesiastical governance.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church
A History
, pp. 366 - 464
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Strains in the African Methodist Social Creed

Internal tensions within the ecclesiastical operations of African Methodism coexisted with the broad activism of African Methodist Episcopal members (AMEs) in civil rights, Black Power, and anticolonial insurgencies. The bishops and other clerical and lay leaders whose vocations focused on denominational affairs contrasted with militant ministers and members who defined African Methodism through a praxis that aimed at societal reconstruction in the United States and ending colonialism in Africa. The objectives of denominational governance, however, diverted attention away from energized opposition to hegemonic structures and practices that harmed AME constituencies. Though the maintenance of African Methodism as a proud and independent religious body remained as a worthwhile demonstration of black self-determination and institutional autonomy, this preoccupation caused some leaders to extend only perfunctory support to significant initiatives against white supremacy. Some clergy, however, balanced their immersion in denominational affairs with social activism. Such ministers similarly advocated significant reform within the AME Church to effect fiscal accountability and greater democracy in ecclesiastical governance.

Notwithstanding the factional fights in the late 1940s that led to the special session of the General Conference and to the split at Wilberforce University, AMEs, in a range of venues, challenged segregation and systemic discrimination on the streets, in the courts, and at other levels of government. Others, including Afrocentric intellectuals and activists on both sides of the Atlantic who opposed colonialism, joined in sustaining the ethos of social holiness that Richard Allen, Jarena Lee, Morris Brown, and Denmark Vesey exemplified in the first decade of the denomination’s existence.

Within denominational circles after World War II there was a wide awareness that the ethos of AME activism was being embodied far more in the insurgency of A. Philip Randolph, Sadie T. M. Alexander, Archibald J. Carey, Jr. and other AMEs of both national and local significance than in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Moreover, the growing intensity of an emerging civil rights movement in which AMEs played an integral role required a manifesto that provided denominational leaders with an opportunity to endorse this burgeoning black militancy. The enactment of an African Methodist Social Creed at the 1952 General Conference aimed to highlight the insurgent character that lay within the denominational DNA. The social creed hardly eliminated tensions that pulled some AMEs to focus on internal activities and others who believed that their “parish” lay beyond the sectarian boundaries of their religious body. Instead, this General Conference mandate served as a reminder to AMEs that multiple issues pertaining to civil and human rights and peace and global security in an age of atomic power and ascendant Communism demanded their attention and involvement.

The creed drew from the aging but still supple mind of Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom. Now a nonagenarian, Ransom, perhaps sobered by the sad spectacle of the special session of the General Conference in 1946 and his embarrassing involvement in the Wilberforce split in 1947, viewed the social creed as an opportunity to resuscitate what he surmised as an increasingly insular denomination. The manifesto, though it addressed doctrinal and family life issues, also provided guidance both to the clergy and the laity, whose energies sometimes split between immersion in denominational politics and a broader beckoning to societal reconstruction. Though these two tendencies, at times, resulted in an uneven blending of both, a well-articulated social creed could clarify exactly where AME activity should be directed.

God’s universal laws that formed the basis for “peaceful relations among men and nations” were foundational to the African Methodist creed. Flowing from that was “the sacredness of human personality,” a personalist theology reflected in the writings of Howard Thurman, George Kelsey, and other black religious intellectuals. This “oneness of the human race” provided no support to “racial prejudice and discrimination” and declared that such attitudes and actions were “injurious to the unity of mankind.” Hence, “all members of the human family should be accorded equal opportunities for educational, social, and cultural development in accordance with their capacities and inclinations.” To achieve a just and lasting peace, AMEs, in echoing Randolph and Bayard Rustin, endorsed the use of “nonviolent methods.” The creed also gestured toward the recent campaign for a permanent Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) and ongoing efforts to establish such agencies on the state and municipal levels. No one should be denied, the manifesto asserted, “the right to earn a living because of race, creed, or color.” After the General Conference enacted these statements of principle, the bishops requested “an annual reading of this Social Creed in all our churches and Sunday Schools.”Footnote 1

To facilitate the dissemination of the African Methodist Social Creed, it was expanded and published as a pamphlet. Moreover, a paragraph of explanation accompanied the several bullet points elaborating on the denomination’s staunch stand against racial segregation and discrimination. The creed denounced housing bias that barred blacks from “more desirable residential sections” and “segregation in our tax supported public schools, colleges, and universities.” Though opposed to a “godless Communism that seeks to dominate The Free World,” AMEs showed their proletarian consciousness in recognizing that “over ninety per cent” of its membership was “laborers” who possessed the right “to collective bargaining.” Additionally, the FEPC, the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, deserved congressional approval because employment discrimination “places an economic handicap” upon African Americans and bars their admission “into the great [main]stream of our Social, Industrial, Economic, and Cultural Life.”Footnote 2

Similarly, unjust incarceration harmed African American advancement. “Chain gangs, prison camps, and jails,” the creed declared, “annually hold thousands of Negro prisoners who have committed no crime, but only misdemeanors or trivial offences such as ‘Imprudence to an officer of the Law.’” Though the denomination had long supported temperance, the creed acknowledged dope as a new scourge that, along with alcohol, should be treated as enemies of the “home” and other venues of African American life. While AMEs were hardly ever pacifist, the creed asserted “we cannot follow the Prince of Peace while advocating or supporting war.” With the specter of advancing Communism emanating from the USSR, China, and Korea, “the world is organized today, under the high tension and strain concerning the imminence of war.” It was important for AMEs to “stand for peace” and fight “for the preservation of freedom and justice for all.Footnote 3

AMEs realized that an awareness and engagement with pressing domestic and international issues in the post-World War II era made preoccupations with internal ecclesiastical intrigues increasingly untenable. There were, however, members and ministers whose activities already reflected principles that were articulated in the creed. Proletarian parishioners, for example, fought racial discrimination at industrial and military sites in such disparate locations as western Pennsylvania and Bermuda. Carl O. Dickerson, an involved member of Payne Chapel in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, protested bias against blacks at his own Carnegie steel plant even when his local union, in which he was an officer, eschewed the issue. His activism led to an appointment in 1948 to the District 15 wage policy committee of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). In the same year, he joined picketers at a USWA convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey where union officers were lodged at the exclusive Traymore Hotel. They protested the hotel sign that read “NO NEGROES, NO JEWS, AND NO DOGS.” Dickerson and the other black USWA members forced union officials to move to a nondiscriminatory hotel. Similarly, militant John Hughey, whose three brothers were AME pastors, started work in 1947 at the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, Pennsylvania. Hughey objected to the displacement of black laborers by white employees and technological innovations in the departments where African Americans had been dominant. Bermuda’s Kingsley Tweed was described as “a charismatic, articulate young carpenter with a pronounced call to the AME Church ministry.” Tweed, in 1952, as an employee at the United States Kindley Air Force base, joined the Bermuda Industrial Union. He was fired and blacklisted because he led twenty-two others in protesting the racially biased conduct of their employer.Footnote 4

Like the laity, the clergy, even as ecclesiastical responsibilities required their attention, engaged in broader spheres of activity. J. Solomon Benn, a presiding elder in the Philadelphia Annual Conference, was a Republican (GOP) candidate in 1950 for the Pennsylvania legislature. Moreover, an AME protégé of Charles Leander Hill, the president of Wilberforce University, lobbied in 1953 for his appointment as Governor of the US Virgin Islands. These parishioners and preachers envisaged themselves as distinctively AME in their varied public involvements. The creed, in trying to speak the realities that rank-and-file AMEs experienced apart from the church’s organizational operations, played some part in preparing African Methodism for the challenges of the civil rights movement.Footnote 5

Nonetheless, the task of governing African Methodism, itself an achievement in black sovereignty, stood in tension with more energetic efforts to fight the same hegemonic forces that required the founding of the AME Church in a previous century. As black freedom movements gained momentum both during and after World War II, the dual obligations of institutional maintenance and insurgent activity split the clergy and the laity between those who emphasized one commitment over the other. Though some exerted themselves in both pursuits, church insiders, who demanded total allegiance to institutional affairs, compelled choices that marginalized social holiness objectives. The ministerial trajectories of Isaiah H. Bonner of Alabama and Joseph A. De Laine of South Carolina illustrated these tendencies within the denomination.

Bonner was born in Camden, Alabama, in 1890. Through the northern-based Presbyterian Church, USA, he received B.A. and B.D. degrees at Knoxville College and ordination in the Presbytery of Tennessee. Despite these Calvinist connections, especially in supplying the pulpit at the historically black Shiloh Presbyterian Church near his campus, Bonner also received a license to preach at Bethel AME Church in Knoxville and served an AME congregation in nearby South Pittsburg, Tennessee. After teaching at a Presbyterian preparatory school in Alabama and securing a full AME ordination, Bonner launched a successful ministerial career in the state, most notably in Mobile, from where he was elected to the episcopacy in 1948. He was assigned to South Africa just as the Afrikaner-dominated Nationalist Party ascended to power and imposed an unusually rigid and oppressive apartheid system of racial separation upon the nation’s black majority.Footnote 6

Historically, South Africa’s British and Boer officials had always been suspicious of the AMEs because of their American-based bishops, their heritage of black autonomy, and their opposition to antiblack policies in both the Americas and the colonized areas of Africa. Though the British-dominated Cape Colony legitimized the denomination in 1899, complaints from diverse European clergy and hostile local officeholders, especially in Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State, were uncomfortable with the “Ethiopianism” that AMEs embodied. Because resident Bishop Levi J. Coppin made futile attempts in the early 1900s to quiet indigenous African Methodist ministers who were opposed to white rule, distrust of the denomination remained operative during subsequent decades, particularly when Bonner sought entry to South Africa in 1948 and tried to stay for an extended time.Footnote 7

As a result, presiding elders in Cape Province in 1949 asked South Africa’s Minister of the Interior to allow Bonner to remain in the country until 1952 to handle an enormous backlog of church business. Bonner’s predecessors, owing in part to World War II, had been unable to travel to South Africa for over a decade. These indigenous clergy emphasized to the apartheid government that Bonner’s “work deals purely with the spiritual upliftment of the church members and as head of the AME Church he is bound to preach nothing but peace and goodwill to all men.” Bonner echoed these same sentiments, saying in a letter to nation’s AME clergy that “as your Bishop and leader, I am asking you not to make your church a political organization. As ministers and disciples of our Lord, we must follow his way to conquer. We can only win by love and not by force. Be ye, therefore, preachers of LOVE. HATE NO MAN. God is still ruling the world. Let us serve God in sincerity and in truth and he will fight our battles for us.” Therefore, Bonner informed one presiding elder that his principal focus would be a church building program to erect “many new churches in needy places.” As a result Bonner built seventeen new edifices in South Africa and in northern and southern Rhodesia, territories that were also a part of his assignment. Additionally, Bonner Hall, built as a classroom facility and dormitory, was constructed in the Transvaal at the AME-sponsored Wilberforce Institute.Footnote 8

Bonner, while mindful of apartheid’s pernicious development in South Africa, believed that building and maintaining AME infrastructure ranked higher than “political” activities that directly challenged the nation’s racially unjust regime. He adopted the same posture during his tenure as the bishop in segregated South Carolina between 1952 and 1960. Pressure from an aggressive pro-segregationist governor, George B. Timmerman, was exerted upon Allen University, where Bonner was board chairman. Timmerman demanded the dismissal of three faculty members whom he accused of leftist and integrationist advocacy. The governor correctly surmised Allen’s vulnerability because it depended on the state for certification of its teacher training program. President Frank Veal, fearing this revocation, fired the professors and deleted from the university catalogue any mention of the campus National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council. Despite these conciliatory moves, the state still revoked the teacher accreditation program because the American Association of University Professors criticized the breaches of academic freedom at Allen that Timmerman had caused. Nonetheless, both Bonner and Veal had buckled to the governor by acquiescing to the firing of the three professors, thinking that these terminations would preserve this vital academic center.Footnote 9

Bonner, whether in South Africa or South Carolina, seemed averse to confrontations with state power and restricted his activity to protecting AME denominational interests. Though motivated by his reverence for the AME past and pride in its Atlantic reach, Bonner believed that he should emphasize the expansion and maintenance of the ecclesia. He had not yet realized that the black struggle for freedom had shifted gears and was now in an emergent, transatlantic phase of insurgent opposition against segregation, colonialism, and its newest manifestation apartheid. While Bonner seemed disengaged from these developments, Joseph A. De Laine, his generational peer, understood these new challenges that flowed from the emancipationist ethos of African Methodism.

Like Bonner, De Laine was a black Southerner. He was born in 1898 in South Carolina just as legalized Jim Crow was reinforcing the subjugation of African Americans through political disenfranchisement and peonage. De Laine, the son of an AME minister, was educated at Allen University and served several congregations in the state. Trained as a teacher, he was a bivocational clergyman who, while leading a church in his native Clarendon County, was principal at the Scott’s Branch School in Summerton. He belonged to an increasingly combative corps of black South Carolinians who grew the number of NAACP chapters in the state from the three in Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville in 1930 to eighty-six by 1954. Within a similar period of time the membership expanded from 800 to 14,237. Fear that whites would succeed in labeling the NAACP as Communist, such leaders as E. A. Adams, who taught De Laine at Allen University, used the pseudonym Negro Citizens Committee to mask their insurgent activities. Through this guise Adams and others convinced De Laine to start a NAACP chapter in Clarendon County in 1942. With assistance in 1943 from two other AME pastors, they recruited six supporters as endorsers for a NAACP charter. Because some reluctant black ministers withdrew their churches as possible meeting sites, the pastor at St. Mark AME Church in Summerton, Edward Frazier, opened the doors of his small parish to the NAACP.Footnote 10

De Laine’s illness, however, demoralized the chapter until he revived it in 1947 and gained a new charter in 1948. Additionally, he attended a seminar at Benedict College where a NAACP official, James Hinton, an Adams protégé who had urged De Laine to found a NAACP branch, spoke about racial inequality in the state’s public schools. No South Carolinians, he lamented, had been willing to spearhead a test case about discrimination against black students in school bus transportation. As a pastor and principal in Clarendon County, De Laine volunteered to find plaintiffs for a suit. After meetings were held at some local AME churches, the ill-fated Pearson case emerged. Abandoned because of a technicality, De Laine, in cooperation with the national NAACP, developed Harry Briggs Et Al v. Clarendon County Board Of Education.Footnote 11

The Briggs case landed in a federal district court in Charleston where a three judge panel heard arguments. In a two to one decision the court sustained the denial of bus transportation to Clarendon’s black students. The lone dissenter, Judge J. Waites Waring, already on record for the desegregation of the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina, declared in the Briggs case that “segregation in education can never produce equality.” Such a system, he said, “is an evil that must be eradicated,” and therefore “segregation is per se inequality.” De Laine’s push elicited this compelling legal language from Waring, and helped the NAACP in bundling the Briggs case with similar suits that the organization brought to the United States Supreme Court.Footnote 12

The origin of the lead case coming out of Topeka, Kansas, resembled the Briggs suit in South Carolina. In both places AME clergy, situated far from the locus of ecclesiastical rank, responded to prodding from the NAACP to challenge school desegregation. The initial attack against Topeka’s segregated public educational system started in 1948 when the president of the local NAACP challenged the adherence of school officials to the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In 1950 the branch secretary asked Walter White, the national executive director, to support a suit to end the segregated schools in the Kansas state capital, and as a result Robert L. Carter became the liaison between the national NAACP and its Topeka chapter.Footnote 13

The branch secretary herself volunteered as a plaintiff on behalf of her daughter, whom she attempted to enroll at a white school close to their home. Additionally, Oliver L. Brown, who was not a NAACP member, was selected as a complainant. Though an assistant to the pastor at Topeka’s St. John AME Church, Brown also worked as a unionized welder at the repair shops of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Hence, he was not subject to the same economic reprisals that could affect potential plaintiffs in more vulnerable occupations. Though described by some as lacking “militancy,” another observer said that Brown “was no longer willing to accept second class citizenship” and now “wanted to be a whole man.”Footnote 14

Because Brown’s daughter, Linda, walked to a segregated school that was nearly a mile from their residence, her father took her to a white school that was closer and better equipped. When Brown left the principal’s office after a predictable rejection, he became “quite upset.” He testified in 1951 at the US District Court for Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that he was a taxpayer and that his daughter had a right to attend a school nearest their home on a non-racial basis. Another seven plaintiffs gave similar testimonies. Nonetheless, a unanimous decision was delivered finding no discrimination in the Topeka public schools. Hence, the Briggs and Brown cases, filed within two months of each other, together with suits from Prince Edward County, Virginia, Washington DC, and Delaware landed as a unified suit at the US Supreme Court. The ultimate ruling on May 17, 1954 in the combined cases, whose shortened title was Brown v. Board of Education et al., declared as unconstitutional public school segregation.Footnote 15

De Laine paid a heavy price for steering the Briggs case into the hands of the NAACP. In 1950, for example, Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr. transferred him to Lake City, South Carolina, where he would be lesser known and theoretically safer than in Clarendon County. Nonetheless, De Laine questioned the bishop on wisdom of this move because the area was known as a “KKK hole.” Bishop Reid, however, refused to budge because the Lake City parish required a pastor of De Laine’s experience and ability. Moreover, Reid reasoned that the NAACP, which now had the Briggs case, had sidelined De Laine. When E. A. Adams learned about the transfer, he recognized the irony, and told De Laine “Lake City is Hell. Just go on to Hell and God will bring you out all right.Footnote 16

In October 1951 the De Laines’ Summerton home was torched while local firemen looked on without offering any assistance. The De Laine property, they said, lay outside their jurisdiction. In Lake City, in the year following the Brown decision, a White Citizens Council was organized. The inaugural meeting drew “several hundred white men” who heard a lawyer declare that “the nigger preacher y’all are feeding is the real backbone of the desegregation movement. Y’all got to get rid of him before y’all can stop the others.” That same night, De Laine’s daughter recalled, “night riders took to their cars” and commenced their first act of vandalism by hurling a ketchup bottle onto the family residence. A few nights later a window was broken. Days later, rocks were thrown at the house. While he was away attending the 1955 Palmetto Annual Conference in Charleston, De Laine’s church was set afire and “reduced almost to rubble.” At this point Bishop Reid informed De Laine that Bishop Decatur Ward Nichols was offering him a church in the Northeast as an escape from South Carolina. De Laine refused, saying “I’d rather stay where I am and fight it out.”Footnote 17

Perhaps De Laine too hastily rebuffed these offers of rescue from the two bishops. Upon his return to Lake City, he heard rumors that he was unsafe. Despite entreaties from his wife, Mattie, and again from Bishop Reid to leave Lake City, De Laine, with a gun in hand, refused to be chased away. The harassment continued, however, with shooting around the minister’s home. These ominous happenings in 1955 finally convinced him to flee and drive out of town “like a madman.” In Florence, South Carolina, both NAACP and church officials facilitated his exit out of the state, enabling him to avoid a warrant for his arrest on a trumped up charge.Footnote 18

De Laine arrived in Trenton, New Jersey, and from there Bishop Nichols drove him to New York City. Nichols’ successor, Bishop George W. Baber, assigned him in 1956 to Buffalo, New York to organize the city’s second AME congregation to accommodate transplanted South Carolinians. The congregation took the name De Laine-Waring AME Church to commemorate the crucial players in the Briggs v. Elliot case. Baber transferred De Laine to New Rochelle in 1957, and to Brooklyn in 1960, these being two congregations of modest size. Disappointed that more favorable pastoral appointments were unavailable to him, De Laine asserted bitterly that “it appears like what the church did for us was an extension of the work of the white citizens council.” His failure to be elected as editor of the AME Church Review reinforced his hurt that AMEs would not reward him for his frontline involvement in the civil rights movement. Notwithstanding De Laine’s long series of articles published in the Christian Recorder titled “Our Part in a Revolution,” AMEs did not formally acknowledge his courageous adherence to their church’s liberationist legacy.Footnote 19

Brown, initially an unlikely warrior for black advancement, fared no better in becoming an AME hero deserving of denominational reward and recognition. He moved on from the ministerial staff at Topeka’s St. John Church to the pastorate of the smaller St. Mark AME Church in another section of the city. While De Laine lived on until 1974, dying in his mid-seventies, Brown died prematurely in 1961 in his early forties. The ministry of Brown and De Laine, though disconnected in terms of ecclesiastical governance, conformed to what several commentators described as the rebirth of Allen’s social insurgency. De Laine, for example, “hurled the first serious blow in modern times against [the] entrenched evil of school segregation” that embodied the Allen legacy.Footnote 20

E. A. Adams, now the denomination’s historiographer, “tipped his hand” in a volume he published in 1955. Though never mentioning De Laine, whom he counseled and helped to protect his real estate holdings, Adams expressed his unambiguous preference for an energized AME social holiness over an exclusive focus on insular institutional affairs. Hence, in the Year Book and Historical Guide to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, published during the era of burgeoning black civil rights militancy, Adams characterized the denomination as having a “long and colorful history of service to and redemption of a people.” Perhaps his extensive interactions with De Laine moved him to say that within African Methodism “there is an even greater potential for service, redemption and Christian leadership within our church yet to be fulfilled.” Sadie T. M. Alexander, the activist AME attorney, agreed. In 1952 she acknowledged De Laine’s fight for “the elimination of segregated schools” and expressed her concern “for the safety of his life and that of his family” as terrorists “burned to the ground” his farm “and every building on it.” Her Charleston informants told Alexander that “he is marked for death.” Archibald J. Carey, Jr., the pastor at Quinn Chapel in Chicago and an alderman, validated the views of Adams and Alexander, saying that AME clergy should pattern their ministries after Richard Allen and become “dedicated not only to the calling of God but to the service of man.” All AME ministers, Carey recommended, and also the laity, should be officers in their local NAACP and Urban League affiliates “and all other movements for civic improvement or human freedom.Footnote 21

Figure 6.1 AME bishops praying at the Supreme Court in commemoration of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case outlawing school segregation. Standing, left to right: Bishops F. D. Jordan, H. T. Primm, W. R. Wilkes, I. H. Bonner, A. J. Allen, Frank M. Reid, Sr., Decatur Ward Nichols, S. L. Greene, R. R. Wright, Jr., G. W. Baber, Carey A. Gibbs, E. C. Hatcher, Joseph Gomez

(Reprinted from Jeanette T. Johns, The Upward Journey: A Centenarian’s Chronicle: Personal Stories of Bishop Decatur Ward Nichols, Revered Clergyman of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 2002)

Carriers of the Allen Activist Legacy

The civil rights movement drew from a minority of ministers and members largely exclusive of the episcopacy. Their visible leadership and participation in this new phase of the black freedom struggle established a sharp contrast between themselves and other AMEs who preferred involvement with the machinations of denominational politics, including efforts to reform church governance. The presence of critical clergy and laity in “the coming of age of civil rights” as a national issue showed these leaders to be both pivotal and indispensable. Though A. Philip Randolph, Sadie T. M. Alexander, and Archibald J. Carey, Jr. distinguished themselves in the separate spheres of grassroots mobilization and government advocacy, they played essential roles in advancing black civil rights. Their activism was informed by what E. A. Adams described as “translating [AME] History into Action” and fulfilling “the vision and greatness of [Richard] Allen and [Daniel A.] Payne.”Footnote 22

Randolph, through the March on Washington Movement (MOWM), introduced the methodology of grassroots mass mobilization into the black freedom struggle. This foundational technique, which mirrored Gandhian nonviolence, decisively influenced the civil rights movement. Having achieved a wartime Fair Employment Practices Committee, Randolph maintained this nonviolent strategy through the 1940s and 1950s to press for other civil rights objectives. In sustaining MOWM, Randolph also strengthened his clerical and church relationships and educated them about mass grassroots action.

MOWM, while monitoring FEPC’s anti-discrimination activities in wartime defense industries, also opposed other acts of bias against African Americans. Several examples of racial violence in the South, for example, convinced Randolph to mobilize prayer protests, especially among black preachers and parishes in New York City, to call attention to these deadly civil rights violations. Additionally, MOWM’s initial emphasis on the FEPC had a derivative impact upon statewide initiatives to enact anti-employment discrimination statues. Despite a promise to Randolph from President Harry Truman that the agency would be “an integral part” of his postwar “reconversion program,” the federal FEPC expired in 1946. This important MOWM initiative came to an end because a bill to establish it as a permanent agency received weak support from Truman, who allowed it to die without a fight in the US Senate.Footnote 23

For this reason, John Adams, an AME presiding elder in the Nebraska Annual Conference and a senator in the state’s unicameral legislature, revived the Randolph initiative. Adams replaced his son and namesake as a legislative representative of an Omaha district, and was elected and reelected six times starting in 1949. During his incumbency the presiding elder introduced a bill for a Nebraska FEPC, but was rebuffed because fellow legislators argued that municipal agencies would be more effective in ending employment discrimination. Whitney M. Young, Jr., the executive director of the Omaha Urban League between 1950 and 1953 and a member of St. John AME Church, understanding this subterfuge, proposed that the Omaha city council should pass a FEPC ordinance. The efforts of both Adams and Young, though unsuccessful, showed the reach of Randolph’s influence.Footnote 24

Randolph’s push for grassroots pressure for government action to safeguard black rights continued in the 1950s and 1960s. With support from organized labor in 1957, he joined with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the newly founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in staging a grassroots Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington DC. Randolph, who formally rejoined African Methodism in 1957 at Bethel Church in Harlem, drew ministerial support for the march and for its emphasis on securing the suffrage for disenfranchised African Americans. This pattern was replicated in 1963 in the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Randolph, the titular head of the march, pitched the idea to the “Big Six” civil rights leaders in the NAACP, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Urban League (NUL), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Council of Negro Women, and they attracted broad-base support from labor, religious, and other activist organizations. The 250,000 marchers exerted public pressure upon Congress to enact President John F. Kennedy’s omnibus civil rights proposals. Lyndon B. Johnson, the successor to his martyred predecessor, signed this landmark legislation into law on July 2, 1964 in part thanks to the Randolph-inspired march.Footnote 25

Just as Randolph stirred grassroots blacks in pressing for their civil rights, Sadie T. M. Alexander helped in mobilizing federal support for these same objectives. During the 1940s Alexander, beyond her role as a major attorney for the AMEs, became increasingly influential through involvements in the NAACP, NUL, the National Council of Negro Women, and the National Bar Association. Visibility in these major black organizations together with her experience as assistant city solicitor in Philadelphia made her a compelling choice in 1947 for the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. President Truman received from the panel a hard-hitting report, To Secure These Rights, which laid bare with blunt descriptions the indignities and discriminatory practices imposed on African Americans. Alexander and Channing Tobias, a Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) minister and a high-level Young Men's Christian Association official, the only two blacks out of the fifteen on the commission, communicated with black organizations to solicit their input into their investigations.Footnote 26

Alexander, a board member of the NUL, pressed the committee administrator to invite testimony from this major organization. She insisted “that the League [should] have an opportunity to present the result of its 35 years in the field of industrial relations.” Alexander was alarmed that “not a single organization working in the field of Negro concern has submitted a memorand[um].” Moreover, Alexander used her leverage to urge federal intervention into a case of anti-black violence. She told the committee chair about a lynching in Greenville, South Carolina, and said that “if the Justice Department had a division equipped with men skilled in the law involving civil rights,” then inept FBI agents could surrender these investigations to legal professionals. Specifically, Alexander wanted officials in the Department of Justice to recommend the elevation of civil rights out of the Criminal Division into a special Division of Civil Rights headed by an assistant attorney general. The opening of regional offices in various parts of the South would bolster the effectiveness of the division and would signal increased federal scrutiny of civil rights violations. She proposed that African Americans should flood the president with communications to “let him know it is their will” that these actions should be taken. Alexander also wanted Truman “to appoint a permanent committee on civil rights” to continue the work of their special task force.Footnote 27

Alexander described her participation on the Truman panel as “one of the greatest privileges of my life.” G. James Fleming of the Race Relations department of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) acknowledged her “very vigorous role on the committee” and praised the “straightforward, thorough-going, and challenging” report that drew from the panel’s investigations. Alexander, while functioning in a federal bureaucratic setting, helped to amplify black civil rights as an urgent issue in the US body politic.Footnote 28

While Alexander served on the Truman panel, the welfare of African Methodism was never far from her consciousness. Fall out from the 1946 special session of the General Conference again plunged the denomination into the Court of Appeals to fight an injunction to stop a meeting of the Council of Bishops. Though a court decree allowed the bishops to convene, Alexander, who was their attorney, recalled that the suit was “consuming all of my time and energy” and was preoccupying her five stenographers in typing “various briefs and pleadings.” Hence, Alexander, because of the AME litigation, declined to attend an honorific dinner feting her for accomplishments on the Truman committee and in other spheres of civil rights activity. “When the very existence of my church is threatened,” she told Channing Tobias, no “personal tribute” would preempt her effort “to adequately protect my church.” The heritage of sovereignty and social holiness, the two complementary characteristics of African Methodism, mattered much to Alexander, and both required and received from her energized involvements. Similar commitments also drove Archibald J. Carey, Jr., who, like Randolph and Alexander, contributed much to civil rights advancements.Footnote 29

Carey, immersed in AME affairs, like Alexander, held two successive pastorates in Chicago, served as a delegate to AME General Conferences, and was elected president of the Connectional Council. His activism, which ranged from advocacy of grassroots mass mobilization to eliciting civil rights measures from government, reflected tactics that Randolph and Alexander respectively pursued. Beyond his support of Randolph’s MOWM, Carey’s political activities mandated the same grassroots mobilization that protest marches generated. Hence, his candidacy for the Board of Alderman in Chicago in 1947 required him to organize potential constituents and community groups to push for his election. With his parishioners at Woodlawn AME Church as his political base, Carey extended his reach in the Third Ward to an interdenominational clientele and to a variety of African American civic and labor groups. After beating a fellow AME, Carey focused in 1948 on banning racial discrimination in publicly aided housing. Though the Carey Ordinance was not enacted, he gained a national reputation for forthright civil rights advocacy.Footnote 30

National Republicans, mainly because of energetic black officeholders and candidates, hammered Democrats on their vulnerable civil rights record. They especially focused on the failure of President Truman to press Congress on a permanent FEPC and the persistent practice of levying poll taxes to prevent blacks from voting in the Democratic-dominated South. In a bold move in 1950 the GOP sponsored four black candidates for Congress running on platforms of invigorated civil rights advocacy. Besides the two contenders in Philadelphia and New York City, the other two were AME clergy, William Hodge in Cleveland and Carey in Chicago. All of them lost, with Carey defeated by a well-entrenched black Democratic congressman, William L. Dawson. Because he retained his position as alderman, Carey remained as one of the few GOP officeholders in Cook County, Illinois. He was well positioned, therefore, to speak at the 1952 Republican National Convention that met in Chicago.Footnote 31

Carey’s speech, a fortuitous classic and template for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s more famous “I Have a Dream” oration, reviewed why Republicans were better on civil rights than the Democrats and why the GOP should reclaim its historic role as protectors of black freedom and guardians of the rights of other populations of color. African Americans, like other Americans, sang with patriotic fervor:
My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of Thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died
Land of the pilgrim’s pride
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring.

He then added:

That’s exactly what we mean-from every mountain side, let freedom ring.

Not only from the Green Mountains and the White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain in Georgia, from the Great Smokies of Tennessee and from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia – Not only for the minorities of the United States, but for the persecuted of Europe, for the rejected of Asia, for the disfranchised of South Africa and for the dis-inherited of all the earth-may the Republican Party under God, from every mountain side, LET FREEDOM RING!Footnote 32

For Carey, pursuing black civil rights through partisan involvements, with validation from energized black voters in Chicago’s Third Ward, led him to vest high hopes in the GOP presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. Because Carey backed a winner, he was appointed to a brief term as Alternate Delegate to the United Nations between September 12 and December 9, 1953. In 1955, Eisenhower asked Carey to serve as vice chair of the newly impaneled President’s Committee on Government Employment Policy. The group was charged to investigate and settle cases of racial and religious discrimination in federal employment. When the chair died in 1957, Carey succeeded him and thus became one of the highest-ranking African Americans in Ike’s presidential administration. Carey held hearings across the country and he personally intervened to settle sundry cases of racial injustice. He believed that his historic meeting with the president and his cabinet in 1960 to outline plans for increased cooperation with departments and agencies in rooting out discriminatory practices within the federal bureaucracy counted as a notable achievement. Despite the effectiveness of Randolph’s methodology of grassroots mass mobilization, Carey, like Alexander’s role in the Truman administration, leveraged his position in the Eisenhower presidency to promote government employment equity for African Americans.Footnote 33

Randolph was right in observing that the grassroots mass mobilization could draw upon the untapped energies of black churches to invigorate opposition to legalized segregation. His prayer protests and ministerial alliances in the 1940s presaged in the 1950s an unexpected convergence between growing black impatience with the daily indignities of Jim Crow and the rise of southern black congregations determined to protect militant ministers and members in their challenge to segregated structures. Black churches constituted a base of support for newly organized community-based groups that replaced NAACP chapters recently outlawed by southern state legislatures. Hence, these organizations, with black churches behind them, helped to fund a succession of bus boycotts in southern cities that applied effective economic pressure upon once smug defenders of white supremacy.

Aldon Morris correctly credits black churches as the funding source for the mass mobilization that lay behind clergy-led boycotts starting in Baton Rouge in 1953, Montgomery in 1955, and Tallahassee in 1956. AMEs, along with ministers and members in other religious bodies, played crucial roles within this grassroots phase of the civil rights movement. Rosa McCauley Parks in Montgomery and King Solomon Du Pont in Tallahassee were among the indispensable contributors to the growing black militancy against Jim Crow.Footnote 34

Rosa Parks has been immortalized as the “mother of the modern civil rights movement” because of her brave refusal to relinquish her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955. This single act of defiance galvanized the city’s black population, who saw her arrest as the “final straw” in a long series of discourtesies and discriminatory treatment by the Montgomery City Lines. A bus boycott was called and was coordinated by the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association and its charismatic president, Martin Luther King, Jr. Notwithstanding King’s leadership role and the NAACP’s Supreme Court suit, Gayle v. Browder, which invalidated Alabama’s Jim Crow statues on November 13, 1956, Parks was important beyond her symbolic standing in her local community.

The Parks encounter on the Montgomery bus, though unplanned, was grounded in two decades of activism in Alabama that owed, in part, to her AME heritage. Parks, from her hometown congregation, Mount Zion in Pine Level, to St. Paul Church in Montgomery, regularly attended services and imbibed the message that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity, and for that reason Richard Allen stood for the dignity of African Americans. Therefore, AMEs were obliged to correct the blot of slavery and racial injustice in God’s creation. Just as Christ redeemed humankind from personal sin, believers were charged with removing sin from their surroundings. Hence, Parks, who as a stewardess at her Montgomery church prepared the Eucharist for consecration and distribution by her pastor, experienced personal renewal through her participation in the sacrament. In seeking the same renewal in her surroundings, she reenacted this ritual through her NAACP activities and pursued societal renewal by challenging segregation.

Parks embodied in the Montgomery movement years of previous civil rights involvements that contributed to the successful bus boycott. When she met Raymond Parks, whom she married in 1932, he was participating in the National Committee to Defend the Scottsboro Boys, the persecuted black men who had been unjustly convicted for the rape of two perjured white women. Her husband, said one biographer, “helped to radicalize Rosa Parks during the Great Depression” with talk about “NAACP strategies for helping blacks win the right to vote and gain entry to local hospitals” in Alabama. Rosa Parks was similarly aware that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had integrated military bases such as Maxwell Field in Montgomery, where she in 1941 was employed as a secretary. The irony of riding on a segregated bus to a federal job at an integrated facility was not lost on Parks.Footnote 35

Parks’s experience with integration led to her defiance of bus driver James F. Blake in 1943. Blake was known as a tobacco spitting “vicious bigot” who regularly “cursed at ‘nigras’ just for the fun of it.” He insulted black women by calling them “bitch” and “coon.” Parks, already familiar with his antiblack vulgarity, refused to obey his order to disembark from the bus, after paying her fare and reboarding through a rear door. Coincidentally, Blake’s bus was the same one she boarded in 1955, though in the intervening years Parks made a point to avoid him.Footnote 36

The denial of voting rights to African Americans motivated Parks in the 1940s to join the NAACP. At the Montgomery Branch she became involved immediately in a voter registration drive. Twice in 1943 she tried to register and again in 1944. Astonishingly, Parks was told that despite having a 1933 high school diploma, she flunked a literacy test. Wise to the subterfuges that had been used to prevent her registration, Parks circumvented them and passed the test in 1945. She paid the poll tax and voted in the state’s 1946 gubernatorial election.Footnote 37

Parks’s militancy in the 1940s, while evident in her determination to vote and to defy bus driver Blake, escalated in a more daring encounter with racial violence in the case of Recy Taylor in Abbeville, Alabama, in 1944. After leaving a church service, Taylor, married and the mother of an infant, accompanied two other blacks, a mother and son, on the journey to their respective homes. Surprisingly, seven armed white men drove toward them to accost Taylor, and accused her of assaulting a white boy in a nearby town. Despite her denial and efforts by her male companion to protect her, Taylor was pushed into the car and driven to a remote location. She was ordered to disrobe while a rifle was pointed at her. Six men took turns to rape her. When the news of the crime reached the office of the Montgomery NAACP, local president E. D. Nixon sent Branch Secretary Parks to Henry County to investigate. Parks, after speaking with Taylor, established the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor.Footnote 38

Though racially flawed judicial proceedings scuttled the Taylor case, Parks tried to mobilize alliances with several groups such as the Southern Negro Youth Congress, whose members included a professor and president of Tuskegee Institute. These affiliations helped to spread information about the egregious treatment that Taylor received in the local court. Coverage of the case was also transmitted through the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. Parks’s committee, despite charges against it as a Communist front organization, persisted in its national campaign to publicize how sexualized violence victimized black women. Though Alabama state officials never intervened in the Taylor case and allowed her attackers to escape conviction, these experiences matured Parks into a seasoned organizer and activist.Footnote 39

Even before the Montgomery bus boycott ended, AMEs at the 1956 General Conference hailed Parks as a denominational heroine. According to Bishop George W. Baber, a former pastor at Ebenezer in Detroit and a 1940s veteran of the city’s civil rights committee, Parks reenacted what Richard Allen had done in 1787. “Richard Allen’s spirit walked out at Philadelphia,” the bishop declared, “and more recently he walked out in Montgomery.” Additionally, Bishop Isaiah H. Bonner introduced the Reverend Ralph W. Hilson, the pastor at Montgomery’s St. John Church AME Church, “who spoke on ‘The Battle of Montgomery’” and recounted the contributions of Rosa Parks, “a Stewardess of the AME Church.” He asserted “that 50,000 people of Montgomery walked off the bus with her.” Hilson, a member of the Montgomery Improvement Association executive board, also solicited monies for the boycott in the North and mobilized support from Alabama AMEs for those who would “walk in dignity rather than ride in shame.”Footnote 40

Despite the pride in Parks from Baber and Hilson, these denominational cheerleaders defined her narrowly in symbolic terms, thus sidestepping, perhaps unwittingly, her long and daring experience as a fighter against Jim Crow. Sitting in the General Conference audience as these tributes were paid to an absent Rosa Parks was King Solomon DuPont, a delegate from the Florida Annual Conference. He was present at the Miami meeting three weeks before two female students from the all black Florida A & M University defied segregation statutes and sat in the white section of a Tallahassee bus. To support the student boycott, the Reverend C. K. Steele, a Baptist pastor, organized the Inter Civic Council (ICC). DuPont, a fellow ICC organizer, was elected vice president. Likely, he understood better than the other AMEs on the General Conference podium the deeper importance of Parks’s activism and that of his own.Footnote 41

Just as the example of Parks’s Klan-hating grandfather helped to ignite her militancy, DuPont’s restive slave grandfather influenced his grandson’s defiance of his city’s Jim Crow transit system. Their activist lineage, stretching three generations back to slavery, indelibly affected Parks and DuPont. Reared in the household of his grandfather Edwards, a mulatto and former slave, Parks observed his challenge to racial mores, such as firmly shaking hands with whites and insisting that they call him by his surname. His contempt for white supremacy also showed through his loaded rifle whenever Ku Klux Klan (KKK) violence threatened him. Perhaps his support of Marcus Garvey and black nationalism presaged Parks’s later sympathies for the militancy of Malcolm X.Footnote 42

Figure 6.2 King Solomon Dupont, Tallahassee bus boycott leader, 1956; pastor of Fountain Chapel AME Church, Tallahassee

(from the Florida Memory State Library & Archives and offered under the Creative Commons Public Domain, Mark 1.0)

Similarly, DuPont’s civil rights involvements drew from his recalcitrant grandfather, whom he said “resented the whole idea of slavery.” Despite having his owner’s name, Archie Skulls, he escaped, along with his brother, to a swamp that became for them like a maroon. After being there for several months, the brother returned, and Skulls, who remained at large for a little while longer, also came back. He did not plan, however, to stay a slave. A deal with his owner allowed him, after finishing his daily chores, to hire out to split fence rails. These wages enabled him to buy his freedom, and at his master’s request to change his name, after a divine revelation, to King Solomon DuPont. The site where DuPont prayed became family property and the name passed on to a third generation. This apocryphal account energized the Reverend King Solomon DuPont and convinced him “to dislike discrimination in any form.”Footnote 43

As a Tallahassee bus boycott leader, DuPont, who served as pastor of Fountain Chapel AME Church from 1950 to 1958, endured police interrogations about ICC operations. When municipal officials offered a compromise of “first come, first served” within the same segregated seating system, DuPont described it as merely “a step toward an agreement.” Steele and ICC’s 1,000 assembled followers, however, rejected any segregated arrangement and DuPont agreed. In fact, when the buses stopped running, DuPont assured boycotters that the ICC had enough station wagons, drivers, and dispatchers to accommodate Tallahassee’s 10,000 boycott supporters. Moreover, he asserted that if the carpools ceased to operate, “I wouldn’t ride the bus” even if whites sat on the top of the bus and let blacks take the seats. On another occasion, as boycott solidarity waned, DuPont declared his preference to “die and go to Hell before he would ride the bus again.”Footnote 44

In December 1956, after seven months, the boycott ended. Nonetheless, fines had been levied upon some ICC officers for their involvement with carpools that were used to transport boycotters. The integrated seating that the Supreme Court mandated a few months earlier in the Montgomery case also affected Tallahassee. DuPont was emboldened to seek election to the city commission in 1957. Because racial threats were hurled at him, Fountain Chapel members volunteered to guard the DuPont residence. Though he lost the election, his tally of 2,405 votes included an astonishing eighty-seven votes from whites.Footnote 45

In different spheres of activity through their involvements in a range of organizations, AMEs in particular locales, like Parks in Montgomery and DuPont in Tallahassee, played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement. Though hardly singular in their significance in these respective communities, such activists as Daisy Bates in Little Rock, John H. Wheeler in Durham, and Andrew White in Nashville became indispensable leaders in advancing black civil rights. After the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, Daisy Bates, the State President of the Arkansas NAACP since 1952, expressed cautious optimism for compliance because the Little Rock school board offered a gradual plan for desegregation. The Arkansas NAACP Legal Defense Committee, however, sued the school district in a federal appeals court demanding in 1957 the immediate integration of Little Rock schools. When Governor Orval Faubus ordered state troops to prevent nine black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School, Bates became the adviser to the students. She opened her home as their headquarters, requested police protection for them, and asked clergy to be their escorts.Footnote 46

The students came to the Bates home each day after school to debrief about their encounters. In this context she hosted James M. Lawson, Jr., the southern regional secretary for the FOR and a minister in the all black Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Lawson, like Bates, listened to the nine students about their daily experiences and then advised them about how to handle the harassment of white students, many of them egged on by outside adult racists. When Minnijean Brown was expelled for retaliating against the physical abuse and verbal taunts of these white students, Bates enlisted Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark to arrange her transfer to the private New Lincoln School in New York City. Bates and three of the Little Rock Nine, including Ernest Green, Melba Patillo, and Gloria Ray, drew encouragement from Rufus K. Young, their pastor at Little Rock’s Bethel AME Church. Young, said one observer, took “a vigorous out-in-the-open pro-school integration stance.” Z. Z. Driver, another AME pastor, was similarly militant in accompanying his parishioner, Minnijean Brown, and the other eight students to Central High.Footnote 47

After President Dwight D. Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to compel the entry of the Little Nine into Central High, the local city council ordered Bates’s arrest for refusing to reveal the names of NAACP members in accordance with a recently enacted ordinance. She was released on bond after police took her into custody. In addition to her arrest, Bates recalled that she was “singled out for ‘special treatment’” or harassment. The KKK burned crosses on the Bates property, rocks were hurled into the house that she shared with her husband L. C. Bates, and gunshots were fired. Moreover, in Ouachita County, Arkansas she was twice hanged in effigy. Because of her frontline involvement in the Little Rock desegregation case, Daisy and L.C. Bates lost advertisers and other business for their outspoken newspaper, the State Press. Their business was forced to close in 1959. Pennie Esther Gibbs, the wife of Bishop Carey A. Gibbs, the AME prelate of Alabama, believed that the activism of Daisy Bates deserved recognition from AMEs. When the State of the Country report at the 1957 North Alabama Annual Conference failed to mention her name and her title as State President of the Arkansas NAACP, Gibbs objected and demanded an acknowledgement of Bates’s civil rights leadership.Footnote 48

Like Bates, John Hervey Wheeler, while embedded in several business and black betterment pursuits in Durham, North Carolina, became a critical influence in its local civil rights struggles. Wheeler, the president since 1952 of the black Mechanics and Farmers Bank, while preferring ordered social change, recognized grassroots protest as a legitimate tactic to advance African Americans. Wheeler, who possessed an impressive AME pedigree, was born in North Carolina at the campus of Kittrell College. Both parents, John L. Wheeler, the president of the AME school, and Margaret Hervey Wheeler, had been educated at Wilberforce University. The elder Wheeler, whom W. E. B. Du Bois taught at Wilberforce, left Kittrell to become an agent in the Raleigh office of the Durham-based North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. After a transfer to Atlanta, the Wheelers attended the populous Big Bethel AME Church and their son graduated from the local Morehouse College. The younger Wheeler then settled in Durham where he worked for North Carolina Mutual and ascended the hierarchy of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. Moreover, he became active as treasurer and trustee in Durham’s St. Joseph AME Church where his wife, a physician’s daughter, was nurtured.Footnote 49

Like others in Durham’s black elite, Wheeler participated in the 1940s in the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, which focused on racial inequities in the local public schools and expanding black employment opportunities. When the Supreme Court decreed school desegregation in the Brown decision, Wheeler, as a member of the North Carolina Council on Human Relations, pressed the governor to empanel a committee to advise him on compliance. He also belonged to the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an affiliate of the Southern Regional Council (SRC). Such organizations, according to sociologist Aldon Morris, functioned as “movement halfway houses” that provided financial support and personnel to activist civil rights organizations. The SRC offered information through studies and surveys about the condition of the black population. Between 1954 and 1961 Wheeler served as the SRC treasurer. Promoting school desegregation and pushing state officials toward a speedy acquiescence to the Brown decision energized his SRC participation. His large presence in the North Carolina Democratic Party and in the SRC brought him to the attention of newly elected President John F. Kennedy. Because of a SRC report that recommended various civil rights initiatives that the Kennedy administration should undertake, JFK appointed Wheeler in 1961 to the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.Footnote 50

Notwithstanding, Wheeler’s commitment to broadening black economic prospects, school desegregation remained core to his civil rights pursuits. This objective required support for ongoing court action and vigorous lobbying at the state and federal levels. This focus on public schools often influenced Wheeler’s views on other tactics used to push black advancement. He backed, for example, the Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham in 1957 that a white Methodist minister, Doug Moore, also endorsed. A fellow St. Joseph Church member, William A. Marsh, Jr., acted as the attorney for the demonstrators who were arrested for trespassing. Moreover, Wheeler, as a member of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, vacillated about supporting the boycott because of possible white outrage that could damage school desegregation efforts. Nonetheless, he endorsed Durham’s student sit-ins in 1960 by going to the site of the demonstrations and publicly declaring them as a valuable tool to fight for black equality, saying that student led movements deserved adult backing.Footnote 51

Two clergy, W. H. Hall and Andrew White, explicitly identified with the moral methodology of nonviolence. Hall, the pastor of Zion Chapel AME Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, energized a local movement for civil rights, but enlisted outside experts to educate himself and other activists about nonviolent direct action. James M. Lawson, Jr. of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), as he had done in Little Rock, became a resource for Hall, the leader of the Mississippi Christian Movement Conference. In 1959 Hall attended in Atlanta the SCLC-sponsored Institute on Nonviolence and met Lawson, who commended him for his activism. “It was particularly good to see another Methodist minister,” Lawson said, who was “active in the field of genuine racial change.” Hall, a resident in a state notorious for its racial brutality, was special to Lawson because “as I travel about the South, I have discovered that far too few Methodist ministers are concerned for this area which does so much harm to the South.” He thought that Hall might be interested in hearing Lawson on “the biblical-theological basis to nonviolence,” a topic that was “neglected in our Institute.”Footnote 52

Lawson asked Hall to settle on a date to travel to Hattiesburg and indicate “what kind of leadership you expect me to give.” Lawson planned to discuss “What is the Gospel Amid Racial Hatred?” to preface a discussion about nonviolence. When he came for the workshop, however, “the attendance was small.” Because he remained impressed with Hall, Lawson promised a follow-up visit in the hope that the pastor would use “basic Christian methods of evangelism” to elicit a better response from residents, especially from the clergy. He told Hall that he would conduct “another workshop on nonviolence for local people in your city or simply for the members of your church?” Lawson also tantalized Hall with a possible lecture on “some good Wesleyan history” maybe “on John Wesley and his handling of conflict.” Lawson’s eagerness to work with Hall seemed urgent. The pastor’s recent reassignment to Hattiesburg in 1959 by Bishop Frederick D. Jordan, a civil rights advocate, “means that for at least another year, you are in the city where you have some roots from which to work.Footnote 53

As a general officer in charge of Christian education, Andrew White occupied an office in Nashville, Tennessee, at the denomination’s international publishing house. Additionally, he had been licensed to preach in Washington DC by Charles H. Wesley, the well-known presiding elder and educator. Moreover, White and Kelly Miller Smith, pastor of Nashville’s First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, matriculated at the School of Religion at Howard University at different times during the incumbency of Benjamin E. Mays, Howard Thurman, and William Stuart Nelson. These scholars emphasized the training of an “insurgent Negro professional clergy” committed to the destruction of Jim Crow energized by the moral methodology of Gandhian nonviolence. Grassroots mobilization, which White undoubtedly learned at Howard, depended on “Christian nonviolent direct mass action,” a praxis that blended with his understanding of Allenite activism. Richard Allen, he said, identified with his “dehumanized” followers who “needed to be organized and needed to have a Christian guiding principle of action.” White claimed that “the AME Church has never strayed from the course charted by Richard Allen” in “fearless battles against the enemies of human dignity and civil liberties.”Footnote 54

White and Smith in 1957 traveled to Atlanta for the inaugural meeting of the SCLC. Impressed with the Montgomery Improvement Association that sustained the 381-day bus boycott and other local organizations that jointly launched the SCLC, the two clergymen returned to their city to establish in 1958 the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC). With Smith as president and White as secretary, the NCLC became the organizational umbrella for the student sit-ins at Nashville’s downtown department store lunch counters from February 13 to May 10, 1960. With sponsorship from NCLC and FOR, James M. Lawson, Jr. conducted nonviolent workshops that trained students for their successful encounters with business and civic officials and with the violent defenders of Jim Crow.Footnote 55

In 1963 White, after he served as financial secretary and second vice president, succeeded Smith as NCLC president. He observed that the persistence of segregation required a fresh emphasis on black economic development. He also believed that NCLC should redouble its efforts to attract “a mass of people” to the organization. To address this issue, he urged in 1964 that black churches in Nashville should play a larger role in “rallying the masses.” Additionally, White doubled down on NCLC’s commitment to nonviolence, saying that the group “was waging a nonviolent conscience pricking battle against racial injustice and segregation.”Footnote 56

White, who pushed for broader black employment in local and state government and cooperation with SCLC’s operation economic division, Operation Breadbasket, said little to AMEs beyond his locale about his frontline civil rights leadership. In his widely read 1965 publication, Know Your Church, White included a section on “The Desegregation Fight.” He heralded Bishops Frank Madison Reid, Sr. in South Carolina and Frederick D. Jordan in Mississippi and Louisiana for never yielding “one inch of ground” to white segregationists. Yet White, unlike Bates who in 1962 published The Long Shadow of Little Rock, said nothing about his sustained participation in the consequential Nashville Movement. It seemed more important to White to celebrate the denomination’s episcopal leadership rather than the diverse strands of Allenite activism that he, Bates, and Wheeler embodied.Footnote 57

Crafting an Institutional Response to the Civil Rights Movement

Notwithstanding the tensions between denominational politicians and social activists and the efforts of some who overlapped both categories, AME leadership could scarcely ignore the burgeoning civil rights movement. Pressing issues and interactions with movement leaders, some of whom were AME ministers and members, compelled the denomination’s cooperation and financial support in ending Jim Crow. For example, Walter White, executive director of the NAACP, addressed the 1952 General Conference about the “Race Question” and how the two world wars “destroyed forever [the concept of] racial superiority. Now the struggle included opposition to Communism, colonialism, and race prejudice. He proudly announced that southern blacks were surmounting the hurdle of poll taxes, with 125,000 of them obtaining “poll tax receipts for voting.” In response Bishop Joseph Gomez “pledged the support of the great AME Church to the NAACP.”Footnote 58

In a later session Bishop Reid presented Judge J. Waites Waring. Already, in 1950, J. S. Brookens, editor of the AME Church Review, praised Waring for a decision that “broke the back of the white Democratic primary.” Brookens declared that “it is the work Divinity for a South Carolina white judge” who “opened the doors of the Democratic Party to all citizens regardless of color, not only in the South Carolina, but throughout the South.” In his lone dissent in 1952 in the Clarendon County suit in Briggs v. Elliott, however, Waring laid a foundation for the Supreme Court’s Brown decision two years later, Waring repeated to delegates that segregated schools “can never be equal.” In his address “The Church and Social Justice,” Waring told AMEs that both political parties should assert in their platforms their unequivocal opposition to racial discrimination. Moreover, he said, “we’ve got to find out where candidates stand on Civil Rights before we endorse anyone.” Because “two-thirds of the world is made up of dark-skinned people,” the United States should recognize that “true democracy” was undermined “when this evil [racial discrimination] exists in our nation.” Both parties should also “deplore and condemn all attempts to discriminate for or against any of our citizens by reason of religion, race, or ancestry.” This meant a guarantee of the right to vote, equal employment opportunity, and “the right to security of person and property.” Building on President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order to desegregate the military, Waring called for “the immediate integration of all personnel in all of the armed services.” He also advocated provisions in all federal contracts against racial bias. Delegate Archibald J. Carey, Jr., after praising the judge, “moved that the General Conference” should adopt Waring’s proposals.Footnote 59

Waring’s address synthesized what was already a consensus among AMEs. In the 1952 presidential election year, the Indiana Annual Conference, for example, declared that “the party or candidate who thinks enough of human rights to speak in definite terms regarding Civil Rights and the FEPC” would get “the Negro vote.” They also recognized that Supreme and Truman administration actions in attacking poll taxes, ensuring access to previously all white public colleges and universities, and ending race restrictive covenants in housing and military desegregation showed recent gains in black civil rights. The Indiana conferees also noted that the “USA is a long way from attaining the brotherhood of man.”Footnote 60

When Bishop Bonner acknowledged Alabama’s AME activists at the 1956 General Conference, he reflected the denomination’s broader awareness that the civil rights movement was “up and running.” Though the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the state’s most militant opponent of Jim Crow, while abandoning his early AME affiliation to become a Baptist, found allies in Birmingham in his former denomination with Samuel M. Davis, a pastor, W. E. Shortridge, a mortician, and A. G. Gaston, the millionaire businessman and AME general officer. Besides Rosa Parks, Bonner also recognized Autherine Lucy, who had just desegregated the University of Alabama and Nathaniel Howard of Tuscaloosa, who rescued Lucy from a mob opposed to her court ordered enrollment. Bishop Carey A. Gibbs, Alabama’s AME prelate, gestured toward this militant mood. He impaneled a committee at the 1957 North Alabama Annual Conference to write a resolution “protesting inhuman practices and other evils directed against colored people in Alabama.” Gibbs instructed the group, after a conference vote, to send the resolution to Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom.Footnote 61

Bonner’s nod to Parks and Lucy mirrored other stands taken at the 1956 General Conference that showed AMEs as supportive and conversant with pressing civil rights issues. The episcopal address advocated a permanent FEPC, and delegates approved resolutions calling for a Civil Rights Committee of the AME Church. In enacting a resolution in favor of “desegregation,” AMEs readied themselves for a speech from Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Marshall, the head counsel who argued the Brown case, addressed the AME assembly on “Desegregation and Discrimination” in which he “gave a factual discourse” about achieving integration. After the speech, the AME treasurer and delegates then serving as NAACP branch presidents lifted an offering for the organization. Bishop Sherman L. Greene, Sr. announced that another offering for the NAACP would be collected on the following day. Moreover, Bishop Reid “urged all to join [the] organization.”Footnote 62

Marshall’s presentation affirmed the view of some AMEs that the Brown decision would encounter stiff resistance and unanticipated consequences. AMEs in the Colorado Annual Conference believed that hostility to Brown was “the dying economy of white supremacy.” Martha Jayne Keys, a Louisville pastor and delegate to the 1956 General Conference, commented at the 1954 West Kentucky Annual Conference that the Brown decision was stirring opposition. Her concern was focused, however, on “what will become of our race teachers? Will they be integrated into white schools?”Footnote 63

Additionally, massive resistance in Prince Edward County, Virginia, displaced discussions about the pace of desegregation and where the teachers would be assigned. When the Virginia legislature allowed local communities to close public schools to thwart compliance to the Brown decision, Prince Edward County in 1959 shut down its entire school system. In response the pastor at Beulah AME Church in Farmville, Alexander I. Dunlap, and his Baptist colleague, L. Francis Griffin, Jr., with permission from Bishop Reid, now presiding in the Second Episcopal District, enrolled sixty-three students from Moton High School in Prince Edward County in the high school division of Kittrell College in North Carolina. They were charged half-tuition, but those unable to pay still could matriculate. In some cases, Griffin paid their expenses. Hence, several received their high school diplomas from the AME school.Footnote 64

Just as the 1956 General Conference affirmed its alignment with the legal and legislative methodologies of the NAACP, the 1960 General Conference extended similar support to the NUL and its institutional and interracial alliances. Though Executive Director Lester Granger, an Eisenhower Republican, seemed uncomfortable with street demonstrations, a new generation of leaders in local affiliates emerged who wanted the League to reflect, in tone and tactics, the insurgent energies of civil rights activists. Additionally, delegates, while endorsing the League, an organization in leadership transition, created a structure to function as a liaison between the denomination and the civil rights movement.

Alexander J. Allen, a delegate from the Pittsburgh Annual Conference and son of Bishop A. J. Allen, proposed a resolution to celebrate the League’s “record of inter-racial achievement.” Allen, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Urban League from 1950 to 1959 and newly transferred to the League’s national office, wrote that “the achievements of the Urban League have been especially successful in combating racial discrimination in employment, in vocational guidance for youth, and in the general improvement of living conditions affecting the American Negro population.”Footnote 65

Allen’s temperate language masked his history of activism that matched the militancy of the current civil rights struggle. While Allen, a graduate of Wilberforce and Yale Divinity School, was an official in the Baltimore Urban League in the 1940s, he endorsed a march to Annapolis, the Maryland state capital, to demand the enforcement of equal employment and housing opportunities for blacks. Moreover, he belonged to a Disturbed Committee of young local League executives who pushed for a more activist posture in the national organization and greater cooperation with the NAACP. These objectives resonated with Allen because his father, during his pastorate in Columbus, Ohio, was twice elected president of the local NAACP branch. Allen was pleased that Granger’s successor, Whitney M. Young, Jr., a colleague in the Disturbed group and an erstwhile AME member when he served League affiliates a decade earlier in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Omaha, Nebraska, began to move the national organization to more activist involvements. Allen wanted to affirm that “the program of the Urban League enjoys the cooperation and support of the African Methodist Episcopal Church [and] its ministers and its laymen.” On hand to support the resolution was Allen’s uncle, Nimrod Allen, a delegate from the Ohio Annual Conference and the founder and executive director of the Columbus Urban League.Footnote 66

Figure 6.3 Exterior view of Bethel AME Church, Wylie Avenue at Elm Street, Hill District, August 1955. Gelatin silver print (gift of the Estate of Charles)

“Teenie” Harris, 1996

Frederick C. James, a delegate from the Northeast South Carolina Annual Conference and pastor of Mt. Pisgah AME Church in Sumter, complemented Allen’s focus in generating AME support for civil rights organizations. James believed, however, that the denomination needed its own activist agency to intersect with the initiatives from frontline organizations. James, a native South Carolinian, after studying for the ministry at Dickerson Theological Seminary at Allen University, transferred in 1944 to the School of Religion at Howard University. William Stuart Nelson, the dean, already a proponent of nonviolent direct action, sustained the school’s reputation for training what he described as “moral engineers.” Nelson, as all students at the seminary knew, had been awarded an AFSC fellowship to administer in India its Calcutta Service Unit. There, Nelson studied Quaker pacifism and met Mahatma Gandhi. Beyond Nelson’s influence, James also enrolled in a new course on social ethics that strongly informed his ministry. Though he received his divinity degree before Nelson’s return, awareness of Gandhian nonviolence filled the atmosphere of the School of Religion despite the dean’s sabbatical leave.Footnote 67

James returned to South Carolina to teach at Allen University, to serve as dean at Dickerson seminary, and to accept successive pastorates. Because the activism of AME clergy from Columbia to Clarendon County received endorsements from Bishop Reid, James heard him declare at the Northeast South Carolina Annual Conference a few months after the Brown decision that “we have got to play a part in making integration work.” Taking this cue, James in 1958 launched a bold but ill-fated campaign to be elected to the Sumter city council. Then, at the seat of the 1960 General Conference in Los Angeles, he offered a resolution to establish a Department of Social Action as an integral part of the AME infrastructure.Footnote 68

James’s bill proposed that the commission, in conducting studies and issuing directives and positions, “shall assist in the direction of the African Methodist Christian social witness in all matters relating to human relations and Christian citizenship.” A consultant, whom James originally thought should be a general officer, would head the department and report to the General Board, a newly established administrative unit. Moreover, the consultant would operate with an annual budget of $5,000 and “shall be ever conversant with issues” in the realm of social action. Beyond the connectional office, each annual conference and each congregation would empanel their own Committee on Social Action. The annual conference committee would share its yearly report with the denominational officer.Footnote 69

Some denominational politicians feared that James, with the stature of a general officer, would attain a visibility comparable to that of leading civil rights activists. They preferred that he should have the less lofty title of social action consultant. James, however, brought energy to the position but restricted his activity to supporting the programs of existing civil rights organizations and not to any distinctive AME actions. His denominational detractors seemed satisfied that any of his movement aspirations were kept in check. Nonetheless, James officially showed that the denomination stayed abreast of shifts in the black struggle for freedom. With the launch of sit-ins and other student led demonstrations starting in Greensboro in February 1960 and spreading to Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, and to Rock Hill and Columbia, South Carolina, and other southern cities, AME college students joined their peers in exerting fresh pressure upon segregationist practices. Sit-ins in Nashville between February and May 1960, for example, drew participants from Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial, Fisk, Meharry Medical College, and the American Baptist College. James M. Lawson, Jr., through a series of nonviolent workshops, equipped them to occupy and desegregate downtown lunch counters. Among several AMEs was Novella McCline, a Tennessee A&I undergraduate who sat in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. James understood that black activism had moved to a higher gear of militancy and was likely aware of the lunch counter sit-in at Eckerd’s drugstore in Columbia on March 14, 1960. Simon P. Bouie, a student at Allen University and later an AME pastor, and Talmadge J. Neal, a student at Benedict College, demanded service while occupying a booth. After they refused to leave, the police arrived and charged them with trespassing. Because of their arrest and conviction, Bouie and Neal fought the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which exonerated them in 1964. Because of this new phase of civil rights activism, James urged the 1960 General Conference to “take commendable cognizance of the hundreds of students from our churches and other churches of this our land, who by their ‘sit-in’ and ‘stand-up’ protests against segregation” exhibit “their dignity in the process of their protests.” Archibald J. Carey, Jr. commended Nashville clergy at a Chicago NAACP dinner for supporting the student sit-ins and marching “in front of a downtown department store,” and he noted that “sit-ins have emerged in Savannah, Georgia.” He said that “people everywhere have caught the spirit of freedom.”Footnote 70

James and Carey reflected the same consciousness that other AMEs expressed for increased pressure against Jim Crow practices. This view mirrored what a contemporary Methodist ethicist said about the sit-ins as “a stirring in this land” and “as a form of Christian action.” Just before the 1960 General Conference students at the AME supported Daniel Payne College in Birmingham participated in the local sit-in movement. Fred Shuttlesworth of the SCLC-affiliated Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, impressed by the Greensboro student sit-ins, encouraged similar activism among students in Birmingham at the CME-sponsored Miles College and at Daniel Payne College. Because they were drawn to a voting rights campaign, a Miles student leader, starting on March 1, 1960, spearheaded a Prayer Vigil for Freedom that protested a filibuster by southern congressmen opposed to the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1960. Student demonstrators from both black Methodist schools carried signs saying “The Law of God Will Be Fulfilled.” Birmingham police arrested twelve of them, and though they were not charged, one of the protesters together with his mother and sister were beaten by deputies.Footnote 71

Another series of student protests began on March 30, 1960. Demonstrators, including ten Daniel Payne students, targeted five Birmingham department stores where they sat in and demanded service at the lunch counters. After their arrest and a night in jail, Howard D. Gregg, Daniel Payne’s president, and Samuel M. Davis, a local pastor whose son was a student protest leader, signed bonds for their release. Moreover, Gregg imposed no disciplinary penalty on the students. These events and others like them helped to frame James’s General Conference resolution backing the sit-in movement.Footnote 72

Similarly, the 1960 West Tennessee Annual Conference meeting in Memphis observed that “sit-ins, wade-ins, and knee[l]-ins are rampant all over the South.” Delegates were aware that “young people, tired of waiting, weary of insults and filled with the world wide urge for freedom, are on the march.” Moreover, “many have been arrested, others will be, but such is the price of freedom.” Therefore, “the church must lend its full support to these” protesters. Perhaps conferees referred to Ernestine Lee, a student at Owen Junior College and a member of Memphis’s Providence AME Church. She was among forty student activists who in March 1960 were arrested for their sit-ins that aimed to integrate two public libraries. Lee’s six sisters emulated her and became involved in other sit-ins and kneel-ins to desegregate local lunch counters and churches.Footnote 73

AMEs in Jackson, Mississippi, played a significant role as backbone for the Jackson Movement. The initiative drew from the Tougaloo College NAACP, the West Jackson Youth Council, the Jackson NAACP, and the NAACP at the AME-supported Campbell College. A boycott that focused on Jackson’s Capitol Street businesses was planned. The demands included equality in hiring and promotion in local businesses, addressing black customers with titles of respect, service on a first come/first served basis, and the elimination of segregated drinking fountains, bathrooms, and lunch counter seating. By January 1963 Medgar Evers, Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, reported that a selective buying campaign and picketing had started. A sit-in at Woolworth’s occurred on May 28, 1963 after months of economic pressure on downtown stores. An interracial group of protesters endured physical attacks and suffered injuries.Footnote 74

Conspicuous in his support of the sit-ins was G. R. Haughton, the pastor of Jackson’s Pearl Street AME Church, whose doors were opened for a mass meeting on the day that the protesters were attacked. Haughton and various NAACP leaders addressed the overflow crowd. Haughton and five other leaders had met the Jackson mayor and reported on his acceptance of the sit-in demands except for school integration, which was deemed a judicial matter. The other grievances pertained to desegregation of public facilities, hiring of black police, and the removal of segregation signs. Like President Gregg at Daniel Payne College in Birmingham, Charles A. Jones, the dean and chaplain at Campbell College, strongly supported the demonstrators and warned the mayor to keep his promises.Footnote 75

Between the 1960 and 1964 General Conferences Frederick C. James helped to found the Sumter Movement and to serve as its chairman. The Sumter Movement, starting in 1963, was the successor group to the short-lived Sumter Citizens Committee, whose inability to overcome white obstruction of interracial negotiations, required that local blacks adopt a different strategy. As a result, the Sumter Movement, “stimulated by the youth and the spirit of CORE,” a group that James had supported, pursued a militant methodology. Hence, James led a movement that embraced nonviolent direct action and other related tactics to attain the desegregation of lunch counters, hotels, motels, and various public and private facilities.Footnote 76

This CORE influence drew from James’s acquaintance with James Farmer, CORE’s executive director and the son and namesake of his New Testament professor at the School of Religion at Howard University. When CORE sponsored Freedom Rides in 1961 to test whether integrated facilities were available between Washington DC through the southeastern seaboard and Gulf states, the interracial bus riders were hosted along the way at James’s Mt. Pisgah Church in Sumter. When CORE developed “an exciting documentary motion picture, ‘Freedom Ride,’” to chronicle this historic but dangerous journey, James, as head of the AME Social Action Commission, sponsored it. The flyer invited viewers to “witness to its fullest the beatings, violence, and Bus burning in Anniston, Houston, and Shreveport that shocked the nation and led to a change in policy of the Interstate Commerce Commission ruling in restaurants and terminals in more than 85 cities and communities.” Monies from the film “will be used to fight the last desperate struggles of the dying evil of segregation.” The flyer carried the conspicuous imprimatur of James’s social action office.Footnote 77

Notwithstanding the importance of the Sumter movement and James’s alliance with CORE, the Birmingham campaign of 1963, which drew national notice and prodded President Kennedy to introduce landmark civil rights legislation to Congress, became a cornerstone event in the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the organizing acumen of Fred Shuttlesworth. A. G. Gaston, the secretary-treasurer of the AME Department of Church Extension, while disinclined to demonstrate himself, became a benefactor to the Birmingham campaign. King’s held strategy meetings in the A. G. Gaston Motel, a site that was subsequently bombed. When arrested, protesters required $237,000 in bail money, Gaston provided $160,000 in bond guarantees. When King was jailed, Gaston advanced $2,500 for bail to effect his release. Though he counseled that demonstrations should yield to “the conference table,” Gaston leveraged his wealth to underwrite the Birmingham campaign, thus enabling protesters to return to the streets to demonstrate. By the time the 1964 General Conference convened in Cincinnati, the civil rights struggle already bore the imprint of James, Gaston, and other AMEs who strengthened the infrastructure of the black freedom struggle.Footnote 78

James submitted his first social action report and resolutions to the Cincinnati assembly. They included proposals to support the major civil rights organizations, voter registration initiatives, and passage of Kennedy’s comprehensive civil rights bill. He pressed the General Conference to ask Congress for a “speedy and unhampered passage of Civil Rights Bill 7152.” He urged “the speedy exercise of the Senate’s right of cloture” against recalcitrant southern senators and their allies trying to stop through [the] filibuster and “crippling amendments” to what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also said that AMEs should cooperate with the NAACP’s lobbying activities in federal, state, and local legislatures for civil rights laws and anti-discriminatory statutes on employment, support for direct action campaigns, and paying for life memberships in the NAACP.Footnote 79

In offering unequivocal support for the pending civil rights bill in Congress, James echoed the bishops and leading AMEs who were prominent in the black struggle for freedom. The Council of Bishops, speaking through Bishop George W. Baber, declared “that the AME Church [should] employ all of the resources at its command to impress upon Congress” a demand for the prompt passage of the benchmark civil rights bill. The bishops also said that James’s Social Action Commission should be “empowered” to recommend plans to support President Lyndon B. Johnson’s legislative package of civil rights and other economic and social welfare bills. Moreover, Archibald J. Carey, Jr. relayed a message to the General Conference from A. Philip Randolph that each US senator should receive a telegram from the AME assembly urging “immediate enactment of the civil rights bill.”Footnote 80

Additionally, James wanted AMEs to incorporate social action into regular denominational operations. Therefore, congregations and annual conferences were expected to integrate into their ministries Christian citizenship activities, intergroup participation, and self-help and self-improvement initiatives. Christian citizenship included local church involvement in voter registration and interactions with elected officials about support of civil rights, housing, and equal employment opportunity legislation. Intergroup cooperation meant alliances with institutions and agencies that would facilitate desegregation. This also included assistance from AME congregations in showing and promoting CORE’s film on the “Freedom Ride.”Footnote 81

Because the Free African Society, out of which the AME Church emerged, emphasized self-help and self-improvement, James proposed diverse means to include these objectives as a part of denominational social action. His recommendations about church credit unions and “projects to combat juvenile delinquency” pertained to what he believed blacks could do for themselves. Additionally, he indicated that NAACP membership and “selective buying and purposive patronage” where blacks spend their monies where they were respected “comprised a core principle in self-help and self-improvement.”Footnote 82

Because James viewed Richard Allen as the “father” of the modern civil rights movement, he proposed the development of a film on “The Richard Allen Story.” Other AMEs echoed his perspective about their denomination as an incubator of black protest. To show that the denomination was inextricably linked to “the current Negro revolt,” AMEs defined Richard Allen and his walkout from St. George Church in 1787 as antecedent to the civil rights movement. When the bishops in 1963 visited the White House, Bishop Eugene C. Hatcher declared to President Kennedy that Allen was “an architect of minority [advancement] techniques” and pioneered “organized protest.” During the 1964 General Conference four delegates, including Rufus K. Young, the Arkansas pastor who backed the Little Rock Nine, commended the “well planned nonviolent demonstrations” shown in the 1963 March on Washington and pointed to the AME Church as an example of “effective protest against racial segregation.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, a joint session of the Philadelphia and Delaware Annual Conferences described the slain civil rights leader as an heir to the AME founder.Footnote 83

Additionally, AMEs at the 1964 General Conference signaled their identification with the frontline leadership of the civil rights struggle. James delivered an enthusiastic introduction of Martin Luther King, Jr. just before his evening address to the AME assembly. Though he had delivered this speech, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” it conveyed, perhaps unwittingly, an insinuation that AME leaders were standing on the sidelines of the civil rights movement. While no bishop had a high profile in the black freedom struggle, King surely knew that James, Carey, Daisy Bates, Randolph, and maybe his nemesis, Roy Wilkins, envisaged themselves as energetic heirs to Allen’s social holiness. More than the bishops, these AMEs were the contemporary carriers of Allenite activism. Throughout the 1964 General Conference, either their presence or the mention of their names signified deep denominational involvement in a “revolution” in which they were fully awake. The General Conference scribe reported that “the large crowd,” however, “was inspired” by King despite having to pay an admission fee.Footnote 84

After the King speech, Daisy Bates asked delegates to approve a “Civil Rights Day.” Bates presented Roy Wilkins, a fellow AME, with a merit award. Other civil rights honorees were selected from the respective eighteen episcopal districts. Bishop Gibbs, for example, presented A. Philip Randolph, a fellow Florida native and a member of Bethel in Harlem, for an award for spearheading the 1963 March on Washington. James introduced Mississippi native H. Hartford Brookins, the pastor of First Church in Los Angeles and founder of the United Civil Rights Committee, a group that pressed the Los Angeles mayor to address housing, education, and law enforcement issues. Brookins also pushed for black representation on the Los Angeles city council, a move that resulted in the election in 1963 of his parishioner, Thomas Bradley. Notwithstanding Brookins’s prominence, a fellow pastor, L. Sylvester Odom at Ward AME Church in Los Angeles, could also have been the honoree. Odom was president of the Western Christian Leadership Conference, the regional affiliate of King’s SCLC. Odom was probably disqualified because of his candidacy at this same General Conference for editor of the Christian Recorder. Another King protégé, W. E. Shortridge, a member of Bethel AME Church in Ensley, Alabama, and the first president of the Lay Organization of the Ninth Episcopal District, however, was honored posthumously. He had combined visibility as a member of the AME Judicial Council and as treasurer of Shuttlesworth’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and an executive board member of SCLC.Footnote 85

Figure 6.4 Rev. Martin Luther, King, Jr., Rev. (later Bishop) Frederick C. James, and Attorney (later Judge) William Mcclain at the 1964 General Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio)

(used with permission from Bishop Frederick C. James, Columbia, SC)

When President Johnson signed the all important Civil Rights Act two months after the 1964 General Conference, this celebrated event became another in a series of seminal benchmarks in the ongoing struggle for black civil rights. Before AMEs reconvened in Philadelphia for their 1968 General Conference, African Americans, including some African Methodists, either shaped or responded both to federal initiatives and grassroots pressures to enfranchise blacks and to end poverty within the black population.

After the passage of the 1964 law, insuring the right to vote became the next objective in African American advancement. Vernon Jordan and Johnny and Clara Barbour played crucial roles in laying foundations for this energized campaign in the civil rights movement. Jordan, an attorney and lifelong AME, had been the NAACP’s Georgia field director and a staff member in the SRC. This had been involved in the Voter Education Project (VEP), a nonpartisan, foundation funded agency aimed at black voter registration. In 1964 Jordan became acting VEP director and later head of the organization. His duties lay in distributing funds to southern groups working to expand the black electorate.Footnote 86

Barbour, an up and coming Mississippi minister, arrived in Jackson from Greenwood in 1957 to attend Campbell College. On the AME campus he became president of the NAACP intercollegiate chapter and joined with three others to spearhead a bus sit-in. While he was pastor at Allen Chapel in Meridian, Barbour served as coordinator for voter registration and education for the Mississippi NAACP. Barbour admitted that “we were frightened” because “bombs” already had been hurled in his direction. “I went to my little church one Sunday,” he said, “and they had thrown a bomb in the window because we were housing things for the civil rights movement.” Moreover, “a guy called and said that he was going to burn a cross on my lawn. I never shall forget that,” Barbour declared. Nonetheless, he persisted in his activism. “We had to meet and we had to do a training process of getting people to register and to vote,” he recalled. Barbour “even carried them” to the application site “because people were afraid.” He secured “transportation and [would] physically stand behind them while they would register to vote.” The training included “telling people how to mark ballots, how to fill out applications … particularly old people who were willing” to register. He also taught them how to answer possible questions that were posed to them.Footnote 87

Additionally, Clara Barbour, his wife, did street canvassing among potential voters, although she “mainly stayed in the office” and did coordination for the local voting registration campaign. At headquarters, in a building owned by a black pharmacist, she “answered phones and helped to get out material” mostly in the form of flyers. Clara Barbour remembered singing “at some rallies when Dr. King came,” but like her husband she confessed that “a lot of times I was scared.”Footnote 88

The efforts of veterans in black voter registration, examples being Jordan and the Barbours, flowed into what President Johnson proposed in a federal voting rights bill and the mobilization to support this initiative from SCLC and SNCC. Both organizations, in their focus on voter registration in Selma and surrounding Dallas County, Alabama, stirred violent responses from racist whites in law enforcement. Broad national attention on Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965 preceded additional television coverage of the Selma to Montgomery march that started a few weeks later. An influential speech from King, after the five-day march on a 54-mile trek to the Alabama state capital, spurred President Johnson and Congress to act on the historic Voting Rights Act that was signed on August 6, 1965.

P. H. Lewis, pastor of Brown Chapel in Selma, facilitated these voting rights demonstrations. The stately edifice served as a meeting place for mass rallies, lodging for protesters, and as a makeshift outpatient facility for those injured by the aggressive violence of horse mounted police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the thousands of participants in the Selma to Montgomery march were R. W. Hilson, a presiding elder in Birmingham and a King protégé during the Montgomery bus boycott, Howard D. Gregg, the Daniel Payne College president and supporter of student protesters, and the president of the school’s NAACP chapter.Footnote 89

Responses to Black Urban Issues

Days after the voting rights law was signed, the focus of the black freedom struggle shifted to the urban pathologies that pervasively afflicted African Americans. The outbreak of the Watts riots in Los Angeles on August 11, 1965, though hardly the first black urban rebellion in the 1960s, dramatized issues surrounding substandard schooling, inadequate housing, and police abuse among black city residents. H. Hartford Brookins, still the pastor at Watts’s First AME Church, told the Commonwealth Club that “Watts is dilapidated and old, 46.9% of its dwelling units were built in 1939 or before.” He added that “Watts is poor” and “the unemployment is twice that of the Caucasian community.” Brookins also said that “strained relations exist between the Negro community and the Los Angeles Police Department.” His colleague, Henry W. Murph, the pastor since 1950 at Watts’s Grant AME Church, also lamented these underlying causes of the rioting. Murph, a native South Carolinian, positioned Grant as a food distribution site and himself as a negotiator between justifiably angry young blacks and heavily armed National Guard troops who patrolled the riot-torn area.Footnote 90

Though Brookins, Murph, and other AME leaders, as tactical centrists, eschewed the violence flowing out from the riots, they acknowledged that white racism created and sustained black ghettoes. President Johnson’s Kerner Commission articulated this view, which Roy Wilkins, a critic of the riots, also expressed. Wilkins, a member of Bethel Church in Harlem, spoke at the 1968 General Conference and discussed his roots in the AME Church. He “reviewed the incidents of the Chicago riots in past years and the present social unrest,” saying that he agreed with the Kerner Commission “that the prejudiced white group is responsible for the city riots today.” After the enthusiastic response to Wilkins’s speech, Bishop Hubert N. Robinson, who extended his commendations to the NAACP leader, asked delegates to give “a most liberal contribution” to the centrist organization.Footnote 91

AME leaders adopted the same posture toward black urban unrest expressed by Wilkins and Murph, who was elected a bishop at the 1968 General Conference. While understanding the causes of black rioting, they still preferred the judicial and legislative tactics of the NAACP to which they pledged continued support. This affinity for the NAACP was normative for African Methodists. As the largest of civil rights organizations, the NAACP’s 1,500 branches across the United States extensively involved both AME clergy and laity. The network of AMEs in the Chicago NAACP is illustrative. Carl Fuqua, the assistant minister at Archibald J. Carey’s Quinn Chapel, became the executive director of the city’s NAACP branch in 1959. Already, he had been a NAACP official in North Carolina while he was a dean at the AME-supported Kittrell College. He inherited a fractured affiliate that included disenchanted critics who eschewed the partisan connections of some officers and who viewed Fuqua as an establishment choice because of his ties to Carey. Nonetheless, Fuqua inaugurated a drive to expand chapter membership to 35,000. Chicagoans should join the NAACP, he said, because the organization was equipped to address racial inequalities “through legal redress, protest, and political action.” In recruiting 20,000 new members Fuqua could claim some success in generating grassroots support for his initiatives. His branch objectives also included special programs to activate NAACP youth councils, agitation for an Illinois FEPC, and addressing ongoing segregation in the Chicago public schools. Though he endorsed youth activism, he disagreed with their tactic of doing wade-ins to desegregate local beaches. He advised regular and sustained protests instead of “weekends only” demonstrations.Footnote 92

During Fuqua’s tenure, which ended in 1964, Samuel S. Morris, the pastor of Chicago’s Coppin Memorial AME Church, served as branch president, and Robert Thomas, Jr., pastor of the city’s Bethel AME Church, played a similarly large role in branch affairs. This network of AMEs in the Chicago NAACP reflected the denomination’s support of the organization throughout the United States. The New York Annual Conference, like the rest of the First Episcopal District, for example, paid in 1967 its portion for a life membership in the NAACP for their prelate, Bishop John D. Bright. These involvements showed the strength of ties between the AME Church and the NAACP.Footnote 93

Though NAACP methodologies appealed to AMEs, they also recognized, in part because of the riots, that poverty aggravated the social and economic ills that powered racial inequality. In addition to the NUL, the SCLC acknowledged these linkages and addressed the lack of economic opportunities for blacks. Hence, SCLC in 1962 launched in Atlanta Operation Breadbasket and spread it to Chicago in 1966 with Jesse Jackson as its director. Ralph D. Abernathy recalled that John A. Middleton, the pastor of Atlanta’s Allen Temple AME Church, became the first president of Operation Breadbasket and hosted the organizational meeting at his church.Footnote 94

President Johnson energized these anti-poverty efforts when he, in 1964, declared a War on Poverty. He charged R. Sargent Shriver in the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) and other federal agencies with frontline responsibilities to relieve privation among whites, especially in Appalachia, and blacks in urban ghettoes. In Seattle, for example, John Hurst Adams, the pastor of First AME Church from 1962 to 1968 and son of activist general officer E. A. Adams, became chair of the Central Area Civil Rights Committee. Adams and another local leader, Walter Hundley, started the Central Area Motivation Program and they respectively served as first chairman and the first executive director. They flew to Washington DC to meet their senator, Warren Magnuson of Washington, to get funding from Shriver’s OEO. Magnuson called, and Shriver immediately funded Seattle’s anti-poverty agency. Other AME clergy, observed Bishop Joseph Gomez, served “with distinction” in various divisions within OEO, especially on such “poverty boards” as the Community Action Program.” During the late 1960s Gomez said that “this outreach effort is expanding as the church strives to carry the Ministry to the doorsteps of the poor.”Footnote 95

The involvement of Middleton, Adams, and other AMEs in anti-poverty initiatives, though happening in disparate locales, converged into broad backing for black economic empowerment. These commitments were anchored, at least in part, in the denomination’s consistent advocacy in the 1940s and 1950s for federal and state FEPCs and other anti-discrimination measures to protect their white collar and blue collar parishioners. Archibald J. Carey, Jr. became a well-known guardian of black federal workers in his position as a head of Ike’s committee against racial bias in government employment. Moreover, there was pervasive AME support for the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Similarly, the Memphis Movement in 1968 blended black civil rights and African American labor advancement.Footnote 96

Nonetheless, the Memphis Movement was different because it involved low wage, nonunion blacks. They lagged far behind their counterparts in the unionized black precincts of Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and other industrial centers in the North and West. Though employed, these black Memphians, populated the ranks of the poor. The condition of black sanitation workers and their pursuit of better pay and union recognition from a racially recalcitrant municipal government galvanized into a major “I Am a Man” movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the invitation of James M. Lawson, Jr., the principal tactician in the Nashville Movement and now pastor of Memphis’s Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, focused national attention on the black sanitation workers’ strike.

King, who was devoting increased attention to poverty and economic inequality in American society, viewed his involvement in the Memphis strike as a precursor to a Poor Peoples’ March on Washington DC. AME clergy in Memphis, H. Ralph Jackson and Henry L. Starks, joined Lawson and other clergy, including Malcolm Blackburn, the white pastor of Clayborn Temple AME Church, in vigorous support of black sanitation workers and King’s objective to focus national attention on the desperate condition of the working poor.

The strike started in a tragic occurrence that put on public display the exploitative and humiliating circumstances that black workers endured. Memphis sanitation employees received no overtime pay. When residents refused to put out garbage for pick-up, sanitation laborers had to retrieve the refuse from wherever the containers were located. Sometimes they had to gather up the rubbish themselves and then had no facility to clean their hands before eating their lunches. When it rained, the garbage men were often dismissed from work without compensation.Footnote 97

What precipitated the strike of over 1,300 garbage workers occurred on January 31, 1968. Heavy rains caused two black laborers to take cover from the bad weather near the garbage machinery. They became entangled in a faulty truck, which caught and killed them. These normative conditions and the tragedy that was visited upon the two sanitation employees triggered the involvement of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Mayor Henry Loeb, when presented with grievances from the garbage collectors and from their unrecognized union, refused to negotiate. The walkout, said Loeb, was unlawful. After an unsatisfactory meeting between Loeb and officials of the AFSCME union officials joined the sanitation workers in a downtown march.Footnote 98

AFSCME support, while crucial in pressing for the right to represent the garbage collectors, relied on the cooperation of black clergy who had organized Community on the Move for Equality (COME) to function as an auxiliary strike committee. Lawson’s ties to King and his strategic advice, though critical, drew from the strong backing of Jackson and Starks. Both AME ministers became frontline leaders and denounced Loeb’s race-based resistance to a mostly black labor movement. Jackson, a COME cofounder, along with other clergy participated in daily marches to Memphis city hall. Jackson also chaired the Platform Committee for the mass rallies at various churches. As an AME general officer who supervised the Minimum Salary Department, Jackson opened its building as a headquarters and when necessary a makeshift clinic for demonstrators injured by the police.Footnote 99

Though Jackson embodied Allenite activism, he channeled it through the nonviolent methodology that lay at the core of the civil rights movement. He had participated, for example, in the 1966 James Meredith March Against Fear. While never abandoning nonviolence, the sanitation strike and the violent response of Loeb’s police force radicalized the sharply dressed middle-class minister. Jackson recalled his birth in Birmingham and his “30 years of discipline” as a black Alabaman. When a Memphis policeman “gassed and maced” him during a march, Jackson became as “mad as hell.” Because police action “baptized him into the world of the working poor,” he became an unwavering advocate of the garbage employees. He was appalled, for example, about the “type of wages and salaries they received [and] the type of homes they live[d] in.” These occurrences constituted a rude awakening for this denominational executive. He also criticized white preachers for their aloofness toward the struggles of the black working poor, saying that they were “unfit for the honor of minister.” Additionally, he condemned the refusal of Loeb and other officials to negotiate with their sanitation employees. The strike would not end, he said, until concessions were yielded to the strikers. At one point, Jackson challenged Loeb face to face to “agree to a dues check-off and union recognition.” The mayor wouldn’t budge.Footnote 100

Starks, a native Memphian and the pastor of the city’s St. James AME Church, joined Jackson and other black clergy in visible support of the strike. Starks, however, was radicalized in a different way from Jackson. A deceased parishioner had been a garbage collector who had no fringe benefits. Despite his poor health, he received no sympathy from his employer, who scarcely provided him with any time off to convalesce after two surgeries. Similarly, another deceased member, also a sanitation worker, could not earn a transfer to less strenuous duties despite a bad back. In the end Starks mourned the premature death of this member, who had been forced to find other low–paying jobs to support his nine children. The treatment of these parishioners educated Starks about the plight of the black working poor and the ‘slave mannerisms’ that characterized their interactions with their municipal employers. The “I Am a Man” mantra that mobilized the strikers, Starks believed, broke a psychological shackle that these laborers had carried. Additionally, Starks, like Jackson, though a veteran of past civil rights marches, was astonished when Memphis police sprayed mace on the demonstrators.Footnote 101

Starks and other black ministers, because of an unintentional invitation, interacted with the all white Memphis Ministers Association, and witnessed first hand their surprising indecision about the strike. Not until the King assassination did some of these clergy exhibit any repentance or understanding of what was happening in their city. A Greek Orthodox priest prostrated himself before Starks, begging pardon for the indifference of white clergy to the condition of black Memphians. Starks, however, already thought that his time seemed better spent with the all black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, in which he served as president and whose membership overlapped with COME.Footnote 102

The grassroots Memphis movement exerted an irresistible pull upon the AME colleagues of Jackson and Starks. Though less visible, Miller A. Peace, the Mississippi-born pastor of Avery Chapel, and Malcolm Blackburn, the Canadian-born pastor of Clayborn Temple, also expressed predictable outrage over the plight of black garbage collectors. Their protests, however, drew from a normative AME impulse to advance black civil rights and to mobilize these energies in support of the working poor. Hence, Peace, a strike backer and an avid student of black history, drew no distinction “between the role of [the] church or the Civil Rights Movement” in fulfilling his “higher calling.” Blackburn, who was white, declared that the sanitation workers “were our people.” In identifying with them he recited their prayer, which said in part, “give us this day our Dues Check-Off” and “we forgive those who [use] MACE against us.” This rhetorical commitment to the strikers was concretized in opening Clayborn Temple to several rallies and providing refuge and medical assistance to injured marchers fleeing from the police.Footnote 103

After King’s assassination, Jackson, at a mass meeting on April 7, 1968, urged participation in a memorial march to honor the slain SCLC leader. Days later, on April 16, an agreement between the City of Memphis and AFSCME was announced at Clayborn Temple. Local 1733 of the sanitation workers was recognized as the bargaining agent for the garbage collectors, a pay raise was granted, and safer working conditions were achieved. The Memphis movement, which King envisaged as a prelude to a national Poor Peoples campaign, reverberated among African Methodists. The involvement of Jackson, Starks, and other Memphis AMEs in the sanitation workers strike signaled to their denominational colleagues that the economic empowerment of the working poor and others in poverty had become an urgent priority within the civil rights movement.Footnote 104

Frederick C. James, through the Social Action Commission, understood and endorsed this shift in the black freedom struggle. Despite King’s death, declared his SCLC successor, Ralph D. Abernathy, the planned Poor Peoples March in Washington DC would still occur. In response, James urged the 1968 General Conference to support the SCLC campaign. He submitted a resolution that said the AME Church “has maintained a steadfast commitment to the ideals of social justice for all people of all races, of all classes, and of all creeds.” Moreover, “the cry of the poor, the cry of the hungry, the cry of the disadvantaged, the cry of the dispossessed, the cry of the disenfranchised as well as the cry of the lost have always been the cry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Hence, the General Conference offered “its sincere and prayerful endorsement and also its active support to ‘The Poor Peoples March on Washington.’” After James presented the motion, General Officer H. Ralph Jackson, who seconded the resolution, reminded delegates about the Memphis sanitation workers strike and “the need to assist the poor and the disadvantaged [who] should get the attention of the Church and the Nation.” Starks, a delegate from the West Tennessee Annual Conference, provided another second to the motion. In addition a delegate from the Delaware Annual Conference supervised an offering “to assist the March of the Poor.”Footnote 105

Both Whitney M. Young, Jr. of the NUL and A. Philip Randolph had, prior to the Memphis sanitation workers strike, presented detailed proposals for black economic development. In 1964 Young offered a Domestic Marshall Plan that would disburse $145 billion over ten years to eliminate ghettoes and establish economic parity for African Americans. Though this was rumored to be the template for President Johnson’s War on Poverty, Young was challenging the federal government to provide for blacks the same as had been done through the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II. Similarly, in 1966 Randolph recommended a Freedom Budget costing $185 billion over a decade that would economically empower the black population.Footnote 106

Taking cues from the National Council of Churches and President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, James and the AME social action department engaged the discourse on the economic empowerment of the poor, especially in riot-torn cities across the United States. Therefore, James proposed that the 1968 General Conference should approve Randolph’s Freedom Budget idea. The plan, James said, called for full employment, “decent and adequate wages,” eliminating “slum ghettoes,” and improvements in housing, medical care, and public school education. James asserted that the AME Church “recognized that the crisis problem of the cities cannot be met without massive action on economic issues.” The Freedom Budget, he believed, advanced correct solutions to address the needs of the disadvantaged.Footnote 107

James, having energized the Social Action Commission as a visible component of the connectional church, sought its permanent integration into the denominational infrastructure. He offered a resolution that recognized “the need for immediate concentrated efforts by the AME Church in the area of Human Rights and Social Justice” through an “allocation of $32,000 for Social Action.” The proposal also called for a Department of Social Action with a full-time director rather than a part-time consultant. James, a 1968 candidate for the episcopacy, continued as a South Carolina pastor and in this part-time social action position. Bishop Frederick D. Jordan, however, accepted a special assignment in both ecumenical affairs and “Urban Ghetto Ministry.Footnote 108

The social action energy of African Methodism morphed into housing partnerships between the denomination and the federal government. In the New York Annual Conference, Bishop John D. Bright formed a nonprofit housing corporation that explored “the continued need for Middle-Income housing and the federal government’s willingness to finance these developments under the auspices of a nonprofit organization.” The Philadelphia and Delaware Annual Conferences in joint session praised Bright for the “low cost housing [that] has been built under his leadership.” Most significantly, he led in “opening the Sarah Allen Home to minister to the sick, the aged, and to the infirm,” though at the 1968 General Conference its operations were shifted to the Women’s Missionary Society. Additionally, General Officer H. Ralph Jackson, through the Department of Minimum Salary, believed the denomination should be involved in providing low-rent housing to the poor. Hence, in cooperation with the federal Department Housing and Urban Development, Jackson initiated projects in Memphis, New Orleans, Louisville, Seattle, and Bowling Green, Kentucky.Footnote 109

Moreover, the Second Episcopal District comprising Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and North Carolina had ten low-income housing projects. The Fifth Episcopal District, stretching westward from Missouri to the Pacific Coast, had eight projects, including low-income housing units in St. Louis and Denver. Bishop Gomez identified specific congregations in Detroit, East Chicago, Indiana, Tuskegee, Alabama, Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Worth, Texas, as sponsors of low-income housing. These broad initiatives convinced Gomez to recommend that the denomination should name a full-time housing secretary.Footnote 110

Most AME clergy scarcely resembled Frederick C. James and H. Ralph Jackson in their frontline activism and their conscious emulation of their denominational founder. While ministers frequently gestured to the AME ethos of Allenite insurgency and often identified with national and local civil rights organizations, their roles were mostly marginal and secondary to involvements with internal denominational affairs. Few contemporaries understood these phenomena better than Vernon Jordan, who as an attorney and NAACP official accompanied one of the two black students admitted in 1961 to the University of Georgia past a hostile white crowd. After his tenure with the Voter Educational Project, he became executive director in 1970 at the United Negro College Fund and in 1972 was appointed Whitney Young’s successor at the NUL.

During his adolescence in Atlanta, Jordan, who had participated in an oratorical contest sponsored by Georgia’s State Negro Voters League, was told that he would be a preacher. His mother, Mary Belle Jordan, an active member in the city’s St. Paul AME Church, wanted her son to eschew ministry in their denomination. He should not, she believed, “spend his life” as a sycophant to a bishop. She also deplored “the political maneuvering within the AME Church,” and she feared that if her son entered this system of hierarchy “it would take a lot energy to negotiate that structure.”Footnote 111

Jordan, however, “liked the idea of becoming a preacher” because the black church figured largely “in the spiritual and political life of the black community.” While an undergraduate at the Methodist affiliated DePauw University, Jordan, with a group of fellow students, visited Union Theological Seminary in New York City where their intellectual appetites were whetted through encounters with Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, both internationally known theologians. Trip sponsors hoped that Jordan and the others “might get a call from the Lord” to preach. Though this divinely inspired call to preach failed to materialize, Jordan regretted that “no preacher in the AME Church ever took a real interest in me or in the other youngsters in the church.” He agreed with his mother that AME clergy “were so busy running for bishop that there was no time for mentoring young people.” He added “no one came up to me and said, ‘this is what it is like to be a preacher.’ Had they done so, the law as a profession might have had some serious competition.” Nonetheless, Jordan believed that if he had entered the ministry “I know I would have had a church that combined a spiritual message with a lot of community outreach.”Footnote 112

The absence of AME mentors probably pertained to pastors at Jordan’s home congregation. Some potential AME advisors who lived in Atlanta and were known as local civil rights activists were inaccessible to Jordan. Harold I. Bearden, pastor of Big Bethel starting in 1951, used the city’s black radio station, WERD, to preach sermons that put his congregation at “the vanguard of the civil rights movement.” Big Bethel member, Jesse Hill, an executive in the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, was involved with Atlanta University Center professors Whitney Young, M. Carl Holman, and Samuel Z. Westerfield in publishing a report through their Atlanta Committee for Cooperative Action titled A Second Look: The Negro Citizen in Atlanta, which showed the realities of segregation in “the city too busy to hate.” Hill also chaired the Atlanta All-Citizens Registration Committee aimed at increasing black voting.Footnote 113

After the Supreme Court in 1956 invalidated segregation on Montgomery, Alabama, buses, several black ministers in Atlanta, led by William Holmes Borders of Wheat Street Baptist Church, notified municipal officials of their intention to desegregate city buses. This group of pastors included Benjamin Gay of Antioch AME Church in Decatur, who joined his colleagues in forming the Triple L movement. Gay recalled that they “boarded the bus” and “rode downtown” while “all of the passengers except one got off as they saw us taking front seats.Footnote 114

Jordan seemed unaware of the civil rights involvements of these AMEs in hometown Atlanta. Nonetheless, he “remained active in the AME Church” even though his spiritual advisors, Gardner Taylor and Howard Thurman, were ordained as Baptist ministers. Jordan, who poured the ethos of Allenite activism into his lay vocations, met the like-minded John H. Wheeler, also an AME layman, through their affiliation with the SRC. Wheeler, Jordan said, “mentored me and often sent me to represent him on the national commissions on which he sat. He would be an adviser and confidant to me for many years.”Footnote 115

Whether they were clergy, such as Bearden and Gay, or laity, such as Hill and Wheeler, these carriers of an AME activist legacy informed the institutional culture of the denomination. Too often, as Mary Jordan observed, these impulses became secondary to the political business of denominational governance and contests for office and power. At other times, though ministers like Bearden and Gay vied for the episcopacy, they still provided energetic support to movements for black civil rights. Although no AME clergy mentored Jordan, Wheeler, a layman of enviable AME pedigree, facilitated his rise to leadership in the civil rights cause. Though not determinative of particular ideological preferences, their AME identity, a cultural marker of background and heritage, helped to frame their public commitment to black advancement.

Reckoning with Civil Rights Opponents

Nothwithstanding their pivotal contributions to the civil rights movement, some in the clergy and laity succumbed to disguised but destructive associations with federal contacts who disparaged the black freedom struggle. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, while he disdained Martin Luther King, Jr. and engaged in a sustained campaign to discredit him, still maintained a cordial relationship with the outspoken Martin Luther King, Jr. supporter, Archibald J. Carey, Jr., the pastor of Quinn Chapel in Chicago. Hoover was convinced that the Communist Party was manipulating the civil rights movement and duping some of its leaders and participants into espousing an anticapitalist ideology. Carey, like innumerable other African American spokespersons, had been subjected, at times unknowingly, to steady FBI surveillance of their militant black advocacy from the 1940s through the 1960s. Because Carey, who was also an attorney, seldom eschewed associations with leftist allies, including the National Lawyers Guild and some labor groups, sundry FBI informants wrongly concluded that he was among the “outstanding members of the Communist Party representing trade unions and both races.” Other informants, however, though they acknowledged Carey’s popular front strategy, testified that he was surely not a Communist.Footnote 116

As a leading GOP officeholder in Chicago, Carey conspicuously supported the successful presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, which won him appointments during each of Ike’s two terms. Initially, he served as an alternate delegate to the United Nations and then headed the President’s Committee on Government Employment Policy. In the latter position, which investigated black hiring and promotions across the federal government, Carey interacted with Hoover, whose FBI had a better record in the employment of African Americans than many other agencies. For this reason, he featured Hoover in 1960 as a dinner speaker for Quinn Chapel’s anniversary.Footnote 117

Because of his amiable dealings with Hoover and his corresponding fiscal support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Carey offered himself as a mediator between Hoover and King, despite the former’s “dirty tricks” aimed at harassing the civil rights leader. Though Carey’s appearance at FBI headquarters to intervene for King had the sanction of SCLC, the visit yielded neither an audience with Hoover nor any commitment to end the agency’s hounding of King. Instead, Carey, who met with a Hoover underling, heeded admonitions that King should start to speak more favorably about the FBI, and fulfilled his promise to deliver this message to the SCLC leader. Despite Carey’s inability to rescue King from Hoover’s harassment, he used the occasion to lobby for a recommendation from Hoover for a position in the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. Though it is unclear whether Carey told King about his self-promotion, Carey remained committed to King. In 1965 an FBI surveillance report reprinted a Chicago Sun-Times article that noted “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will occupy the pulpit of Quinn Chapel Sunday morning, at the invitation of his long-time friend, the Reverend Arch Carey.Footnote 118

A blunder similar to Carey’s faux pas at the FBI headquarters roiled the 1972 General Conference. The reelection campaign of President Richard M. Nixon had hovering over it a denunciation from Bishop Stephen G. Spottswood of the AME Zion Church. Spottswood, the chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, said in 1970 that the Nixon administration was antiblack because of its “southern strategy” to attract to the GOP white segregationists, formerly in the Democratic Party, and to mollify them with attacks on the Voting Rights Act that newly empowered southern blacks. Spottswood’s episcopal colleague, Bishop Charles Ewbank Tucker, a staunch Republican who delivered a prayer at Nixon’s 1969 presidential inauguration, condemned Spottswood, saying that his criticism “was both unjustified and unwarranted” given Nixon’s previous record in Congress and as Eisenhower’s vice president. When the AMEs convened in Dallas, Texas, Bishop Decatur Ward Nichols, a veteran Republican, like Bishop Tucker, “announced” an interruption in the opening worship service because of “the late arrival of Mr. Edward Nixon, brother of the President of the United States.” After a choir selection, “Bishop Jordan and Bishop Primm came to the podium to protest against the interruption of the General Conference’s Religious Service by the interpolation of secular matters.”Footnote 119

After Edward Nixon entered the Memorial Auditorium, “a group of laymen and ministers rushed to the front of the pulpit protesting the change in the preliminaries of [the] Worship Service [with] some saying that the motive was political.” The conference scribe reported that “attempts were made to restore order and to continue [the] service, but the Conference became more restive.” Obviously, Nixon recognized the ruckus that his presence was causing and that the 1,800 AMEs assembled in the auditorium had no desire to hear anything about his brother’s reelection as president. Hence, he left the facility, leaving Bishop Nichols to explain how this unwanted speaker happened to come to the AME meeting. The “Committee responsible for the arrangements,” Nichols defensively declared, “had merely used the only time available to present the honored guest.” Apologetically, the bishop noted that he meant no “irreverence toward the traditions and customs of our Church.”Footnote 120

Carey’s involvement with the Eisenhower administration, where he was empowered to investigate black federal employment, framed his overly benign perspective of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover’s FBI seemed more receptive to overtures from the Carey-led Government Employment Policy Committee than other federal agencies. Moreover, Carey, like Nichols and Tucker of the AME Zion Church, was exposed to Richard Nixon in the 1950s when he exhibited racially liberal views as Ike’s vice president. Racial realities, which starkly contrasted with nonviolent civil rights marches, led Nixon in the late 1960s to exploit white backlash against widespread urban riots in which blacks protested the egregious ghetto conditions in which they lived. Hence, AMEs at the 1972 General Conference and Bishop Spottswood of the AME Zion Church negatively responded to this “new” Nixon who had already nominated to the Supreme Court two white southerners known for their open hostility to black civil rights. Whatever naivete Carey demonstrated at Hoover’s FBI headquarters and Nichols showed as a host to Nixon’s brother, fellow AMEs loudly reasserted their fealty to their church’s liberationist legacy.Footnote 121

Anti-Colonialism, African Independence, and African Methodism

The political awakening in Africa after World War II paralleled the civil rights movement in the United States. Africans demanded independence from European colonial powers and opposed white minority rule in Rhodesia, South Africa, and Southwest Africa. AMEs operated in several territories on the “mother” continent and indigenous ministers and members helped to spearhead and participate in various anti-colonial campaigns. Their counterparts in the United States, either the bishops who were assigned to supervise African districts or rank-and-file clergy and laity, facilitated, endorsed, but sometimes demurred on the aims of self-determination in Africa.

AME leaders recognized the significance of African independence and movements to end white supremacist governments on the continent. Bishop Frederick D. Jordan observed that “a determined assault has been made by the leaders in many countries upon imperialism and colonialism.” He added that “the cry of ‘freedom’ may be heard on every hand.” Moreover, he said, “tribal and other national and geographical differences are forgotten, language barriers no longer exist, for the African speaks the same language of freedom.”Footnote 122

Jordan’s excitement about the prospects of African independence was tempered by the relentless grip of white minority governments in South Africa and Rhodesia. After his election to the episcopacy in 1952, Jordan, who had been sent to Central Africa, also replaced the reassigned Bishop Howard T. Primm in South Africa. Jordan’s two episcopal districts included territories under the rule of white settler regimes. Jordan was aware that the Nationalist Party “had just come into power and was faced with riots and forceful resistance by the African people.” Artishia Jordan, the bishop’s wife, believed that officials in the South African government exerted influence in both northern and southern Rhodesia where colonial British administrators, like South African whites, “did not desire to have an American Negro representing a church whose policy and philosophy of brotherhood and equality were directly at variance with the apartheid advocated by the government.”Footnote 123

Additionally, in mineral-rich Northern Rhodesia, Jordan’s original assignment, indigenous Africans encountered mandated pay inequities between themselves and settler whites. There was a “general policy,” Artishia Jordan observed, “of keeping the African from experiencing equality with the white at any point and is implemented by agreement between white labor unions and the [mine] employers.” Similarly, in Southern Rhodesia there were “strict limitations [on] land which the Native Africans are permitted to own.” The Jordans concluded that the unusual amount of “red tape” they encountered at British embassies in Rome, Italy, Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, and elsewhere showed raw opposition to their presence in these colonial territories and their delayed entry into South Africa itself.Footnote 124

Besides the Jordans, other AME leaders supported African demands for independence from European rule and encouraged opposition to white settler governments that denied to blacks an equitable share in national governance and in the economic benefits derived from natural resource development in their native lands. When leaders in the colonized countries of Africa and Asia met in 1955 in Indonesia at the Bandung Conference, to declare their alignment against European imperialism, the bishops in their 1956 episcopal address endorsed this objective. They said the meeting would “let the world know that the darker peoples are determined to free themselves from the yoke of colonization by imperial powers.” Toward that end the bishops delegated Bishop Richard R. Wright, Jr. and Secretary of Missions A. Chester Clark to represent the denomination in Ghana on March 6, 1957 at ceremonies marking its independence from Great Britain. Moreover, George A. Singleton, the editor of the AME Church Review, emblazoned a picture of Kwame Nkrumah on the cover of the April–June 1957 issue. Singleton said “the name KWAME NKRUMAH is a symbol of inspiration to millions of BLACKS the world over and GHANA is prophetic of what the peoples of Africa might become.” Furthermore, in keeping the church’s focus on African freedom movements, at the 1960 General Conference Frederick C. James proposed a resolution that denounced the recent police killing of sixty-nine black demonstrators in Sharpeville in the Transvaal who had protested South Africa’s hated “pass laws.” James declared that the “AME Church reaffirm[s] its position and denounce[s] the brutality inflicted upon the people of Africa.”Footnote 125

African Methodism in Africa operated in three interrelated spheres. First, establishing and maintaining churches and schools, despite hostility from European colonial and white settler officials, preoccupied AME leaders from the United States and from within affected African areas. Secondly, indigenous ministers and members, in supporting a stubborn AME presence in their colonial regions and embracing African Methodism because of its black institutional autonomy, positioned the denomination to become conspicuously involved in fighting colonialism and white supremacy. Thirdly, the convergence of the liberationist objectives of diasporic blacks and their militant call for African self-determination motivated intellectuals of AME heritage, including an influential cadre of expatriates, to forge consensus with denominational officials in blending the civil rights struggle in the United States with the battle against European colonialism and white supremacy in Africa into a seamless freedom initiative within the black Atlantic.

The late nineteenth-century origins of African Methodism in Sierra Leone and Liberia provided these Creole-ruled nations with mature congregations and schools and energized missionaries to expand the denomination to other territories in West Africa. Europa Randall of Sierra Leone, for example, arrived in the Gold Coast in the late 1930s to organize and build Bethel AME Church at Essa Kado. In the early 1940s over a dozen other congregations with affiliated elementary schools derived from Randall’s initiative. Additionally, I. C. Steady of Liberia assisted Randall in her early educational activities. Though a school started at Essa Kado and Payne Collegiate Institute began in Accra, neither operated in a facility of its own. A network of AME schools also functioned in the 1940s and 1950s in the colonial Gold Coast and in independent Ghana, but they usually occupied rental properties with funds that Randall, the general superintendent, received from the Women’s Missionary Society.Footnote 126

The initial years of Ghanaian independence coincided with the incumbency of Bishop Samuel R. Higgins in West Africa. His supervision in the Ghana Annual Conference included thirty-five preaching sites organized within ten circuits and five schools, the most important of which was Clayborn College. Higgins, who recognized the urgent condition of Clayborn, planned in 1959 to move it to a better location. The Women’s Missionary Society promised to support the Higgins initiative. The bishop’s cardiac disease, however, compelled his return to the United States, thus ending his on-site presence in his episcopal district. Nonetheless, the committee that compiled the 1960 AME Discipline met and responded to a recommendation from I. C. Steady of Liberia that Ghana’s Clayborn College and the AME Boy’s Academy in Kumasi should be eligible for denominational funding.Footnote 127

Notwithstanding promised denominational allocations, Higgins and Artishia Jordan, whose husband was later assigned as the bishop in West Africa, believed that AME schools in Ghana were best served by harnessing them to new educational initiatives unfolding in the newly independent nation. Though Higgins had articulated plans to rehabilitate Clayborn College, the government insisted that AME schools should “do an accredited grade of work.” Jordan welcomed the admonition because “Ghana, the new and exuberant country [and] a vigorous nation, [is] taking great strides in developing its natural and its human resources. Let us as a great church stride along with them.Footnote 128

Nigeria, which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960, had a minimal AME presence. Though African Americans from the United States represented the Nigeria Annual Conference at the 1956 General Conference, none were named for the subsequent three quadrennial sessions until 1972 when Nigerians officially participated in the AME meeting. Nonetheless, the 1960 General Conference, which met months before Nigeria’s formal independence, impaneled a Committee to Study Nigeria and celebrated its independence and that of other new African nations. “This inescapable challenge,” delegates declared, required the AME Church to recognize the “dire need of schools, as well as churches” in Nigeria and other emergent nations on the “mother” continent. As in Ghana, AMEs, though they were “playing catch up,” linked their denomination’s development to a decolonized Africa.Footnote 129

While successful struggles for independence in Ghana and Nigeria buoyed AMEs, the denomination’s dense presence in Africa’s other colonial and white settler territories also required daring fights for black empowerment. Blacks in Northern Rhodesia, for example, wrestled their autonomy from the British in 1964 to become an independent Zambia. Decades before this accomplishment, a congruence between the entry of African Methodism and the rise of anticolonialism coalesced by 1953. Both developments drew from indigenous clergy and laity, including some who believed that the proud institutional independence of the AME Church could energize movements to end British colonialism.Footnote 130

African Methodism, through the efforts of native ministers, spread the denomination from strongholds in South Africa. Briefly between 1903 and 1906, the AME Church penetrated Northern Rhodesia, and reentered the territory in 1925. Because of clergy with a knowledge of tribal languages and cultural idioms, impressive growth occurred between 1932 and 1945. The denomination had its greatest success where AME congregations established locally funded schools. Despite a dearth of trained ministers, irregular denominational allocations for education, and a poorly equipped clinic, the AME Church sustained its appeal in North Rhodesia. Indigenous ministers and members promoted the idea of African Methodism as an autonomous religious body that was unlike European missionary societies, which often treated Africans as inferior and incapable of self-government within their own churches.Footnote 131

As African Methodism grew, European missionaries accused the denomination of an “active propaganda” that emphasized “all-African-controlled churches.” Moreover, African nationalists made common cause with AMEs because the indigenous members were becoming practiced in religious autonomy. One scholar, Walton R. Johnson, said “the AME Church attracted patriots because it was a symbol of the nationalist ideal and because its existence was in fact partial realization of nationalist goals.”Footnote 132

AMEs who aligned themselves with Black Nationalist objectives at the 1953 Northern Rhodesia Annual Conference denounced white rule because “racial discrimination is robbing our country of the freedom enjoyed by other countries.” At the 1955 session AMEs supported black labor strikes aimed against racially discriminatory practices, and backed the Northern Rhodesia African Congress in its boycott of slaughterhouses where a “colour bar” was being imposed. These and other related issues compelled these indigenous AMEs to declare themselves a church “that should join in condemning injustice and oppression.”Footnote 133

The AME Church, alone among religious bodies in Northern Rhodesia, wanted “to have Christian justice put into practical effect.” Moreover, the “multi-national and multi-ethnic” identity of AMEs, Johnson observed, showed that the denomination transcended tribalism and thus modeled nationalist goals of uniting the diverse peoples in Northern Rhodesia. As a result, nationalists increasingly identified with the AMEs. Kenneth Kaunda, for example, the future leader of an independent Zambia, belonged to Ebenezer AME Church in Lusaka. He and a few others, however, abandoned African Methodism in 1957 because of an apolitical presiding elder who objected to the denominational involvement in anticolonial causes. Nonetheless, there were innumerable others who ignored the perspectives of conservative clergy and openly blended their AME and nationalist activities. Isaac Mumpansha, who had been a presiding elder, was present at the founding of the Northern Rhodesia African Congress, later served as an ambassador for Zambia to Nigeria and West Germany, and was elected to parliament.Footnote 134

Though individual African Methodists participated in Northern Rhodesia’s nationalist movement, there was scarcely any institutional involvement in various political organizations. Church officials, in most instances, feared government decertification of the AME presence in the country if any official denominational insurgencies were detected. Moreover, there were partisan cleavages between competing nationalist groups that gained footholds in one or another AME congregation. In some churches the African National Congress (ANC) was dominant and in others the United National Independence Party was ascendant. Nonetheless, a broader coalition of nationalists, inclusive of some AMEs, created an independent Zambia out of colonial Northern Rhodesia.Footnote 135

The strenuous effort to found a black-ruled Zimbabwe started in 1923 against a blended colonial government and white settler rule in Southern Rhodesia. Black opposition shifted in 1965, however, to political and guerrilla insurgency against a renegade white regime that declared independence from Great Britain. Led by Ian Smith, the white minority faction defied the British and barred blacks from any meaningful say in Rhodesian government. Whether against British colonial hegemony or minority white governance, alignments developed between black nationalists and indigenous African Methodists.

From its origins in South Africa, the denomination initially spread in 1903 to Bulawayo, a newly founded city in Southern Rhodesia. As African Methodism moved into Matabeleland and Mashonaland in the 1920s and into other territories in the 1930s, colonial whites increasingly described AMEs as “political agitators” who regularly chanted “Africa arise; Seek for the Lord and do not be left by other nations.” As membership rose from 900 in 1952 to 5,700 in 1961, AMEs became recognizable nationalists whom “some of the African leaders and chiefs had welcomed … to preach the Gospel … to mobilize them against the colonial system.”Footnote 136

As white minority rule was hardening, Bishop Harold I. Bearden, assigned in 1964, was denied permission to enter Rhodesia. In fact no AME bishop was allowed in the country between 1964 and 1972. These roadblocks, which cut off denominational support to economically vulnerable congregations and clergy, prevented AME growth beyond the few thousand reported in the early 1960s. These developments, though they undermined AME insurgency against the Smith regime, increased defiance from guerrilla fighters and from a new bishop assigned to Rhodesia in 1972. Bishop H. Hartford Brookins, though permitted to hold an annual conference in Bulawayo in 1974, criticized the Smith government and endorsed a resolution that urged AME participation in “the struggle for freedom.” In Rhodesia the indigenous population endured “indignities, deprivations and humiliations at the hands of unchristian government leaders, white racists, and exploiters.” Though Brookins later was banned from the country, he addressed the African National Council in 1975 and donated $2,000 to support opposition to the Smith regime. He also funded an African National Council official to attend the Women’s Missionary Society convention in the United States, where another $10,000 was allocated to the liberation effort. The ousting of Smith in 1980 and the creation of a black ruled Zimbabwe was mainly thanks to the guerrilla war and a heritage of nationalism drawn in part from the AME presence.Footnote 137

The longevity of the AME Church in South Africa led to a combination of both insurgent and vacillating responses to the nation’s apartheid regime. Because of so much institutional infrastructure to protect and maintain, AME leadership accommodated to demands from the white minority government. The General Conference of 1952 assigned Bishop Howard Thomas Primm to South Africa, but he was refused permission to enter the country. When Primm’s appointment shifted to another jurisdiction because of a bishop’s death, Frederick D. Jordan, his replacement, tried twice without success to enter the country. He succeeded on the third try, and was allowed in on condition that he would “train indigenous leadership” to take the place of African American bishops.Footnote 138

The practical effect of this demand lay in shifting AME leadership from mainly absentee and potentially insurgent African American bishops to colored clergy who enjoyed a higher status in South Africa’s racial ranking than that of the majority black population. There existed a tiered structure of rights and privileges, with whites, especially the Afrikaner elite, at the top, the colored or mixed race and Indian peoples in the middle, and indigenous blacks at the bottom. The AME Church, because of its strength within colored communities in the Cape Province, drew leadership disproportionately from within this group. The Jamaica-born Francis McDonald Gow, who identified with the colored population, for example, until his death in 1931 served for about two decades as South Africa’s AME superintendent, as a fill-in for the part-time presence of African American bishops.Footnote 139

Like Gow, Josephus R. Coan, an African American based in the Transvaal, served as the AME superintendent during most of the 1940s. His jurisdiction included South Africa’s Fifteenth Episcopal District and southern and central Africa’s Seventeenth Episcopal District. Because World War II hostilities prevented the travel of the assigned prelate, Bishop Frank Madison Reid, Sr. Coan, who had lived in South Africa since 1938, supervised a membership, inclusive of adjoining territories, that rose from 43,000 to 70,000 and enrollments at Wilberforce Institute that increased from 450 to 1,026. Far from adopting an oppositional posture to South Africa’s white government, Coan drew regular aid for AME primary schools from the Provincial Education Department and annual government grants to Crogman Community Clinic. Moreover, in 1941 and 1943 the Native Affairs Department allocated infrastructure funds to Wilberforce Institute that Coan hoped would develop the school as “a young Tuskegee.”Footnote 140

Notwithstanding, these achievements, Coan, representing the Seventeenth Episcopal District, failed at the General Conference of 1948 to be elected a bishop for South Africa. His competitor, Fifteenth Episcopal District candidate Francis Herman Gow, the son of Coan’s predecessor as superintendent, was the pastor, like his father, at Cape Town’s Bethel Memorial Church. Though born in South Africa, Gow had become a United States citizen, a first lieutenant who fought in World War I, a pastor in Ohio and West Virginia, and an instructor at Tuskegee Institute. Despite their loss in the race to fill eight episcopal vacancies, Coan and Gow on the first ballot respectively tallied 360 and 310 votes out of 924. Though Coan abandoned his aspiration to the bishopric, Gow, the only candidate from the “mother” continent at the 1952 General Conference, failed a second time to become a bishop.Footnote 141

Gow benefited, however, from the requirement of the Nationalist government that no more African American bishops would be allowed into South Africa and that only an indigenous prelate would be allowed to function in the Fifteenth Episcopal District. In response, the General Conference of 1956 elected Gow to the episcopacy. He was reassigned to South Africa at the 1960 General Conference, and served until 1964. Gow, born in 1887, was nearing seventy years old when he and his African American wife, Louise Ballou of Richmond, Virginia, returned to Cape Town. Gow, who only technically qualified as an indigenous African, left to Easter M. Gordon, a minister in Worcester, the administration of brutish apartheid policies upon South Africa’s AME churches.Footnote 142

Gordon, ordained in 1949, was the son of an AME pioneer, Daniel P. Gordon. Bishop Bonner appointed him as a presiding elder and pastor at Zion AME Church in Worcester as his father’s replacement. The 1,500-member Zion Church was known for championing “the upliftment of the coloured people in the Worcester District.” After the 1964 General Conference reassigned Gow to West Africa, Gordon became the liaison between four succeeding African American bishops and the apartheid government.Footnote 143

The passage of the Group Areas Act in 1950, which upended innumerable colored and black communities, directly affected their local AME congregations. The apartheid legislation declared areas as white and forced the resettlement of nonwhite populations. Hence, AMEs lost their churches in return for other sites in newly designated townships. In Cape Town, for example, parishioners of District 6 who worshipped at the cathedral edifice of Bethel Memorial Church witnessed its demolition. With respect to the Umzimkulu congregation, Gow and Gordon had only a month to accept a new location and merely six months to construct a building. In the Transvaal, because the time to approve the relocated site of the congregation of the R. R. Wright Church in Benoni expired owing to government inaction, Gordon had to intervene with white municipal officials to get an extension.Footnote 144

Getting African American bishops into South Africa also preoccupied Gordon. Between 1964 and 1976 Bishops Harrison J. Bryant, G. Dewey Robinson, and Frederick C. James relied on Gordon to negotiate with white authorities for visas to permit their entry. Each was compelled to agree with particular conditions that satisfied the apartheid government. Bryant agreed to establish an executive committee in all annual conferences to explore plans for AME autonomy in South Africa. Similarly, Robinson promised to finish plans for indigenous leadership. Moreover, James was admonished that no more “foreign bishops” would be allowed into the country. Gordon, mindful that government maintained a watchful eye over African American governance in South Africa, inaugurated his own run for the bishopric. With initial support from Gow and others in the Fifteenth Episcopal District, Gordon was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1964, 1968, and 1972 General Conferences.Footnote 145

While AMEs bargained with white officials about routine denominational operations, mounting militancy seethed within South Africa against apartheid. As grassroots demonstrations and riots, especially in the school protests in 1976 in Soweto, drew international attention, AMEs, on both sides of the Atlantic, intensified their support for the anti-apartheid movement. AME involvement in the ANC, dating from the 1920s through such ministers as Nimrod Tantsi and Edward Khalie, connected to a subsequent generation of insurgents in the 1970s and 1980s. Wilfred J. Messiah, a future bishop, for example, eschewed comments of his professor who declared nonwhite students as “only good enough to sweep the floors.” Moreover, Messiah’s opposition to apartheid caused police to pursue him and force his exit from South Africa in 1979.Footnote 146

Nonetheless, Bishop Donald G. K. Ming, newly assigned to South Africa in 1976, promised the apartheid government a nonpolitical posture and a focus on church development. JET reported that one minister in the Cape Annual Conference said that Ming was not “a politician” and was “a visitor to the country by courtesy of the government.” Militant black South Africans, however, believed that the AME Church should abandon its “low profile” in the anti-apartheid struggle. Nonetheless, with a $153,000 quadrennial denominational allocation from the Overseas Development Fund and additional monies that he and his wife, Edith W. Ming, raised, the bishop led in building forty-five new churches. Ming’s accomplishments and those of his successor, Bishop John E. Hunter, laid foundations for the 1984 General Conference to spin off another episcopal district in South Africa and to elect a South African, Harold B. Senatle, to preside over it.Footnote 147

AMEs throughout the black Atlantic, however, recognized that institutional advancement required parallel support for insurgencies against apartheid. Hence, the 1984 General Conference realized that black South Africans could be described “as the most oppressed people on the face of the earth.” Among the “atrocities” that they endured was a paltry weekly wage of $12 for those who mined for diamonds to make rich whites in South Africa and abroad. Therefore, the social action committees at every level within the AME infrastructure should press the US Congress “to divest” from South Africa, businesses should cease doing business with the apartheid regime, and the public should boycott South African diamonds. Additionally, the Overseas Social Action Committee at the 1988 General Conference, consisting mainly of delegates from South Africa, pressed fellow conferees to ending apartheid “by lobbying, writing letters to the United States Congress and to the South African State President P. W. Botha.” Moreover, the General Conference was asked “as a matter of urgency” to help prevent the execution of the Sharpeville Six, “twenty-six other patriots,” and other political prisoners “being tried in court cases.”Footnote 148

International pressures, expressed in divestment campaigns and indigenous unrest, intensified in the 1970s and 1980s and helped to upend apartheid. The release of Nelson Mandela, the imprisoned leader of the ANC, became the focus of global anti-apartheid initiatives. Mandela, a veteran fighter against white minority rule, was arrested, tried, and sentenced in 1962 to life in prison for violent opposition to the government. When South Africa’s State President F. W. De Klerk released Mandela from twenty-seven years of imprisonment in 1990, the process of apartheid’s demise and the genesis of multiracial democracy accelerated.

Figure 6.5 AME Church of South Africa Voter Training Manual, 1994

(used with permission from Bishop Paul Kawimbe, Nineteenth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church)

AMEs moved rapidly to identify with this transformation in South Africa. Mandela’s 1990 visit to the United States included a stop in Atlanta at Big Bethel AME Church, where the ANC leader appeared in the pulpit with Bishop Harold B. Senatle, a fellow South African and President of the AME Council of Bishops. Two years later, Big Bethel’s pastor, McKinley Young, was elected to the episcopacy and assigned to one of the two jurisdictions in South Africa. In preparation for the 1994 election that would bring Mandela to the presidency, Bishop Senatle and Bishop Young mobilized AME officialdom in South Africa to register blacks to vote and to publish, with funds from the Bishops Council, the AME Church of South Africa Voters Training Manual to facilitate the nation’s political transition. Fred C. Harrison, formerly the AME Secretary of Missions and now a pastor in South Africa, compiled the thickly detailed pamphlet for “activists and volunteers who will be involved in voter education.” An explanation of voters’ rights for over 18 million people who had never exercised the franchise was presented. Pictures of sample ballots, “mock election role play” procedures, and scripts for voter education workshops were also included. The ANC especially used the AME Manual in the Western Cape. Additionally, Bishops Senatle, John R. Bryant, and Richard Allen Chappelle joined Bishop Young as election observers. Floyd H. Flake, the pastor at Allen AME Church in Jamaica, New York, and the United States representative from New York’s sixth congressional district, visited South Africa a few months before the election. He admonished Mandela and the ANC “to build infrastructure in black regions that were neglected under apartheid.Footnote 149

Intellectuals of AME Pedigree on Freedom in the Black Atlantic

AME involvement in the civil rights movement in the United States and opposition to colonial and white settler rule in Africa identified the denomination with a broad range of insurgent initiatives throughout the Atlantic World. These activities exposed the historic tensions between the dual pursuit of black ecclesiastical autonomy and traditional commitments to liberationist objectives. Those who believed that African Methodism should emphasize its emancipationist ethos rather than ecclesiastical preservation included intellectuals of AME background who envisaged themselves as pan-Africanists and their denomination, at least historically, as an institutional expression of black Atlantic identity. Though they may have been invisible to most ministers and members, these thinkers, as they pursued the life of the mind and engaged in broader intellectual and insurgent activities, envisaged themselves as no less AME than others who regularly populated the church’s pulpits and pews.

Beyond formal membership in a congregation and participation in denominational affairs, a cadre of mostly expatriate intellectuals in the 1950s and 1960s expanded the meaning of being AME. Adherence to the AME ethos of insurgency against racial and colonial hegemony defined their allegiance to African Methodism. Moreover, the influence of family lineage and the effects of Afrocentricism anchored in the AME heritage sustained their identity as African Methodists. Through their scholarship, their advocacy of African independence movements, and their cosmopolitan and continental experiences and interactions in Europe and Africa connected them to other thinkers and activists associated with the resurgence of Africa. They helped to constitute an influential aggregation of modern diasporic thinkers, who in interaction with their AME background, created intellectual scaffolding for a new generation of empowered blacks in the Atlantic World. Hence, African Methodism was expressed through the intellectual tributary of several scholars bred in its proud transatlantic legacy.

Shirley Graham Du Bois, the second wife to the iconic W. E. B. Du Bois, an anticolonialist and a political leftist, drew her militancy and pan-African perspectives, at least foundationally, from her AME family heritage. Though later baptized as a Baptist and scornful of the “narcotizing effect” of accommodationist black churches, Graham Du Bois admired her father, AME pastor David A. Graham, and respected the denomination that he served across several assignments in various states. From the elder Graham she imbibed “the history of our church-founded before the Civil War by free black men in Philadelphia who refused to be discriminated against ‘in the house of the Lord.’” In her memoir about her future spouse, she reminded readers that Du Bois’ view of the AME Church, “the greatest Negro organization in the world,” was aligned with the opinion of her father. As someone who lived as a toddler at Wilberforce University, Graham Du Bois, whose husband had taught on this same campus, had dense exposure to the clergy and congregations among whom her father served in the Midwest, the South, and West until his death in 1936. In 1901 Graham received the honorary D.D. degree from the AME-supported Paul Quinn College in Texas, and in 1916 biographies of him and wife Lizzie Etta Graham appeared in the Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.Footnote 150

From Indianapolis, where she was born in 1896, to Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt, several decades later, Graham Du Bois’ pan-Africanist trajectory grew from her AME beginnings. Her father’s black Atlantic sensibilities had been stirred during his childhood in Indiana when Frederick Douglass “allowed him to hold the sword of Toussaint L’Ouverture,” the Haitian liberator. Graham Du Bois also recalled when Du Bois visited Colorado Springs, Graham had asked him about his “presentation at [the] Versailles [peace conference] of plans for the decolonization of Africa.” Perhaps, more importantly, the Graham family lived in the Atlantic reality of African Methodism. William Sampson Brooks, an uncle by marriage, was elected in 1920 to the AME episcopacy. Accompanying him to his assignment in West Africa was his wife Susan, sister to Lizzie Etta Graham. Because Bishop Brooks’s responsibilities included an ill-equipped school in Monrovia, Liberia, he appointed Graham as principal of the Monrovia Boy’s College. Though Graham eschewed the emphasis on industrial education rather than the academic emphasis at the AME-operated Wilberforce University, he committed to aid his brother-in-law’s educational mission. He disdained, however, haughty Americo-Liberians who ruled Liberia and the derision they expressed toward indigenous African culture. Nonetheless, Bishop Brooks purchased 20 acres of land for the AME school and bought property for the AMEs in downtown Monrovia. Also in Monrovia, the Susan Brooks Memorial AME Church was built to mark the contributions of the aunt of Graham Du Bois.Footnote 151

The family’s lived legacy of pan-Africanism blended with Graham Du Bois’ inheritance of black insurgency. Throughout his sundry pastorates he supported the NAACP, and while serving in New Orleans called a meeting to denounce the mob burning of a black man. Despite warning that he would also be lynched, Graham persisted in holding the meeting, though he placed a gun next his Bible. Hence, his daughter’s lifelong activism and routine radicalism culminated through her second marriage in 1951 to the widowed W. E. B. Du Bois. In 1961 the couple arrived in Ghana at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah, the nation’s first postcolonial president. He wanted Dr. Du Bois to assemble scholarly contributors to develop an Encyclopedia Africana. With a house identified, renovations finished, and travel related to Du Bois’ medical treatment completed, Graham Du Bois declared “our home was now really Africa.”Footnote 152

Just as the Reverend David and Lizzie Etta Graham lived in Liberia along with Bishop William and Susan Brooks, Graham Du Bois, after her husband’s death in Ghana in 1963, joined her son, David, in Cairo, Egypt. While her family’s presence in Africa focused on the religious dimensions of pan-Africanism, Graham Du Bois pursued anticolonialism as her emphasis. In this objective she found a champion in Egypt’s president Gamal Abdul Nasser. Her alliance with the Black Studies movement in the United States provided her with a forum to articulate her views. Nathan Hare, the fired professor and founder of Black Studies at San Francisco State College, and Robert Christman, a poet, launched the Black Scholar, a journal dedicated to black and Third World anticolonialism. In the periodical Graham Du Bois explained her perspectives about Egypt as a bulwark against the reentry of western imperialism into Africa.Footnote 153

In two serialized articles in the Black Scholar, entitled “Egypt is Africa,” Graham Du Bois examined “why the modern white Christian world has so persistently and resolutely ignored and even denied that Egypt is Africa.” Egypt’s kinship to black Africa, she wrote, was evidenced, for example, in a thirteenth-century BC mask of King Tutankhamen, which was a “portrait,” she observed, “of a sensitive young black man.” This history was relevant to 1970, the year the articles appeared, because Egypt “is defending Africa’s most important gates against imperialist aggression.” President Nasser, “the first indigenous Egyptian to be Head of Egypt in two thousand years,” she noted, was “hated” by the western powers “because he has broken the chain of their power over Egypt.” She added that “Egypt defends Africa” and would prevent “the subjugation not only [of] this continent, but the entire colored world.” In this land that protected the boy Jesus from Herod and to where his disciples traveled to spread the Gospel to a receptive population, Christianity and the ancient greatness of Africa were incubated. The pan-Africanism of Graham Du Bois emerged out of her beginnings in a black Atlantic Methodism and was converted into residency and advocacy for Africa in a newly independent Ghana and in a strategically powerful Egypt. In this she was truly an heir to the transatlantic legacy of African Methodism.Footnote 154

Not unlike Graham-Du Bois, the indiscernible link between African Americans and ancient and medieval Egypt and Ethiopia that animated the scholarship of Asa J. Davis seemed energized by an AME background that consciously forged connections to Africa. That early Christianity was tied to the “mother” continent and became in Ethiopia a bulwark against the spread of Islam stirred the intellectual “juices” of Asa J. Davis, a distinguished religious historian and longtime professor at Amherst College. Davis’s deep exploration of Christianity’s African past focused his scholarly energies upon the study of the Church of Ethiopia, among the oldest of Christian bodies. Perhaps Davis’s intimate connection to African Methodism, a venerable black denomination of historic longevity, may have influenced his selection of this project.Footnote 155

Davis, though born in Nashville in 1922 and reared in New York City, derived his family’s AME pedigree from South Carolina, a state populous with African Methodists. Moreover, his uncle, Monroe H. Davis, educated at Howard University and seminary trained at Drew University, became a powerhouse among Baltimore AMEs. Married to the daughter of Bishop William W. Beckett, Davis was himself elected to the episcopacy in 1928 and within a few years assigned to the Second Episcopal District, which included his home city. Davis also mentored Charles H. Wesley, a Baltimore Conference presiding elder and a Howard dean, and helped him to navigate the intricacies of AME politics. During Wesley’s Wilberforce presidency, Asa Davis, as an undergraduate, was exposed to his productivity as a historian.Footnote 156

Military service in World War II delayed Davis’s graduation from Wilberforce until 1948. In the prior two years both Bishop Davis and President Wesley lost out in high stakes AME politics. The bishop had been suspended from the episcopacy at the special General Conference session in 1946 and Wesley, fired from the Wilberforce presidency in 1947, launched a rival school on adjacent state property. Though Bishop Davis was restored and Wesley “landed on his feet” as president of Central State College, Davis, perhaps sobered by these factional fights, though he pursued a divinity degree, chose academia over the AME ministry or the denomination’s affiliated schools. Like Wesley, Davis enrolled at Harvard University and earned in 1951 the Bachelor of Sacred Theology. Attaining a Ph.D. in religious history, however, was his ultimate objective. Graduate study in religion at Harvard drew upon scholarly strengths in “classical church history” and its related languages. Davis embraced these fields and applied them to Africa.Footnote 157

Davis’s Ph.D. dissertation drew upon his facility with Arabic, Amharic, and Portuguese, and his historical mastery of medieval Ethiopian history and the encounter with Portuguese imperial expansion. “The Mazagaba Haymanot, An Ethiopic Monophysite Text,” an explication of a sixteenth-century treatise, earned Davis the doctorate at Harvard in 1960. Davis noted that the Ethiopians, despite an earlier alliance with the Portuguese against Muslim invaders, developed a discourse of resistance to Iberian incursions into Northeast Africa.Footnote 158

The Davis thesis mirrored his AME heritage and the denomination’s historic presence in Africa. That his uncle, albeit briefly, served as bishop in West Africa, showed that the “mother” continent was in the Davis family consciousness. Perhaps some combination of family and academic influences convinced Davis to settle in Africa to witness decolonization and help to chart a postcolonial future through his career as a history professor at the University of Ibadan in newly independent Nigeria.Footnote 159

An opportunity to participate in the Ibadan School of Historiography seemed decisive in persuading Davis to launch his academic career in Africa. Accompanying decolonization and independence in the 1950s and 1960s came a different emphasis in African history that reflected growing nationalist perspectives among indigenous scholars. They stressed energized African responses to European commercial and missionary incursions onto the continent. These themes were explicated in major monographs that Kenneth O. Dike and E. A. Ayandele published during this period. These and other scholars, in their emphasis upon political history, wanted to provide Nigeria with a history that would help in state construction. One scholar described the Ibadan School as engaged in undermining “‘the dangerous lies Europeans had systematized and institutionalized about the African past’” and to “make that history usable and relevant to promote nation-building.” Beyond their books, the Ibadan School, to disseminate their perspectives, established the Historical Society of Nigeria, the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, and Tarikh, a publication for a secondary school audience.Footnote 160

Davis believed in building a sovereign postcolonial Africa through the University of Ibadan. Located in the largest city in the Yoruba majority Oyo State, Davis belonged to the Ibadan history faculty from 1962 to 1969. His tenure coincided with the role of Dike, his mentor, as vice chancellor. Hence, Davis became assistant editor of the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria to which he contributed essays derived from his research on sixteenth-century Ethiopia. He published “The Sixteenth Century Jihad in Ethiopia and the Impact on its Culture” in two installments in 1963 and 1964. In the first essay he argued that the intervention of a Muslim jihad spearheaded a cultural transformation, forcing a political crisis that compelled Ethiopia to return to the “foundations of the quasi-sacramental union between the Church and State as a weapon with which to repel its enemies.” Though Monophysite Ethiopians differed from the Catholic Portuguese and resented their imperial presence, both viewed Muslims as inimical to their respective political and religious interests. Davis showed in the follow-up essay that some Muslim territories failed in ending all Ethiopian sovereignty, with some paying tribute to various Ethiopian rulers.Footnote 161

Though hardly a specialist in Nigerian history, Davis fully participated in the Ibadan School. In his writings he portrayed Africans as parties to foundational doctrinal debates that shaped the theological trajectory of Christianity. Beyond his editorial position with the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Davis also published in Tarikh a popular publication that the Ibadan School deployed to expose non-academic audiences to the best scholarship in African history. Hence, Davis, in a special issue on early Christianity, contributed articles on “Coptic Christianity” and “The Orthodoxy of the Church of Ethiopia.”

Davis’s essays on religion in Egypt and Ethiopia, like AME Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett’s 1893 address “The Negro and Christianity,” showed Africans as major players in early Christian development. Concerning Coptic Christianity, Davis traced its origins in Egypt and how “Old Egyptian beliefs” informed their understanding of a fluid and increasingly contested Christianity. Whether Jesus was fully divine or simultaneously divine and human was debated at Alexandria, Egypt, the center of Coptic Christianity. This discussion led to the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the doctrine of Jesus as “fully man” and “fully God” was pronounced. When in 451 the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Nicene Creed, Coptic Christians dissented and held to their Monophysite belief in Jesus as singularly divine.Footnote 162

Davis, in a second Tarikh article, said that while Coptic influence was present in the Ethiopian church, two Syrian missionaries who evangelized in the region spread the Nicene/Chalcedon doctrine. Hence, the Ethiopian Christianity, an Orthodox body, believed that in Jesus was a “coming together of [the] Godhead and Manhood in the one person of Christ.” This formulation, Davis declared, differed subtly from the Chalcedon contention that Jesus functioned in distinct ways through his divine and human natures.Footnote 163

Though no direct reference to African Methodism is evident in Davis’s scholarship, one can plausibly surmise that the AME heritage and ethos informed his intellectual perspectives. While the distance of time and variations in theology separated Egyptian and Ethiopian churches from African Methodism, their autonomy and historic authenticity of these religious bodies blended in Davis’s scholarly investigations of black Christianity. Though his scholarship related to the objectives of the Ibadan School, it also drew from his black religious background and his Afrocentric writings about early Christianity.

Just as the Ibadan School in Nigeria developed a decolonized historiography, a similar intellectual insurgency that identified with the Third World and protested the exclusion of the black experience in relevant disciplines stirred in the United States. Starting in November 1968 and lasting to March 1969 at San Francisco State University, the Black Student Union, through rallies, encounters with the police, and strikes, demanded a Black Studies Department. The actions of SFSU students reflected other Black Studies movements in this same period at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, and Harvard University.Footnote 164

Figure 6.6 Asa Davis, scholar of African History at the University of Ibadan and Amherst College (Asa Davis on the left standing with Amherst College President John William Ward at the September 1972 Amherst Convocation)

(used with permission from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)

Davis was already connected to Charles H. Wesley, a Carter G. Woodson protégé and pioneer in the professional study of black history. His link to this earlier Negro History movement in interaction with his later Ibadan associations prefaced Davis’s pull into the Black Studies upheaval. Hence, in 1969, because of a paucity of professors who studied the African and African American experience, Davis was attracted to San Francisco State University, and then in 1971 to Amherst College as chair of its newly established Black Studies Department. Echoes of this black identity movement resonated among some AMEs at the 1972 General Conference during discussions of the budget for the historiographer. In a vain effort, one delegate said “$40,000 was insufficient at a time when Black History is of great demand.”Footnote 165

Davis’s scholarship provided intellectual scaffolding to the Amherst program and demonstrated the breadth of this area of academic inquiry. His research on the intersections between Ethiopia and Portugal and between Christianity and Islam showed a span across time and geography that argued for the authenticity of the Black Studies enterprise. In an article he published in the same year he arrived at Amherst, for example, Davis discussed a sixteenth-century Ethiopian Zaga Zaab mission to Portugal. Plagued with Muslim incursions into Ethiopia, an empress sent ambassadors to Portugal to forge an alliance between the two Christian countries to repel the Muslims. Furthermore, Davis had just finished a manuscript entitled The King’s One Body: Symbol of Ethiopian Nationality. His AME background, though hardly salient in his writings, was reflected in his blended focus on Africa and the longevity of black involvement in Christianity.Footnote 166

Like Davis, Samuel W. Allen lived as an expatriate, but in Europe instead of Africa. He shared with Davis, however, a consciousness about the reality of Africa as central to black identity. In his poem, “Africa to Me,” Allen declared:
I listen for the clear song of your sweet voice,
O matchless one, who will sing an old song
and tell in a far country of the foothills of an
unremembered home.

Moreover, Davis and Allen drew intellectual energy from an AME background informed by a heritage of transatlantic exchange between African Americans and the “mother” continent.Footnote 167

Allen possessed an impeccable AME pedigree. His father, Alexander J. Allen, was elected to the episcopacy in 1940 after various pastorates in four states, and as an executive in the American Bible Society with the status of an AME general officer. The bishop’s father, George Wesley Allen, served as editor of the Southern Christian Recorder. His mother, Jewett Washington Allen, was the granddaughter of Nevis native the Reverend Samuel W. Washington, who was a South Carolina pastor and presiding elder. When her husband was assigned as bishop in the Caribbean and South America, she wrote an Oberlin College masters thesis about AME development in Haiti and published it serially in the 1950s in the AME Church Review.Footnote 168

Allen, with pride in his AME kinship, paid tribute to family members and denominational leaders. In one of his books of poems he praised his parents and commended Richard Allen for acting “on the principle of the need to take charge of one’s own destiny.” These expressions affirmed his daughter’s recollection about Allen’s “deep attachment to the AME Church” and that “he was only one of the four brothers who would return to church on Sunday evenings to hear his father preach a second time.” Literary scholar, Joanne V. Gabbin, said “his voice which rang with sermonic tones from his African Methodist Episcopal upbringing-modulated, measured, and rhythmic-performed the communal rituals of call and response and speaking in tongues that were prophetic, haunting, and uplifting.” Allen also published in the AME Church Review a poem that he dedicated to his great-grandfather Samuel Washington, his namesake who lived for a time in New York City. Allen had also resided in Gotham and recalled in “Sidewalks of New York” an incident that spurred a reflection about his AME forebear. Part of the poem described:
The tattered black man wandered down the crowded street
Addressing everyone he met
with a passion stripped of any flailing doubt
to him the awful truth was bared
The women frowned and hurried on, til safety gained
they turned and looked behind
with mixed grimace and rueful smile.Footnote 169

Allen, born in 1917 in Columbus, Ohio and educated at Fisk University and Harvard Law School, was drafted into the US Army in 1942. He served in the Adjutant General’s Corp and was honorably discharged in 1946. His education continued in New York City at the New School for Social Research and in Paris in 1949 and 1950 at the Sorbonne. While in France intellectual movements grounded in Afrocentricism absorbed Allen into black Francophone associations tied to negritude and to the avant-garde journal Presence Africaine. These interactions reinforced Allen’s formative black experiences as a scion of African Methodism and as a product of a creative writing course at Fisk with the well-known James Weldon Johnson.Footnote 170

Allen met Richard Wright, who was enjoying transatlantic fame for his 1940 novel Native Son. The other black expatriates with whom Allen interacted included Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Leopold Senghor, the Senegalese poet and intellectual architect of negritude. Allen was a part of “lively and engaging soirees at the Wrights’ apartment with Mrs. [Ellen] Wright and their young daughter in attendance.” When Wright took a year’s sabbatical to make a film, he asked Allen to edit Presence Africaine in his absence. Moreover, Wright arranged for Allen to publish three poems in two issues of the journal in 1949.Footnote 171

In “A Moment Please,” Allen affirmed his blackness despite doubts that because of his bright brown skin he could be mistaken for an “Arabian.” Allen, while pondering an ancient black humanity to which he belonged, bemoaned that in America he was only a “nigger.” He wrote:
What is it that to fury I am roused?
For still it takes a moment
What meaning for me
And now
In this homeless clan
I’ll turn
The dupe of space
And smile
The tag of time
And nod my head.Footnote 172

In another poem, “Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?,” Allen, the son of an African Methodist bishop, explored the blackness that lay within the same family faith that generated Bishop Henry M. Turner’s “God is a Negro” pronouncement. Allen queried what this Afrocentric religion signified in a post-World War II world where a moribund colonialism was losing its grip on its subject peoples. Hence, Allen declared:

God raised His woolly head and braced His big
Black fist for silence; and they were humble
In the heavier presence, no faint mumble
Dared that enlightened throng, what pale intrigue
Might hope prevail against omnipotence
In that dark frame. The Twelve themselves had done
The parable abandoned by the Son
As gentle Mary’s golden head in reverence
Was bowed; whereon that smoldering continent!
Of God’s black face in red convulsions heaved,
The great gums flashed, and His eyes flashed, deceived
Not, He cried, “come on, My Lambs, to judgment.”
The high gate swung, there for his last award
Strode lordly, Churchill, a hungry for the Lord.Footnote 173

Edward A. Scott, a philosophy professor and AME pastor, characterized Allen’s poetry as “a rich attestation of the power of witness to recover and transform the sense of self and alterity.” Allen’s African Methodism, a connector to the black past, showed how otherness was mobilized to resist white hegemony. Talking to God and reflecting on Moses-like deliverers such as Harriet Tubman in historic and “mythic” engagement pervaded Allen’s poetry. In this way Scott identified Allen as a Biblical narrator and his writings as Biblical narration that addressed the black experience. Allen, “the preaching poet begets [the] remembering poet who begets a ceaseless return of transposition-recollection and regeneration.” Like Henry O. Tanner, whose AME interactions with Benjamin and Sarah Tanner laid foundations for his internationally acclaimed religious art, Allen’s background in the household of Alexander and Jewett Allen grounded his poetry with a black Atlantic consciousness and an advocacy against black subjugation.Footnote 174

When Allen, after seven years in Europe, returned to the United States in 1955 both to practice and to teach law, he also became a major interlocutor between African American writers and their Caribbean and African counterparts on both sides of the Atlantic. At the First Conference of Negro Writers in 1959, sponsored by the American Society of African Culture, Allen presented “Negritude and Its Relevance to the American Negro Writer.” He declared that “the Negro is denied an acceptable identity in Western culture, and the term negritude focuses and carries with it the pejorative implications of that denial.” Through this intellectual interpolation, Allen describes negritude as “serving to cast off the cultural imprint of colonial Europe.” It “is a type of reconnaissance,” he said, “in the formation of a new imaginative world free from the proscriptions of a racist West.” He added that “the African finds himself bound fast in the culture prison of the Western world, which has held him for centuries in derision and contempt; his poetic concern has been with his liberation from this prison, with the creation of a truer sense of identity, and with the establishment of his dignity as a man.”Footnote 175

In the early 1960s Allen elaborated on his consciousness about African writers in “The Black Poet’s Search for Identity.” He commended them for shedding “the cultural imprint of colonial Europe” before actual independence on the “mother” continent had been achieved. The task of the African writer, he said in citing Leopold Senghor, lay in “the double process of destruction and creation implicit in the formation of a new imaginative world free of the proscriptions of a colonial West.” This intellectual enterprise and “preoccupation with the situation of the Negro in a culturally alien world common to the vast majority of Negro African poets” generated the idea of negritude. Through this concept the African writer could revive “a normal self-pride, a lost confidence in himself, a world in which he again has a sense of identity.”Footnote 176

Allen disagreed with some black intellectuals, especially in the United States, who shunned negritude because it suggested that African Americans possessed “a specific quality or a complex of traits or attitudes [viewed] as peculiarly Negro.” Instead, Allen believed that the rise of negritude was a “necessity” and a “reaction to centuries of humiliation and contempt.” From a dialectical perspective, negritude was “an anti-racist racism” and “a moment of negativity as reaction to the thesis of white supremacy.”Footnote 177

Negritude, while grounded in a black Francophone community in Paris, reached out to other intellectuals of African descent throughout the diaspora. Its broad appeal lay in its challenge to forge black identities in the inhospitable settings of white cultural hegemony. This was the issue that Allen tackled in his presentation. How could negritude spur the development of an authentic black humanity free from the denigrating labels fixed upon them by supremacist whites. He also rejected the idea “that the Negro’s identity as an American precluded him from a substantial participation in that rich (African) heritage that negritude aimed to recover. Moreover, negritude was for Allen “an affirmation of self, of that dwarfed self, [and that] denied realization” derived from slavery and colonialism. Because “the American Negro, like the African has an imposing interest … in the correction of the distorted image of himself,” negritude provided an intellectual foundation for this urgent pursuit. Harold Cruse, the black cultural critic and historian, credited Allen for his consistent allegiance to transatlantic interactions between African and African American writers. When some black authors in the American Society of African Culture split and formed the American Festival of Negro Arts (AFNA) in the early 1960s, Allen shifted his affiliation to the latter group. Through AFNA Allen helped to maintain the same black Atlantic project that originally brought him to Presence Africaine in an earlier decade. AFNA, like Allen, believed in the intellectual vitality of Negritude and the importance of an ongoing cultural exchange between African and African American writers. The same indivisible linkage across the Atlantic that bound together the AMEs seemed similarly necessary for black authors and artists.Footnote 178

Allen’s black self comprised a core of his literary being as a poet and writer. The same tensions between the African heritage and the black experience in the United States that vexed other African American intellectuals also appeared in his own writings. The twoness in Allen’s African American and Caribbean lineage in interaction with the African heritage were, in part, reconciled through a pan-African AME presence in his family dynamic. These cultural strands, which lay embedded in his essay on negritude, were cast in contemporary civil rights insurgencies in the United States and heightening anticolonialism in Africa.

Another scion of African Methodism, David Levering Lewis, actually experienced the buoyant days of a newly independent Ghana. He and other expatriate blacks and allied Europeans committed their energies to build what Lewis hoped would be “a lodestar of Black Africa.” Despite his civil rights advocacy, Lewis lamented that the constitutional rights of African Americans required protests for service at lunch counters and for empty seats on municipal buses. He viewed these civil rights activities “as a phase of mandated absurdity.” In comparison, African decolonization stirred in him “far more revolutionary conceits” that drew from “Marx and Mao, Che Guevara and Robert Williams, a now-forgotten renegade NAACP official” who advocated armed self-defense. “As one of Americas oldest peoples,” Lewis declared, “we were demeaned by having to petition for our constitutionally guaranteed rights.” Being in Ghana, however, spurred “a hypnotic conception that black people were building a militant black republic destined, it seemed, to jump-start the liberation of Azania [South Africa] and to spearhead the unification of the continent.” Hence, residency in Africa was “a considerably more interesting prospect than civil rights duty in Alabama or Mississippi.”Footnote 179

As much as Samuel W. Allen, Lewis, as the son of a high-profile denominational leader, interacted with church dignitaries and distinguished visitors to the AME campuses where John H. Lewis served as dean and president. The elder Lewis, a veteran AME pastor with graduate degrees from Yale Divinity School and the University of Chicago, headed Morris Brown College, his undergraduate alma mater in the 1920s and again in the 1950s, and in between led Payne Theological Seminary adjacent to Wilberforce University. Out of these enviable academic environments, Lewis, born in 1936, graduated from Fisk University, received an M.A. from Columbia University, and earned a Ph.D. in European History at the London School of Economics. With exposure to Bishop John A. Gregg, his godfather and a productive prelate in South Africa, Lewis prepared for pan-African interactions in the metropole of a waning British Empire. “Because London had been a crossroads for anti-colonial thinkers and radical students from the British colonies,” observed a Lewis chronicler, he connected with Africans preparing at neighboring institutions to lead the decolonization of their native continent. These contacts led Lewis to teach in Ghana and help in resurrecting a once autonomous Africa.Footnote 180

A series of converging events between 1960 and 1963 spurred Lewis’s move to Ghana. Two friends with academic connections at the University of Ghana landed him a lectureship in history. Going to Ghana also built on cosmopolitan European and African experiences that drew from his dissertation research in Paris, where he witnessed Algerian resistance to French colonial rule. At the time that he finished his Ph.D. thesis, his draft board in Atlanta inducted him into the US military. Lewis was assigned to a medical battalion in Europe and was stationed eventually at an army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, as a psychiatric technician. A fortunate proviso in military regulations permitted an early release for college teaching. This technicality allowed Lewis’s exit to Africa to teach medieval British and European history at the University of Ghana.Footnote 181

Lewis arrived in Ghana at a time when the charismatic President Kwame Nkrumah beckoned African Americans to help construct a propitious postcolonial Africa. “I was one of many pilgrims in a cultural hegira,” Lewis recalled, “that brought scores of serenely ill-informed enthusiasts to Accra, the Pan African Mecca.” Lewis endorsed Nkrumah’s vision because of his seriousness about Ghanaian education. The government, for example, disbursed a greater percentage of its gross national product on education than any other nation on earth and made available tuition-free access to the nation’s three universities. The undergraduates he encountered “radiated [a] zeal for learning,” a promising omen for Africa’s future.Footnote 182

These heady hopes for an African resurgence in a postcolonial era, however, yielded to the unpleasant reality of early disappointment in Nkrumah, culminating in an attempted assassination in 1962. Lewis and his colleagues, he remembered, “were becoming increasingly and uncomfortably conscious” of Nkrumah’s “rash of emerging decrees, preventive detention of suspects [and] a ratcheting up of anti-Western rhetoric in the press and on the radio.” Additionally, Ghana became a one party state that descended into corruption and declining democracy. The nation’s political unraveling was also revealed in curbs on civil liberties, a second assassination attempt against Nkrumah, a rumored CIA intervention, and opposition to the Ghana president. Lewis, seeing the “handwriting on the wall,” resigned from the University of Ghana in 1964 to take a faculty position at Howard University. In 1966 a successful coup ended Nkrumah’s rule in Ghana.Footnote 183

When Lewis went to Ghana, he believed in self-determination for Africa, a racial ideology that most African American émigrés thought was foundational to a pan-Africanist awakening across the diaspora. The “dystopia” that unfolded in Ghana, however, clarified his “confused self” in showing that the civil rights movement in the United States was a better expression of black libratory objectives than “a shining Africa.” Lewis’s expectancy about Africa revolved around “educating its young people, modernizing its institutions, implementing an ambitious agenda of political and economic democracy, forming links among its progressive nations, negotiating a dynamic neutrality between the superpowers, and above all, sticking it to Uncle Sam in the United Nations for America’s racial hypocrisy.” With the end of the Nkrumah era, the fight for African American freedom replaced Africa’s postcolonial project as the fulcrum for the emancipation of the black Atlantic. As Ghana was forfeiting its potential as a “frontline” for global black liberation, Lewis awakened to the United States as where he needed to be.Footnote 184

After moving from Howard to Morgan State College in Baltimore, Lewis culminated the 1960s with the first scholarly study of Martin Luther King, Jr. He witnessed the promise and pitfalls of African decolonization and the King assassination as symbolic ends to the civil rights movement. Hence, he chronicled the latter in 1970 with the publication of King: A Critical Biography. Lewis acknowledged that “the religious fervor of the black church” had energized King and had provided him with inner strength. Previously, Lewis viewed black religion as a “retrograde force” and nonviolence as a “silly and demeaning prescription for black progress.” King, he discovered, corrected his erroneous perspectives, with Lewis declaring that “Martin’s message” was embedded “in the language of the prophets and the revivalists.”Footnote 185

Part of Lewis’s book about King converged around their Ghana experiences. Kwame Nkrumah inspired King and invited him to the 1957 Gold Coast independence celebration. “What most impressed him,” Lewis observed about King, “was that Ghana’s freedom had been gained nonviolently.” Lewis, of course, had viewed Ghana as an indispensable linchpin for a broader black freedom struggle within the black Atlantic, a perspective with which King concurred.Footnote 186

Lewis’s lived internationalism in Europe and Africa and King’s Nobel Peace Prize and his opposition to the Vietnam War revealed to him linkages between militarism and the residual forces of colonialism. Perhaps Ghana’s postcolonial potential and King’s anti-war stand lay behind Lewis’s admiration of “a black man daring to place the struggle of American blacks on a plane where their authentic victory would contribute to a radical change of not only American relations but also international relations.” Lewis’s acknowledgement of the AME presence in the civil rights movement evident in sundry sections of the King book and his own denominational beginnings lay embedded in his pan-African internationalism. Perhaps imperceptibly, they probably contributed to his consciousness of Africa and how African Methodism forged transatlantic ties between blacks in the United States and the “mother” continent.Footnote 187

Less visible than Lewis was Cyril E. Griffith. Through his origins, scholarship, and explicit AME affiliation, Griffith embodied the pan-African character of African Methodism. His Bermuda birth in 1929 and a Wilberforce degree in 1963 cast his intellectual development against a backdrop of civil rights and anti-colonial awakening in the United States and Africa. A Ph.D. in history from Michigan State University prepared him for scholarly explorations in libraries and archives in England, Nigeria, and Canada. His resulting monograph, The African Dream: Martin Delany and the Emergence of Pan-African Thought, examined antebellum back-to-Africa movements that Delany pursued, sometimes through his AME interactions. Additionally, he acknowledged in a scholarly essay about Richard Allen that his influence extended throughout the black Atlantic because “local churches in the United States, Canada, the West Indies, and Africa were named for him.” Griffith, who became a history professor at Pennsylvania State University, also launched into a major project titled African Redemption: The Origins of the African Methodist Episcopal Mission in Africa, 1820–1910, which his death in 1994 left unfinished.Footnote 188

Similarly, Walton R. Johnson, a veteran professor at Rutgers University, leveraged his AME background to study the denomination’s African development. Trained in anthropology at the University of London in 1971, Johnson examined the AME presence in colonial Northern Rhodesia and the church’s participation in birthing an independent Zambia. Johnson’s “family membership in the AME Church,” he said, “extend[ed] back several generations.” Because of these connections Johnson “was readily welcomed into the congregation of Mount Zion AME Church” in Lusaka, Zambia. From this venue for two and a half years he conducted research within the congregation and in other AME settings in the Central Africa region. Out of this scholarly exploration emerged Worship and Freedom: A Black American Church in Zambia.Footnote 189

Johnson, who was deferential to AME longevity and its transatlantic reach, wanted to test whether the denomination’s emancipationist ethos embedded within its pan-African identity benefited constituents in Africa. An aborted launch succeeded by subsequent success within the first three decades of the twentieth century tracked the colony’s economic and urban development. Failure to sustain medical and educational services, however, checked what should have been a larger AME presence in Northern Rhodesia. Moreover, an uneven involvement in the nationalist movement, despite a general embrace among indigenous Africans of the proud AME heritage, stymied church support for an emergent and independent Zambia. Johnson, far from romanticizing African Methodism as an institutional protector of blacks in America and Africa, examined the difficulties in translating the church’s pan-Africanism into concrete anticolonial advocacy.Footnote 190

The pan-Africanism of Graham Du Bois, Davis, Allen, and other intellectuals of AME heritage aligned with colleagues who developed an energetic Black Theology movement. Both pan-Africanists across different disciplines and Black Theology proponents mobilized through their scholarship the emancipationist ethos of African Methodism to resist black subjugation whether perpetrated through segregation and enforced inequality in the United States or through colonialism and white settler rule in Africa. AMEs, especially those who supported black student activism inspired by the rise of Black Power, showed their accommodation to this shift of African American militancy. Black Power, whether envisaged primarily within the American context or expansively as congruent with pan-Africanism, was a contested term. AME youth from the Griffin District at the Macon Georgia Annual Conference during their 1967 Christian education meeting expressed their view of Black Power. “If it means,” they said, “to press for those things which are our heritage, we will do so.” Moreover, “if it means increase our courage to fearlessly fight for equalization of all services under the control of national, state, and local government, we will do so.” They added that “Black Power, we feel, may be understood to mean the purchase of guns, the throwing of Molotov cocktails and ‘Burn, Baby, Burn.’ This is not the answer.” Instead, the same militancy that AME students exhibited in the sit-in movement deserved to be emulated.Footnote 191

Nonetheless, in Memphis, for example, H. Ralph Jackson, who was recently involved in the black sanitation workers strike, backed the demands of the Black Student Association for black faculty and administrators at Memphis State University (MSU) and endorsed their nonviolent protest at the office of MSU President Cecil C. Humphreys. When Humphreys dispatched police supposedly to keep order, Jackson supported a student rally that denounced this action. Theologians of AME heritage, similarly spurred by militant Black Power advocates, reminded these activists that theological resources were available to deploy against racial hegemonies aimed at black dehumanization.Footnote 192

Perhaps they had in mind such Black Power leaders as James Forman, executive secretary of SNCC, an organization that shifted from integrationism to black nationalism. Forman, reared in Chicago, grew up in Coppin AME Church where Joseph L. Roberts was pastor. Roberts, Forman recalled, “was more of a lecturer on social issues than a preacher. His sermons, unlike any I had heard, did not deal with heaven and hell.” Instead, Forman remembered that Roberts “kept raising questions about this world” and “how we must understand our history and what we black people must do to end discrimination.” Though Forman read about AME involvement in higher education and its transatlantic ministries, his doubts “about the validity of God began to grow.” As a student at Roosevelt University, Forman fully embraced atheism. Though he issued a Black Manifesto in 1969 that demanded white churches should pay reparations to African Americans and convinced the National Committee of Black Churchmen to support the initiative, Forman had no personal use for religion.Footnote 193

Black religious thinkers, who wanted to recover the AME emancipationist legacy and to rally the denomination to the frontline of black liberation, hoped that black nationalists such as Forman would be persuaded that black religion reinforced Black Power. Despite conspicuous AME participation in the civil rights movement, these scholars showed enthusiasm for Black Power and the discursive space that it provided for Black Theology to resurrect a bold AME insurgency against domestic and international systems of racial oppression.

James H. Cone launched the Black Theology movement in 1969 with the publication of his landmark Black Theology and Black Power. An AME from Bearden, Arkansas, his identity was shaped by his local congregation, the heroic founding of the denomination, and such iconic church leaders as Richard Allen and Henry M. Turner. As an adult, however, Cone experienced some of the church’s unsavory institutional operations in which bishops and other officials, either jealous or afraid of his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Garrett Seminary/Northwestern University, refused him appointments to pastorates in AME congregations and professorships in AME schools. Superficial pride in the blackness of African Methodism, Cone concluded, seemed articulated by some ministers as a substitute for sustained engagement with serious emancipationist issues, as “the liberation of the poor.” Moreover, a pervasive preoccupation with denominational politics and jockeying for election to the episcopacy convinced Cone, who became a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, to leave the AMEs for the United Methodist Church. That denomination’s Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Cone believed, appeared more in tune with his Black Theology objectives than the views of most of his AME colleagues. But he returned to African Methodism in the 1970s when the bishops began to wrestle with his scholarship on Black Theology and wanted the AME Church to have “a new self-understanding more consistent with its historical origins.”Footnote 194

Figure 6.7 James H. Cone, “Father of Black Theology”

(used with permission from Union Theological Seminary in New York City)

These prelates, many of whom were active in the civil rights movement, including the eight who were elected at the 1972 General Conference as a “talented tenth,” were familiar with the National Committee of Negro (renamed Black) Churchmen and their response to Black Power and Black Theology. This interdenominational organization endorsed in statements in 1966 and 1969 the turn to greater black militancy. For them Black Power was a legitimate goal for African Americans and Black Theology as “a theology of liberation” that was “the revelation of God as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.” That AMEs were among the signatories to these statements demonstrated increased institutional consciousness about this shift in black theological thinking. This was affirmed at the 1968 General Conference, which accepted a resolution that solicited an AME response to several urgent issues, including “the cry for ‘Black Power.’”Footnote 195

Cone’s book clarified the meaning of Black Power and its relationship to Black Theology. Black Power, he declared, paralleled “Christ’s central message to twentieth century America,” which was “total identification with the suffering poor.” Moreover, the core of Black Power, he said, lay in “an attitude [and] an inward affirmation of the essential worth of blackness.” Christians needed to acknowledge that Black Theology, the religious alter ego to Black Power, aimed “to apply the freeing power of the gospel to black people under white oppression.” He added that “Jesus’ work is essentially one of liberation” and shows “the meaning of God’s action in history and man’s place within it.”Footnote 196

The church, Cone contended, “is that people called into being by the power and love of God to share in his revolutionary activity for the liberation of man.” In the organizational DNA of Cone’s own AME denomination lay the roots of an insurgent tradition that was a “precursor of Black Power.” He noted that “Richard Allen and his followers walked out of St. George Methodist Episcopal Church at Philadelphia because they refused to obey the dictates of white superiority.” In fact, Cone thought, “that what Richard Allen, the founder of the AME Church, did during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century was as revolutionary as what Martin Luther did in the sixteenth century.”Footnote 197

The decline of CORE, SNCC, and the Black Panther Party by the start of the 1970s, due in part to internal sabotage from the FBI’s COINTELPRO intrusion, undermined Black Power as an organized force in the African American freedom struggle. Black Theology, however, remained an intellectually vibrant movement that survived secular Black Power advocates and the groups they led. Among AMEs Cone’s scholarship grappled with critiques from Cecil W. Cone, his older brother, and Jacquelyn Grant, two scholars who deliberately anchored themselves within denominational institutions and involvements. In The Identity Crisis in Black Theology, published in 1975 by the AME Sunday School Union, the older Cone brother viewed black religion as the foundation of Black Theology and the starting point for any black theological discourse. He treated as less important than his brother conversations with white western theologians in arriving at normative ideas and nomenclature for black religious reflection. For example, Henry M. Turner, who declared in 1898 that “God is a Negro,” raised in theology a concept never before envisaged and an idea that could upend the entire theological enterprise. This “Africanized God,” as a beginning point for black theological conversation, was the intellectual revolution that Black Power required. This illustrated what Cecil Cone meant in asserting that “the only appropriate foundation for Black Theology is black religion.” The black religious experience, “forged from African religion and biblical Christianity in the crucible of American slavery” challenged black theologians to ground “their professional identity in the consistent analysis of [t]his tradition and no other.”Footnote 198

Cecil Cone, who earned a Ph.D. at Emory University and served in the AME Church as a pastor, seminary dean, and college president, believed that his brother overemphasized his “identification with the Black Power movement” and wrongly “perceived black religion to be primarily political.” This focus, he thought, ignored the broader “confessional story of black peoples’ relationship with the Almighty Sovereign God.” Black religion, though it embraced the political impulse and insurgency of an AME preacher such as Denmark Vesey, capaciously grasped the entirety of black religious experiences. Whether blacks were overt rebels or not, “the ultimate loyalty of black religion must be analyzed in light of the mystery of one’s encounter with God” across the immense landscape of African and African American history. In subsequent studies James Cone revised his views along lines that his brother suggested. Both Cones experienced vacillating relationships with their denomination. James Cone remained a trenchant critic of institutional practices that he declared as inimical to vigorous AME insurgency against racial hegemony, and Cecil Cone twice failed to attain the episcopacy in 1980 and 1984. Nonetheless, posthumous encomiums were widely expressed to validate AME identification with their scholarly achievements. After their respective deaths in 2016 and 2018, Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr., in asserting a denominational claim upon the theological pair, acknowledged Cecil Cone as his dean at Turner Theological Seminary and James Cone as the “founder of ‘Black Liberation Theology.’” He commended these serious thinkers, who “held ordinations in the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” because they thought deeply about “what God in Christ means to oppressed people” and they tried “to answer the question ‘what is the Gospel to poor people.’”Footnote 199

Jacquelyn Grant, who earned a Ph.D. in theology at Union Theological Seminary with James H. Cone as her advisor, had deep roots in the AME Church in South Carolina. In a volume that Cone coedited with black Presbyterian theologian Gayraud S. Wilmore, Grant presented a critique of Black Theology as a gendered constructed discipline with a glaring absence of black women. “Either Black women have no place in the enterprise,” she noted, “or Black men are capable of speaking for us.” Since neither was true, black theologians should assert, “if liberation of women is not proclaimed, [then] the church’s proclamation cannot be about divine liberation.” In the AME Church, for example, “men have monopolized the ministry as a profession” while the ordination of women “has always been controversial.” She declared that “until Black women theologians are fully participating in the enterprise,” then Black Theology forfeited any claim of being a libratory force for African Americans.Footnote 200

On the Frontlines of Black Power

Black theologians, especially the Cones and Grant, believed in an on-the-ground pursuit of a “grassroots” Black Theology. The National Black United Front in Cairo, Illinois, a case study in AME-inspired activism, fitted this objective. According to a scholar of the Cairo Movement, through the praxis of Black Theology “United Front activists were key agents in its production, consumption, and transmission.” Cairo was a troubled racial venue that the local population tried constantly to change. A lynching in 1942 in a nearby Missouri town, for example, stirred the rebirth of the Cairo NAACP. Later, the branch achieved success through a lawsuit in 1944 in favor of equal pay for black teachers and stubbornly pursued the desegregation of Cairo’s public schools. Much of this activist history centered around initiatives and leadership from Ward Chapel AME Church, especially through church member Hattie Kendrick, the head of the Cairo NAACP from the early 1940s.Footnote 201

The Cairo Movement shifted gears when Bishop Joseph Gomez assigned Blaine Ramsey, a socially insurgent preacher, as pastor to Ward Chapel. This appointment, greatly pleasing to Hattie Kendrick, induced her to support his election to the local NAACP board. Ramsey’s presence in Cairo aligned with Charles Koen, whose family had also affiliated with Ward Chapel. Koen, though a teenager whom Ramsey mentored, possessed a heightened social consciousness about the systemic racial inequalities that victimized Cairo’s black population. Additionally, Ramsey and SNCC activists tried to integrate targeted restaurants starting in 1962 and soon extended their protests to the city’s other segregated facilities. The cooperating Cairo Nonviolent Freedom Committee selected Koen as president, thus making him a protégé to older AME activists Kendrick and Ramsey, the latter of whom was transferred in 1963 to Bethel AME Church in Champaign, Illinois.Footnote 202

Koen was maturing as a black leader. After he and other marchers demonstrated against a white swimming club, they protested racially exclusionary practices at a skating rink. When whites physically attacked them, including beatings that required hospitalization for Koen and others, the young leader became increasingly receptive to a broader range of strategies to achieve social change. After he returned from college in 1966, Koen, now a Baptist minister, assumed in 1970 leadership of the Cairo United Front. Moreover, his attendance at the Congress of African Peoples exposed Koen to Black Power and black diasporic ideologies. He channeled these ideas, including an ascendant Black Theology perspective, into a united front that built on previous years of activism that Kendrick and Ramsey pioneered in Cairo. This resulted in national support from activist clergy and what one scholar described as an “eclectic bricolage of formal black theologies, radical political ideologies and the organic religious traditions of black Cairoites themselves.”Footnote 203

Koen’s concept of “grassroots” Black Theology lay in a praxis involving alliances among congregations, national religious bodies, both ecclesiastical and ecumenical, and local communities. Their mission to upend racially discriminatory systems and practices that disfavored vulnerable peoples drew the involvement of a devout layman, Dr. Leonidas H. Berry, a prominent physician in Chicago and head of the AME Church’s Health Commission. Berry, whose father had served the denomination as Secretary of Missions, was alarmed at the exclusion of blacks from Cairo’s local government and active Ku Klux Klan opposition to United Front marches and boycotts against segregated white businesses. After speaking during a worship service at Ward Chapel and marching in a local demonstration, Berry resolved to mobilize his Chicago connections in the ministry and in medicine to aid the United Front. He learned, for example, that blacks on public assistance were often denied medical care at a local hospital. In response, Berry decided to make available food and medicine through Ward Chapel. He also organized a “flying health service to Cairo.”Footnote 204

Berry, upon his return to Chicago, drew support from Bishop Howard Thomas Primm, whose jurisdiction extended into southern Illinois. Bishop Primm and the Fourth Episcopal District provided funds for Berry’s food and medicine project. Berry also gathered his physician colleagues into the “Flying Black Doctors,” and they paid or the cost for two charter airplanes that flew thirty-two health professionals to Cairo on February 15, 1970. There they set up a clinic at Ward Chapel, where they served about 300 patients. The federal Office of Economic Opportunity committed to continue the initiative after the Berry group departed. The AME Health Commission, the Social Action Commission of Ward Chapel, the United Front, and an intergenerational blend of Cairo residents, both integrationist and advocates of Black Power, realized a “grassroots” Black Theology that black theologians articulated in their scholarly publications and that Koen activated on the ground. A consensus that black religion, as foundationally expressed through Cairo’s AME congregation, required insurgencies against the city’s structural inequalities. Mobilizing theological perspectives to critique and concretely undermine segregationist systems drew the ideas of black theologians into the on-the-ground activities of Kendrick, Ramsey, and Berry.Footnote 205

Parallel to the transatlantic and Third World landscape that preoccupied pan-Africanist scholars, their theological colleagues connected African Methodism, especially in its unrealized potential, to their counterparts outside the United States. James H. Cone, while acknowledging the AME presence in Africa and the church’s imperialist practice of assigning “black American bishops” to the “mother” continent, also wondered about Latin American and Asia. Despite the existence of a jurisdiction in Guyana and Surinam, “why has the black church failed to make itself known” to the 60 million blacks in Latin America. Moreover, in Asia where multiple millions more resided, “the AME Church is unknown to the masses of people.” Additionally, Grant, who wrote that black women were intrinsic to black theological discourse, suggested their alignment with their Latin American female counterparts who were raising similar questions about their place in Liberation Theology. Cone and Grant viewed the AME heritage as replete with liberationist possibilities for the Third World and “in liberating the victims [of colonialism] wherever they are found.” Starting in the 1940s through the 1980s the civil rights movement, anticolonial insurgencies, and Black Power/Black Theology initiatives drew from AME institutional, intellectual, and activist involvements in resisting and undermining racial hegemonies that had enslaved and colonized peoples within the African diaspora.Footnote 206


1 Official Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held at Chicago, Illinois, May 1952, in Combined Minutes of the General Conferences, African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1948–1952–1956 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1956), 172–173.

2 The African Methodist Social Creed (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, n.d.), 5, 9–10.

4 Dennis C. Dickerson, Out of the Crucible: Black Steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania, 1875–1980 (1986), 179–180, 225; Ira P. Philip, The History of the Bermuda Industrial Union: A Definitive History of the Organized Labour Movement in Bermuda (Hamilton, Bermuda, Bermuda Industrial Union, 2003), 110.

5 J. S. Brookens, “Negro Candidates of the Republican Party,” AME Church Review, Vol. 59, No. 165, April–June 1950, 11–14; Dennis C. Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics: The Careys of Chicago (Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 147.

6 AME Christian Recorder, May 8, 1978; The Aurora, November 1908; January 1909; June 1912; November 1913; February 1914; June 1914 (Knoxville, TN, Knoxville College Archives); Richard R. Wright, Jr., The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1963), 94–95.

7 Carol A. Page, “Colonial Reaction to AME Missionaries in South Africa, 1898–1910,” in Sylvia M. Jacobs (ed.), Black Americans and the Missionary Movement in Africa (Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1982), 181, 190–192.

8 I. H. Bonner to Fellow Worker in Christ, n.d., Easter M. Gordon Collection, Korresp: 1948–1977, Leer NR 55; I. H. Bonner to Easter M. Gordon, August 22, 1949; Korresp: Bishoppee Bonner, 1949–1954, Leer NR 29; I. H. Bonner to Presiding Elders, Pastors, Missionary Presidents and Members, September 5, 1950, Korresp: 1948–1977, Leer NR 55, Institute for Historical Research, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, Cape Province, Republic of South Africa; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 95.

9 Sandra Archer Young, “The Rhetoric of Segregation, Subversion, and Resistance: Allen University vs. the State of South Carolina,” AME Church Review, Vol. 121, No. 399, July–September 2005, 21, 23–24, 26, 29–34.

10 Dennis C. Dickerson, A Liberated Past: Explorations in AME Church History (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 2003), 185–186, Ophelia De Laine Gona, Dawn of Desegregation: J. A. De Laine and Briggs V. Elliott (Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 2011), 18.

11 Dickerson, A Liberated Past, 188.

12 Tinsley E. Yarborough, A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring (New York, Oxford University Press, 1987), 172–173, 196.

13 Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (New York, Alfred Knopf, 1975), 392–394.

15 Footnote Ibid., 408–409.

16 Gona, Dawn of Desegregation, 126–128.

17 Footnote Ibid., 154, 168–170, 175, 178–179.

18 Footnote Ibid., 181–187, 189.

19 Dickerson, A Liberated Past, 194–197.

20 Howard D. Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, (n.p., n.d.), 7, 17.

21 Gona, Dawn of Desegregation, 117; E. A. Adams, Sr. (Compiler and Ed.), Year Book and Historical Guide to the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Columbia, South Carolina, Bureau of Research and History, 1955), n.p.; Sadie T. M. Alexander, “Untitled Address, circa 1952,” 12–13, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Papers, Box 63, Folder 33, University Archives & Records Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics, 83.

22 See Harvard Sitkoff, “Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 37, 1971, 597–616; Adams, Year Book and Historical Guide, n.p.

23 Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (New York, New York University Press, 2006), 151–153; William C. Berman, The Politics of Civil Rights in the Truman Administration (Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1970), 33–34.

24 Dennis C. Dickerson, Religion, Race, and Region: Research Notes on AME Church History (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1995) 109–110.

25 Taylor, A. Philip Randolph, 176–179, 203–218.

26 Francille Rusan Wilson, “Sadie T. M. Alexander: A ‘True Daughter’ of the AME Church,” AME Church Review, Vol. 119, No. 391, July–September 2003, 44–45.

27 Sadie T. M. Alexander to Lester B. Granger, February 26, 1947; Sadie T. M. Alexander to Robert K. Carr, March 15, 1947; Alexander to Carr, April 28, 1947; Box 39, Folder 39; Alexander to William H. Gray, Jr., November 10, 1947, Box 39, Folder 40, Alexander Papers, UARC, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

28 Alexander to Gray, November 10, 1947, Box 39, Folder 40; G. James Fleming to Sadie T. M. Alexander, November 7, 1947, UPT 50 A3745/Truman Commission Scrapbook, Oversize Box 4, Alexander Papers, UARC, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

29 Alexander to Channing H. Tobias, February 18, 1947, Box 39, Folder 39, Alexander Papers, UARC, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

30 Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics, 95–103.

31 Footnote Ibid., 105–111, 117.

33 Footnote Ibid., 132, 134–137.

34 Aldon Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement (New York, Free Press, 1984), 1–76.

35 Douglas Brinkley, Rosa Parks (New York, A Lipper/Viking Book, 2000), 40–42, 44.

36 Footnote Ibid., 57–60.

37 Footnote Ibid., 40–42, 47, 50, 56, 60.

38 Danielle L. McGuire, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – A New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (New York, Alfred Knopf, 2010), xv–xvii, 13.

39 Footnote Ibid., 13–16, 26, 36.

40 “Official Minutes of the Thirty-Fifth Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which convened in Miami, Florida, May 1956 at Dinner Key Auditorium,” in Combined Minutes of the General Conferences, 338, 384; Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, 31.

41 “Official Minutes … General Conference, 1956,” 321; Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1999), 16, 22.

42 Brinkley, Rosa Parks, 22–25, 191–193.

43 Washington Afro-American, October 2, 1956.

44 Footnote Ibid.; Rabby, The Pain and the Promise, 22, 29, 42.

45 Rabby, The Pain and the Promise, 60–61.

46 Daisy Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock (New York, David McKay Company, 1962), 47, 49, 52, 62, 65–66, 89).

47 Footnote Ibid., 116–121; Dunbar H. Ogden, My Father Said Yes: A White Pastor in Little Rock Integration (Nashville, TN, Vanderbilt University Press, 2008), 37, 149; Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, 24.

48 Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, 107–108, 110–111, 151–152, 176, 178; “Minutes of the Seventy-Ninth Annual Session of the North Alabama Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held at Grant Chapel AME Church, Birmingham, Alabama, November 6–10, 1957,” in Combined Minutes of the 1957 Conferences of the Ninth Episcopal District (African Methodist Episcopal Church), Bishop Carey A. Gibbs (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, n.d., 129.

49 Brandon Kyron Lenzie Winford, “‘The Battle for Freedom Begins Every Morning’: John Hervey Wheeler, Civil Rights, and New South Prosperity,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2014, 10, 21, 31, 37, 53–54, 65, 90–91, 115–117, 124–125, 410.

50 Footnote Ibid., 3, 156, 167–170, 229–230, 341–342; Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, 139–173.

51 Winford, “The Battle for Freedom Begins Every Morning,” 285–286, 290–292, 295–298, 318; A Celebration of Life for William A. Marsh, Jr., Funeral Program, November 24, 2018, St. Joseph AME Church, Durham, North Carolina.

52 James M. Lawson, Jr. to W. H. Hall, August 4, 1959, FOR I, FOR Out 1959 Folder, Box 36, James M. Lawson, Jr. Papers, Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, Nashville, TN.

53 Lawson to Hall, August 4, 1959; James M. Lawson, Jr. to W. H. Hall, August 31, 1959; James M. Lawson, Jr. to W. H. Hall, October 21, 1959, FOR I, FOR Out 1959, Box 36, VUSCUA.

54 Randall M. Jelks, “Benjamin Elijah Mays and the Creation of an Insurgent Negro Professional Clergy,” AME Church Review, Vol. 108, No. 387, July–September 2002, 32–38; Dennis C. Dickerson, African Methodism and Its Wesleyan Heritage: Reflections on AME Church History (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 2009), 192; Andrew White, Know Your Church Manual (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1965), 8–9.

55 Dickerson, African Methodism and its Wesleyan Heritage, 187–188.

56 Footnote Ibid., 188–189, 192.

57 Footnote Ibid., 189–190; White, Know Your Church, 84–85.

58 “Official Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held at Chicago, IL, May 1952,” in Combined Minutes of the General Conferences, 169.

59 J. S. Brookens, “Judge Waring,” AME Church Review, Vol. 59, No. 164, January–March 1950, 5; Official Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Session of the General Conference, 1952, 192–193.

60 Official Minutes of the 114th Annual Session of the Indiana Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Allen Temple AME Church, Marion, IN, September 24–28, 1952 (n.p., n.d.), 52–53.

61 Official Minutes of the General Conference 1956, 394; Andrew M. Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham’s Fred Shuttlesworth (Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1999), 39–40; “Minutes … North Alabama Conference, 1957,” in Combined Minutes of the 1957 Conferences of the Ninth Episcopal District, 132–133.

62 Official Minutes of the General Conference 1956, 375–376, 383.

63 “Journal of Proceedings of the Seventieth Annual Session of the Colorado Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Tanner Chapel AME Church, Phoenix, AZ, September 12–16, 1956,” in The Combined Minutes of the Conferences of the Fifth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1956), 181; “Minutes of the Seventy-Fourth Session of the West Kentucky Annual Conference held in St. James AME Church, Mayfield, KY, October 20–24, 1954,” in Minutes of the Conferences of the Thirteenth Episcopal District (African Methodist Episcopal Church), 1954 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, n.d.), 34, 40, 48.

64 ame-connection; Kristen Green, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle (New York, HarperCollins, 2005), 104.

65 Official Minutes of the Thirty-Sixth Session of the General Conference, AME Church, May-1960, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1960), 23.

66 Dennis C. Dickerson, Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young, Jr. (Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 85–86, 116–118, 130–131; Official Minutes of the General Conference 1960, 23, 50, 83–84, 92, 240–241; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 42.

67 Official Minutes … of the General Conference, 1960, 32; Frederick H. Talbot (compiler), Forward in Faith: Bishop Frederick Calhoun James: The Story: A Faithful Bishop’s Witness & Work (n.p., 2011), 185; Dennis C. Dickerson, “William Stuart Nelson and the Interfaith Origins of the Civil Rights Movement,” in R. Drew Smith, William Ackah, and Anthony G. Reddie (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 57–72; William Stuart Nelson, “Theological Education for Ministers,” 1–3, William Stuart Nelson Papers, Box 392/1933, Theological Education for Ministers Folder, Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC.

68 Talbot, Forward in Faith, 185, Norfolk Journal and Guide, November 6, 1964.

69 Official Minutes … of the General Conference, 1960, 180–181.

70 Footnote Ibid., 230; Connect, June 14, 2018; Columbia Business Report, October 23, 2017;; “Archibald J. Carey, Jr. File, 100-8261-3479,” in Archibald J. Carey Domestic Security Investigation (FBI) File—100-CG-20875.PDF (courtesy of Professor Lerone A. Martin, Washington University)

71 Paul Ramsey, Christian Ethics and the Sit-In (New York, Association Press, 1960), x; Glenn T. Eskew, But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 148–149.

72 Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, 33; Eskew, But for Birmingham, 149–150.

73 “Minutes of the West Tennessee Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Eighty-Sixth Session held in Ward Chapel AME Church, Memphis, TN, November 15–19, 1960,” in West Tennessee Annual Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal, Rt. Rev. E. L. Hickman, 1959, 1960, 1961 (n.p.), 42; Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 26, 2017; Memphis Daily News, April 21, 2017.

74 M. J. O’Brien, We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired (Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2013) 90–91, 96, 100, 115, 125–126.

75 Footnote Ibid., 114, 148–149.

76 “The Sumter Movement, Sumter, South Carolina,” February 15, 1964, F. C. James Papers, private collection, Columbia, South Carolina.

77 Core Presents-“Freedom Ride,” F. C. James Papers, Columbia, SC.

78 A.G. Gaston, Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston (Troy, AL, Troy State University Press, 1968), 118, 121, 123, 125.

79 Frederick C. James, Social Action in the AME Church, 1960–1964, F. C. James Papers, Columbia, SC.

80 Official Minutes of the Thirty-Seventh Session of the General Conference [of the] AME Church held at The Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati, Ohio, Beginning May 6, 1964 (n.p., n.d.), 13, 89.

81 Core Presents-“Freedom Ride.”

82 James, Social Action in the AME Church.

83 Footnote Ibid.; Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, 52–53; Official Minutes … General Conference 1964, 168–169; “[Minutes of the] 152nd Session of the Philadelphia Annual Conference and the 45th Session of the Delaware Annual Conference held jointly at St. Matthew AME Church, Philadelphia, PA, April 17–21, 1968,” in Combined Minutes of the 1968 Annual Conference, First Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop John D. Bright, Sr. (n.p., 1968), 254.

84 Official Minutes … General Conference 1964, 80.

85 Footnote Ibid., 89–90; Manual and Directory of the Ninth Episcopal District Laymen’s Organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1960), 3 (courtesy of Wayman B. Shriver, Birmingham, AL); Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1956 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1956), 611; Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1960), 665;; George Meany to L. Sylvester Odom, June 16, 1961, Clayborne Carson (ed.), The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. 8, January 1961–August 1962 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2014), 250, fn.3; The Sphinx, May 1960, 20.

86 Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., with Annette Gordon-Reed, Vernon Can Read: A Memoir (New York, Public Affairs, 2001), 145, 173–177.

87 An Oral History with Reverend Johnny Barbour, Jr. and Clara M. Barbour, interviewed by Donald Williams, Tougaloo College Archives, Civil Rights Documentation Project, 1999.

89 Gregg, The AME Church and the Current Negro Revolt, 42–43.

90 H. H. Brookins, “Watts Close-up-A Lesson for Other Cities,” AME Church Review, Vol. 87, No. 227, January–March 1966, 41–42, 44; Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2006.

91 Official Minutes of the Thirty-Eighth Session of the General Conference [of the] AME Church, May 1–14, 1968, Philadelphia, PA (n.p., n.d.) 127.

92 Dickerson, African Methodism and its Wesleyan Heritage, 200–207.

93 Footnote Ibid., 204, 206; “Official Minutes of the One Hundred Forty-Fifth Session of the New York Annual Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1967,” in Combined Minutes of the First Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1967, Bishop John D. Bright, Sr. (n.p., 1967), 190.

94 Merlisse Ross Middleton, Reflections on the Man: John Middleton (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, n.d.), 35.

95 Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project-University of Washington, Video Oral History-Bishop John Hurst Adams,; Joseph Gomez, Polity of the AME Church, 1971, 85.

96 Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics, 134–145.

97 Hattie E. Jackson, 65 Dark Days in ’68: Reflections: Memphis Sanitation Strike (Southaven, MI, The King’s Press, 2004), 2.

98 Footnote Ibid., 2–5.

99 Footnote Ibid., 78, 88, 106, 115, 352.

100 Michael Honey, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 191, 207–208, 211, 215, 260, 326, 457, 488.

101 Footnote Ibid., 54–55, 206–207, 212.

102 Footnote Ibid., 151, 153, 169, 449, 455.

103 Jackson, 65 Dark Days in ’68, 6, 99; Richard R. Wright, Jr. (compiler), Encyclopedia of African Methodism (Philadelphia, PA, AME Book Concern, 1947), 220; Honey, Going Down Jericho Road, 215, 243, 260, 353.

104 Jackson, 65 Dark Days in ’68, 41, 47–48, 53.

105 Official Minutes … General Conference 1968, 42, 98, 183.

106 Dickerson, Militant Mediator, 255; Taylor, A. Philip Randolph, 223.

107 Official Minutes … General Conference 1968, 257–258.

108 Footnote Ibid., 170, 251, 256.

109 Official Minutes … New York Annual Conference 1967, 175; Philadelphia/Delaware Annual Conference Minutes 1967, 257; Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 88, 1980, Joseph Gomez, Polity of the AME Church, (Nashville, TN, Division of Christian Education of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1971), 87.

110 Gomez, Polity of the AME Church, 87–89.

111 Jordan, Vernon Can Read, 51–52.

112 Footnote Ibid., 52–53.

113 Gregory D. Coleman, We’re Heaven Bound!: Portrait of a Black Sacred Drama (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1992), 177; Dickerson, Militant Mediator, 109–111; Martin Luther King, Jr. to Jesse Hill, Jr., January 28, 1959, Clayborne Carson (ed.), The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume V, Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959–December 1960 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2005), 114–115.

114 James W. English, Handyman of the Lord: The Life and Ministry of Reverend William Holmes Borders (New York, Meredith Press, 1967), 89–90; Benjamin Gay, A Retrospective Review of my Ministry (n.p., n.d.), 4–5.

115 Jordan, Vernon Can Read, 53, 177.

116 Lerone A. Martin of Washington University has chronicled the extensive enlistment of black clergy against Martin Luther King, Jr. See Martin’s “Bureau Clergymen: How the FBI Colluded with an African American Televangelist to Destroy Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1–51. For a detailed narrative about J. Edgar Hoover’s harassment of Martin Luther King, Jr., see David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York, W. W. Norton and Company, 1981); Maurine Schiller to SAC, Chicago, August 13, 1954, Archibald J. Carey Domestic Security Investigation File—100—CG-20875. PDF (courtesy of Lerone A. Martin, Washington University).

117 Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics, 131–132, 174.

118 Footnote Ibid., 175–176; “Chicago Sun-Times,” 100-35356-343, Carey Domestic Security Investigation File (courtesy of Lerone A. Martin, Washington University).

119 Minutes of the General Conference of the Thirty-Ninth Quadrennium of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Dallas, TX, June 21–July 3, 1972 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School i971), 86–87; New York Times, July 2, 1970; Telegram: C. Ewbank Tucker to Stephen G. Spottswood, July 3, 1970, Records of the NAACP, Administrative File, Board of Directors, Part VI, Box 18, Folder 3, Members: Stephen G. Spottswood, 1970: February–July, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

120 Minutes of the General Conference … 1972, 87.

121 Dickerson, African American Preachers and Politics, 150–151, 167.

122 Artishia Wilkerson Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa (n.p., c. 1960), 8.

123 Footnote Ibid., 109.

124 Footnote Ibid., 65, 101–102, 108.

125 The Official Minutes of the Thirty-Fifth Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which convened in Miami, Florida, May 1956 at the Dinner Key Auditorium, 346; Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa, 20–21; Alexander Joseph Allen, The Episcopal Address to the Thirty-Fifth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church convening in Miami, Florida, May 2–16, 1956 (n.p., 1956), 33; AME Church Review, Vol. 73, No. 192, April–June 1957, cover, 1; Official Minutes of the Thirty-Sixth Session of the General Conference, AME Church, May 1960, Los Angeles, CA, 231.

126 L. L. Berry, A Century of Missions of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1840–1940 (New York, Gutenberg Printing Co., Inc., 1942), 133, 135; Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa, 25.

127 Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa, 24–25; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 230; Official Minutes … General Conference, 1960, 17.

128 Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 247; Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa, 25, 27.

129 Official Minutes … General Conference, 1960, 26, 94, 228–229.

130 Walton R. Johnson, Worship and Freedom: A Black American Church in Zambia (New York, Africana Publishing Company, 1977), 20.

131 Footnote Ibid., 6–8, 17–19.

132 Footnote Ibid., 14–15, 20, 29.

134 Footnote Ibid., 31–33.

135 Footnote Ibid., 34–35, 37.

136 Clement N. Mkwanazi, The History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Zimbabwe (n.p., 1992), 9, 12–13; Clement N. Mkwanazi, The History and Expansion of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Central Africa (n.p., n.d.), 19.

137 Mkwanazi, The History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Zimbabwe, 27–28, 30–32.

138 Jordan, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Africa, 64–65.

139 James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (New York, Oxford University Press, 1998), 127; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 188.

140 Wright, Encyclopedia of African Methodism, 68; Campaign Flyer: “Vote for J. R. Coan for Bishop of South Africa” (Private Collection of the Author); Josephus R. Coan, “A Report of the Missionary Activities of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” in The Seventeenth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal District, Embracing the Transvaal, Orangia, Cape, Natal & Zambesi Annual Conferences, 1940–1944, (n.p., 1948), 8–9.

141 Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 188–189; Campbell, Songs of Zion, 245; Official Minutes of the Thirty-Third Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Kansas City, KS, May 1948, 33–34, in Combined Minutes of the General Conferences, 104; Official Minutes … General Conference, 1952, 246–248.

142 Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 189. Wright incorrectly cites Gow’s birthdate as September 29, 1896 when in fact it was September 29, 1887.

143 Dennis C. Dickerson, Religion, Race, and Region: Research Notes on AME Church History (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1995), 131-134.

144 Footnote Ibid., 136–137.

145 Official Minutes … General Conference 1964, 204, 206; Dickerson, Religion, Race, and Region, 135–136.

146 Campbell, Songs of Zion, 319–320; Profile of a Candidate: The Rev Dr. Wilfred J. Messiah, 2004), private collection of the Author.

147 The Combined Minutes of the Forty-First Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in New Orleans, LA, June 18–28, 1980 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1980), 248-249; “Donald George Kenneth Ming” in Frank C. Cummings, John H. Dixon, Thelma Singleton-Scott, and Patricia A. P. Green (compilers), The First Episcopal District’s Historical Review of 200 Years of African Methodism (Philadelphia, PA, First Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal District, 1987), 93’ JET, February 14, 1980.

148 The Combined Minutes of the Forty-Second Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Kansas City, MI, July 7–15, 1984 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1984), 266; The Combined Minutes of the Forty-Third Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Fort Worth, TX, July 6–14, 1988 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1988), 914–915.

149 Jamye Coleman Williams, “Harold Ben Senatle and Nelson Mandela: A Moment in Time,” AME Church Review, Vol. 109, No. 354, April–June 1994, 18-19; AME Church of South Africa Voters Training Manual (Johannesburg, South Africa, African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1994), 1, 7, 13–21; “Birth of a Nation” pictorial, AME Church Review, No. 109, No. 354, April–June 1994, 10; Floyd H. Flake, “Elections of South Africa,” AME Church Review, Vol. 109, No. 354, April–June 1994, 41–42.

150 Gerald Horne, Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (New York, New York University Press, 2002), 48, 98; Shirley Graham Du Bois, His Day is Marching On: A Memoir of W. E. B. Du Bois (Philadelphia, PA, J. B. Lippencott Company, 1971), 12; Richard R. Wright, Jr. (ed.), Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, PA, AME Book Concern, 1916), 96–97; David A. Graham in the 1900 United States Federal Census,; Rev David A. Graham in the Indiana Death Certificates, 1899–2011, Indiana State Board of Health, Death Certificates, 1900–2011, microfilm, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Indiana.

151 Graham Du Bois, His Day is Marching On, 18, 84; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 108–109.

152 Horne, Race Woman, 40; Graham Du Bois, His Day is Marching On, 321–341; David Graham Du Bois, “Mission and Ministry in America and Africa: Reflections on David and Etta Graham,” AME Church Review, Vol. 117, No. 384, October–December 2001, 41–42.

153 Fabio Rojas, From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline (Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 84–85.

154 Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Egypt is Africa,” The Black Scholar, Part I, Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1970, 22, 26; Shirley Graham Du Bois, “Egypt is Africa,” The Black Scholar (Conclusion), Vol. 2, No. 1, September 1970, 33.

155 Rowland Abiodun, David W. Blight, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, and David W. Wills, “Asa J. Davis, 1922–1999: A Memorial Minute,” AME Church Review, Vol. 118, No. 388, October–December 2002, 80.

156 Footnote Ibid., 79–80.

157 Footnote Ibid., 80–81; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 153–154.

158 Abiodun et al., “Asa J. Davis, 1922–1999,” 80; Asa J. Davis, “The Mazagaba Haymanot, An Ethiopic Monophysite Text,” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1960, 1.

159 Abiodun et al., “Asa J. Davis, 1922–1999,” 80; Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 153.

160 Paul E. Lovejoy, “The Ibadan School of Historiography and its Critics,” in Toyin Falola (ed.), African Historiography: Essays in Honor of Jacob Ade Ajayi (London, Longman, 1993), 195–198; A. O. Adeoye, “Understanding the Crisis in Modern Nigerian Historiography,” History in Africa, Vol. 19, 1992, 2; Kenneth O. Dike, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830–1855 (Oxford, England, Clarendon Press, 1956); E. A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 1842–1914 (London, Longmans, 1966).

161 Asa J. Davis, “The Sixteenth Century Jihad in Ethiopia and the Impact on its Culture: Part One,” Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 2, No. 4, December 1963, 568–569, 592; Asa J. Davis, “The 16th Century Jihad in Ethiopia and the Impact on its Culture: Part Two,” Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 3, No. 1, December 1964, 113–114, 124–126.

162 Asa J. Davis, “Coptic Christianity,” Tarikh, Vol. 2, No. 1, (1967), 46–49.

163 Asa J. Davis, “The Orthodoxy of the Ethiopian Church,” Tarikh, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1967), 63–65, 67–69.

164 Fabio Rojas, From Black Power to Black Studies, 45, 96, 98–99.

165 Abiodun et al., “Asa J. Davis, 1922–1999,” 81; Harold Wade, Jr., Black Men of Amherst (1976), 87; Minutes of the General Conference of the Thirty-Ninth Quadrennium of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Dallas, TX, June 21–July 3, 1972, 174.

166 Asa J. Davis, “Background of the Zaga Zaab Embassy: An Ethiopian Diplomatic Mission, 1529–1539,” Studia, Vol. 32, 1971, 211–212.

167 Samuel Allen, Every Round and Other Poems (Detroit, MI, Lotus Press, 1987), 16.

168 Wright, The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 41–45; Wright, Encyclopedia of African Methodism, 27; “Reverend Samuel Washington, D.D.,” in Journal of the Twenty-First Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African M.E. Church held in the Auditorium, Columbus, OH, May 7–25, 1900, 379; Jewett Washington Allen, “Haiti Today,” AME Church Review, Vol. 70, No. 182, October–December 1954, 17–25; Jewett Washington Allen, “Haiti Today,” AME Church Review, Vol. 70, Vol. 184, April–June 1955, 36–45, 47–48.

169 Allen, Every Round and Other Poems, Dedication page, Foreword; Catherine Allen to Dennis C. Dickerson, January 30, 2017, private collection of the Author; Joanne Gabbin, “Sam Allen’s Memorial Tribute” (courtesy of Catherine Allen), Samuel W. Allen, “Reverend Samuel W. Washington: A Tribute-Sidewalks of New York,” AME Church Review, Vol. 119, No. 389, January–March 2003, 21–22.

170 “Samuel Allen” in Samuel Allen, Paul Vesey’s Ledger (London, Paul Bremen London, 1975), back cover.

171 Allen to Dickerson, January 30, 2017 (private collection of the Author)

172 Samuel W. Allen, “A Moment, Please,” Presence Africaine, No. 6 (1949), 76.

173 S. W. Allen, “Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?,” Presence Africaine, No. 7 (1949), 300.

174 Edward A. Scott, “Bardic Memory and Witness in the Poetry of Samuel Allen” in Joanne V. Gabbin (ed.), The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry (Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 1999), 47–51.

175 Samuel W. Allen, “Negritude and Its Relevance to the American Negro Writer,” in John A. Davis (compiler), The American Negro Writer and His Roots: Selected Papers from the First Conference of Negro Writers, March 1959 (New York, American Society of African Culture, 1960), 9–10.

176 Samuel W. Allen, “The Black Poet’s Search for Identity,” in Jacob Drachler (ed.), African Heritage: An Anthology of Black African Personality and Culture (1963), 190, 197.

177 Footnote Ibid., 199.

178 Footnote Ibid., 19–20; Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York, William Morrow & Company, 1967), 499–500; 503–504.

179 David Levering Lewis, “Ghana, 1963: A Memoir,” The American Scholar, Vol. 68, No. 1, Winter 1999, 41–42.

180 Wright, Encyclopedia of African Methodism, 183; George A. Sewell and Cornelius V. Troup, Morris Brown College: The First Hundred Years (Atlanta, GA, Morris Brown College, 1981), 63–68, 89–93; William Jelani Cobb, “David Levering Lewis: Scholar and Teacher,” AME Church Review, Vol. 118, No. 388, October–December 2002, 88.

181 Lewis, “Ghana, 1963,” 39–40.

182 Footnote Ibid., 41, 44, 48–49.

183 Footnote Ibid., 49–51, 56–58.

185 David L. Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (New York, Praeger Publishers, 1970), x, 394.

186 Footnote Ibid., 90, 96.

187 Footnote Ibid., 73, 267–270, 392, 397.

188 Cyril E. Griffith, The African Dream: Martin Delany and the Emergence of Pan-African Thought (University Park, Pennsylvania, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975), 32, 140–141; Cyril E. Griffith, “Richard Allen: The First Prominent Black Religious Leader in Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania,“ in John M. Coleman, John B. Frantz, and Robert G. Crist (eds.), Pennsylvania Religious Leaders, Pennsylvania Historic Studies, Series 16, Pennsylvania Historical Association, University Park, Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, PA, Plank’s Suburban Press, 1986), 20; Centre Daily Times, July 24, 1994.

189 Johnson, Worship and Freedom, xiii.

190 Footnote Ibid., 6–14, 17–20.

191 William D. Johnson, Jr., “Vox Pop Speaks Again: Civil Rights,” AME Church Review, Vol. 92, No. 234, January–March 1968, 62.

192 Shirletta J. Kinchen, Black Power in the Bluff City: African American Youth and Student Activism in Memphis, 1965–1975 (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2016), 160–162.

193 New York Times, January 12, 2005; James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Washington, DC, Open Hand Publishing, 1985), 47–48, 82–83; “A Message to the Churches from Oakland, California, Statement by the National Committee of Black Churchmen, Third Annual Convocation, November 11–14, 1969,” in Gayraud S. Wilmore and James H. Cone (eds.), Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966–1979 (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 1979), 104–105.

194 See James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 1969); James H. Cone, My Soul Looks Back (Nashville, TN, Abingdon, 1982), 64–66, 70–73, 84–86.

195 New York Times, July 3, 1966; Statement by the National Committee of Black Churchmen, June 13, 1969 in Wilmore and Cone, Black Theology, 101; Official Minutes of the Thirty-Eighth Session of the General Conference, 1968, 263.

196 Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 1–2, 8, 31, 35.

197 Footnote Ibid., 63, 94–95; Cone, My Soul Looks Back, 27.

198 Cecil W. Cone, The Identity Crisis in Black Theology (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1978), 65, 71–72; James H. Cone, My Soul Looks Back, 60.

199 Cone, The Identity Crisis in Black Theology, 96–97, 100–101; The Combined Minutes of the Forty-First Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in New Orleans, LA, June 18–28, 1980 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1980), 274; The Combined Minutes of the Forty-Second Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church held in Kansas City, MI, July 7–15, 1984 (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 1984), 232; Adam J. Richardson, Jr., “The Bishop’s Word,” in African Methodist Episcopal Church, Eleventh Episcopal District [Schedule of Annual Conferences, 2018] (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 2018), 5.

200 Jacquelyn Grant, “Black Theology and the Black Woman” in Wilmore and Cone, Black Theology, 420, 423–424, 431.

201 Kerry Pimblott, Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois (Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 2017), 64–67, 70–79, 146–147, 225.

202 Footnote Ibid., 79–83, 87–94.

203 Footnote Ibid., 90, 94, 105, 116, 128–149.

204 Leonidas H. Berry, I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey: Two Centuries of an Afro-American Minister’s Family (Chicago, Johnson Publishing Company, 1981), 409–410.

205 Footnote Ibid., 410–411.

206 James H. Cone, My Soul Looks Back, 92; Grant, “Black Theology and the Black Woman” in Wilmore and Cone, editors, Black Theology, 419.

Figure 0

Figure 6.1 AME bishops praying at the Supreme Court in commemoration of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case outlawing school segregation. Standing, left to right: Bishops F. D. Jordan, H. T. Primm, W. R. Wilkes, I. H. Bonner, A. J. Allen, Frank M. Reid, Sr., Decatur Ward Nichols, S. L. Greene, R. R. Wright, Jr., G. W. Baber, Carey A. Gibbs, E. C. Hatcher, Joseph Gomez

(Reprinted from Jeanette T. Johns, The Upward Journey: A Centenarian’s Chronicle: Personal Stories of Bishop Decatur Ward Nichols, Revered Clergyman of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Nashville, TN, AME Sunday School Union, 2002)
Figure 1

Figure 6.2 King Solomon Dupont, Tallahassee bus boycott leader, 1956; pastor of Fountain Chapel AME Church, Tallahassee

(from the Florida Memory State Library & Archives and offered under the Creative Commons Public Domain, Mark 1.0)
Figure 2

Figure 6.3 Exterior view of Bethel AME Church, Wylie Avenue at Elm Street, Hill District, August 1955. Gelatin silver print (gift of the Estate of Charles)“Teenie” Harris, 1996

Figure 3

Figure 6.4 Rev. Martin Luther, King, Jr., Rev. (later Bishop) Frederick C. James, and Attorney (later Judge) William Mcclain at the 1964 General Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio)

(used with permission from Bishop Frederick C. James, Columbia, SC)
Figure 4

Figure 6.5 AME Church of South Africa Voter Training Manual, 1994

(used with permission from Bishop Paul Kawimbe, Nineteenth Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church)
Figure 5

Figure 6.6 Asa Davis, scholar of African History at the University of Ibadan and Amherst College (Asa Davis on the left standing with Amherst College President John William Ward at the September 1972 Amherst Convocation)

(used with permission from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)
Figure 6

Figure 6.7 James H. Cone, “Father of Black Theology”

(used with permission from Union Theological Seminary in New York City)
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