Albert Cleage: The Same Black Revolution

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My research is about Albert Cleage and the church he formed, The Shrine of the Black Madonna. My argument is simple: The Shrine is an example of a church adopting black power and incorporating it as a theology that would drive its black power programs. But what is most interesting about my research is how it connects with how #BlackLivesMatter folks in Nashville think about the current movement. Because Nashville is a city where many sit-ins and demonstrations took place, we see our struggle as connected. Cleage also interpreted the struggle for black power in Detroit as an extension of the earlier parts of the movement. Instead of viewing black power as a distinct, new struggle, Cleage interpreted it as the movement growing up. But it was the same black revolution. 

“A march which began almost fifteen (sixty) years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, has now reached Newark, New Jersey, Detroit, Michigan, (Nashville, TN), and almost a hundred other cities from coast to coast. This is the same black revolution that started when Rosa Parks refused to move to Montgomery, Alabama. The same one. The same black revolution that drew black college students to the South for freedom rides and demonstrations. The same black revolution. The same moment, the same freedom struggle. It is the same thing going on now, today, in New Jersey and Detroit (and Nashville) and a hundred other cities. The same thing. But people are reacting differently because a movement grows up. A moment comes of age, a movement one day begins to come to grips with reality.”¹-Rev. Albert Cleage

¹Alber Cleage, The Black Messiah ( Reprint: New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc., 1989), 130.

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“The Church is on Trial.”

The Church is on trail. Black collegians reject us, in spite of their recognition that Black people need spiritual replenishment. Black youth on the streets, reject us as a part of the “Slave Church,” which has supported our oppression. Revolutionaries indict us for weakening rather than strengthening our people. Black preachers have, in fact, identified with the white oppressor and have failed to act to end out powerlessness and exploitation.

The black preacher has failed to move Black Brothers and Sisters forward in the liberation of struggle to the formation of the Black Nation! This failure has cost us the lives of those Brothers and Sisters who are fighting daily on the front lines against white oppression.

Black churches must become relevant to the Black Liberation struggle, or we must get rid of them. All institution in the Black community must accept this role or they must die. To the degree that the black church becomes relevant and leads black people to participate–as black Christians– in becoming a new black nation with power, dignity, and self-determination here on earth, the black church will begin to justify its existence in the sight of God. We have run out of time and wasted lives. We re going to be free with the leadership of the church or without it.*

– Albert B Cleage Jr., 1970

*”Blast Black Christian Churches as ‘Irrelevant,'” Chicago Daily Defender, March 19, 1970.