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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Black Church History and On Why “Fuck the Police” is the Appropriate Christian Response.

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Back in October of last year in response to the non-indictment of the officer who killed Eric Gardner. I wrote for Theology of Ferguson and The Narthex on why it was the church’s responsibility to join in solidarity by crying “Fuck the Police” with the people:

In July 1966, an informal group of clergy met to discuss events that had happened a month earlier.

In June, Stokely Carmichael lit the world on fire with his call to consciousness in his cry of “black power.” Carmichael’s black power cry was the culmination of years of black freedom struggle that endured police and mob lynchings, voting law restrictions, unfair arrests and prison sentences, inequitable education, and separate but (un)equal public accommodations (sound familiar?). Carmichael and his colleagues in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee were fed up and black power was the expression of their anger and frustration. The loosely tied group of mostly Northern male black clergy met to discuss the implications of black power and its meaning for the black church in particular and the universal church in general. This group of clergy, who would later name themselves the National Committee of Black Churchmen (NCBC), released a statement in The New York Times. The statement began:

We realize that neither the term “power” nor the term “Christian Conscience” are easy matters to talk about, and especially in the context of race relations in America. The fundamental distortion facing us in the controversy about “black power” is rooted in a gross imbalance of power and conscience between Negros and white Americans. It is this distortion, mainly, which is responsible for the widespread, though often inarticulate, assumption that white people are justified in getting what they want through the use of power, but that Negro Americans must, either by nature or by circumstances, make their appeal only through conscience. As a result, the power of white men and the conscience of black men have both been corrupted. The power of white men is corrupted because it meets little meaningful resistance from Negros to temper it and keep white men from aping God. The conscience of black men is corrupted because, having no power to implement the demands of conscience, the concern for justice is transmuted into a distorted form of love, which, in the absence of justice, becomes chaotic self-surrender. Powerlessness breeds a race of beggars. We are faced now with a situation where conscienceless power meets powerless conscience, threatening the very foundations of our nation.

The statement released by the NCBC was discussing black power, but they very well could have been talking about recent events unfolding in Ferguson, Shaw, Dayton, New York, and around the United States. In light of the lynching deaths of Mike Brown, Vonderrit Myers, John Crawford, and Eric Gardner, I’m calling for another call-to-conscience-ness and another black power cry. White Americans must again be reminded that they cannot do what they want through the use of power and force. Black Americans must be reminded that we cannot appeal to the morality of people who, as Carmichael once argued, apparently don’t have a conscience. We must demand, by any means necessary, that black lives matter and that we will not wait for justice. We must have justice now…

Read the rest at Theology of Ferguson or at The Narthex.