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Black Social Gospel, Radical Politics, and Internationalism


Black Social Gospel, Radical Politics, and Internationalism

Untitled photo, possibly related to Liberian president’s visit to Howard University in 1943. Shown left to right are Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, U.S. military aide to President Barclay; President-Elect W.V.S. Tubman; Captain Alford Russ of the Liberian Frontier Force; Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, President of Howard University and President Barclay (Courtesy of LOC)

Often the history of radical Black Christians seems to jump from Abolition to Civil Rights with very little in between. However, Black churches have arguably played a major role in developing the political consciousness that would lead to the Civil Rights Movement. Carol Anderson recognizes this when she states that the National Negro Congress was depending on the “unimpeachable moral authority” of the Black church to push their anti-lynching bill to the United Nations. However, the churches’ leadership did not respond.  In light of Dr. King and some members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s stance on pacifism and the Black internationalist critique of imperialism from a previous generation, I wondered what changed during the 1940s and 50s, and just what did Black churches think about human rights and internationalism before this period. Surely Black churches, as some of the primary Black institutions were not silent about a rapidly expanding American empire.

However, while looking for secondary sources on Black churches’ critique of imperialism I found surprisingly little material. I was surprised to find that not only internationalism, but the entirety of the “Black Social Gospel,” at least in those terms, is a relatively new area of scholarship. In the first complete study of the “Black Social Gospel,” Gary Dorrien uncovers the strangely forgotten history of the Black Social Gospel. In his introduction, Dorrian writes that the Black social gospel is “wrongly and strangely overlooked,” and that Black social Christianity was essential to the long civil rights movement from 1880 to 1965. Another historian, Ralph Luker, was among the first to critique Arthur Slesinger Jr.’s claim that the social…

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