Saturday, July 7, 2018

James Cone A Remarkable Black Man Dedicating His Life to Black Liberation Theology

By Kenny Anderson

James Cone August 5, 1936 - April 28, 2018
Back in the early 1980’s as a young Black community activists I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with the great Black theologian James Cone who had given a lecture at Eastern Michigan University. I didn't realize it at the time that me and Brother Cone were born on the same day August 5th

Since Brother Cone’s recent death (4-28-18) I’ve been in a deep reflective mode rereading and reanalyzing this now honorable Ancestor’s great works. Many refer to Brother Cone as the father of Black Liberation Theology, from my perspective James Cone did not open the door to Black Liberation Theology he was a dedicated proponent of it; he continued in the vein of his freedom-fighting liberation theology forefathers the likes of David Walker who wrote ‘The Appeal’ (1829) and Henry Highland Garnett who gave one of the greatest speeches ‘An Address To The Slaves Of The United States’ (1843). 

The two greatest Black Christian theologians in my life time has been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and James Cone, both articulated that the message of liberation was at the core of the gospel. Brother James Cone vigorously articulated throughout his life of God’s radical identification with the liberation of Black people in the United States. Brother Cone’s first book was ‘Black Theology & Black Power’ (1969), continuing with ‘A Black Theology of Liberation’ (1970), and ‘God of the Oppressed’ (1975). 

Cone’s most recently published book 'The Cross and the Lynching Tree' (2011) won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, the following is a quote from the book:
“While white mob violence against African Americans was an obsession in the South, it was not limited to that region. White supremacy was and is an American reality. Whites lynched Blacks in nearly every state, including New York, Minnesota, and California. Wherever blacks were present in significant numbers, the threat of being lynched was always real. Blacks had to “watch their step,” no matter where they were in America. A Black man could be walking down the road, minding his business, and his life could suddenly change by meeting a white man or a group of white men or boys who on a whim decided to have some fun with a Negro; and this could happen in Mississippi or New York, Arkansas, or Illinois. By the 1890s, lynching fever gripped the South, spreading like cholera, as white communities made Blacks their primary target, and torture their focus. Burning the Black victim slowly for hours was the chief method of torture. Lynching became a white media spectacle, in which prominent newspapers, like the Atlanta Constitution, announced to the public the place, date, and time of the expected hanging and burning of Black victims. Often as many as ten to twenty thousand men, women, and children attended the event. It was a family affair, a ritual celebration of white supremacy, where women and children were often given the first opportunity to torture black victims burning Black flesh and cutting off genitals, fingers, toes, and ears as souvenirs. Postcards were made from the photographs taken of Black victims with white lynchers and onlookers smiling as they struck a pose for the camera. They were sold for ten to twenty-five cents to members of the crowd, who then mailed them to relatives and friends, often with a note saying something like this: “This is the barbeque we had last night.”

“The lynching tree so strikingly similar to the cross on Golgotha should have a prominent place in American images of Jesus’ death. But it does not. In fact, the lynching tree has no place in American theological reflections bout Jesus’ cross or in the proclamation of Christian churches about his Passion. The conspicuous absence of the lynching tree in American theological discourse and preaching is profoundly revealing, especially since the crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching. In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.”  - James Cone

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