ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




Cone’s work is excellent in its understanding and appreciation of the black struggle and in the exposition

of black theology’s validity as a truer expression of Christian theology than most Western white theologies.

His attempt to universalize black theology by confining both God and Jesus to its expression and

by superimposing his black Christian theology on the universe is a mistake . . .




Books by James Cone

God of the Oppressed  / A Black Theology of Liberation  / For My People, Black Theology and the Black Church

Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (1992)  / Black Theology and Black Power

Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of  Liberation, 1968-1998   /  The Spiritual and the Blues: An Interpretation

Black Theology: A Documentary History: Volume Two: 1980-1992  /  My Soul Looks Back

*   *   *   *   *


 God of the Oppressed

by James H. Cone


Black Struggle

 A review by Raymond G. Manker

Basing his black theology on the experience of black Christians in the U.S. as they struggle to effect their liberation, Cone offers a thesis of three essential parts, each building on the previous one in a neat circular unity. First, says Cone, theology must be existential if it is to have any real meaning. Second, the freedom of the poor and the downtrodden is the essential core of Scripture, and if Scripture is taken as authoritative, then the Scripture’s God and Jesus Christ are meaningless aside from the essential liberation. Third, both God and Jesus have immersed themselves in and can be found only in the black experience.

This circular parochialism – the notion that God and Jesus can be found today only in the black struggle for liberation – prevents the universal application of his theology which Cone tries to achieve (and which is essential for theology if it is to have any meaning). There are, after all, other peoples equally poor and oppressed who are not black or are not Christian, and to suggest that God is not immersed in their liberation as well makes a universal God meaningless. I am sure Cone would respond that any person poor and downtrodden is by definition “black,” but unfortunately his whole approach negates this universalism.

As he rightly points out, however, it is the existential event and not his own parochialism that is important. For there is a universal striving for freedom in the experience of the poor everywhere. Some call it Jesus Christ, some call it Buddha, and others refuse to personify it at all. It remains nevertheless, keeping hope alive and inspiring people to bring it to reality.

Cone’s work is excellent in its understanding and appreciation of the black struggle and in the exposition of black theology’s validity as a truer expression of Christian theology than most Western white theologies. His attempt to universalize black theology by confining both God and Jesus to its expression and by superimposing his black Christian theology on the universe is a mistake, but that should not be allowed to detract from the real importance of his work; by tying theology to experience, he illuminates the centrality of the struggle for freedom in all Christian theology.

The power of this existential approach to the theology of freedom from oppression is witnessed in this country in the black freedom movement and the United Farm Workers struggle – matched abroad in the non-Christian Gandhian an freedom movement among Hindus and in the Chinese people’s struggle.

Cone has opened the door to a universal theology broader and more inclusive than its author.

Source: The Christian Century (3 March 1976)

*   *   *   *   *


 James H. Cone

Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York. His many books include  A Black Theology of Liberation; God of the Oppressed;  Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare and My Soul Looks Back

*   *   *   *   *

Bill Moyers and James Cone (Interview)  / A Conversation with James Cone

*   *   *   *   *

Hands on the Freedom Plow

Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

By Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan

Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, et al.

The book opens a window onto the organizing tradition of the Southern civil rights movement. That tradition, rooted in the courage and persistence of ordinary people, has been obscured by the characterization of the civil rights struggle as consisting primarily of protest marches. In rural Dawson, Ga., Carolyn Daniels housed SNCC workers organizing for voter registration, and whites retaliated by bombing her home. But at the end of a vivid depiction of this and other anti-black terrorist acts, she writes, in an apt summary of the grass-roots organizing that is the real explanation for civil rights victories, “We just kept going and going.”

Organizing involved the kind of commitment and willingness to face risk that Penny Patch conveys in only a few short sentences describing covert nighttime meetings in plantation sharecropper shacks. Patch is white. But that did not lessen the fear or reduce the danger of remaining seated while poll watching in a country store as whites came in and out, giving her and her black co-worker menacing stares.

Full journalistic disclosure requires me to say that many of these women are friends and former comrades. But knowing the movement that we were all a part of also demands that I share my observation: While these pages look back, looking forward from them reveals that there are many useful lessons for today in the strength of these women.—Charles E. Cobb Jr.

*   *   *   *   *

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

*   *   *   *   *

The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *






updated  28 July 2008




Home  Turner-Cone Theology Index    Religion and Politics   Books in Review

Related files: Prince’s The Rainbow Children    Blues as Secularized Spirituals  Black Struggle   Dialogue on Black Theology   A Black Theology of Liberation      Blues as Secularized Spirituals 

Blues Chant Hoodoo Revival   The Spiritual and the Blues  Living Legends  Listening to the Blues Is a Duty and Responsibility     Tell Me How Long Has the Essence Train Been Gone?

 Is God a White Racist   Death of the Black Church