Josephus Roosevelt Coan

Josephus Roosevelt Coan


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Wilberforce Community College of Eaverton, South Africa will observe and

celebrate the Dedication of the Josephus Roosevelt Coan Distance Learning

Center and Faculty Housing Development.



Josephus Roosevelt Coan, Ph.D.1902 – 2004


Reverend Dr. Josephus R. Coan passed over into eternal life on February 6, 2004 at the age of one hundred and one (101).  An icon in Christian Education, he was a faithful servant of God, family, community and to all whom he taught and influenced. With Simpson Coan deemed the paternal Primogenitor and Ralph and Louise Foster, the maternal Primogenitors, Josephus R. Coan was the fifth offspring of Andrew and Mary Ann Foster Coan born on a farm in Orangeburg County. Dr. Coan had a rich academic and professional background. He received his early education in the rural schools of Orangeburg County, South Carolina,  and  at the preparatory academies first at Claflin University followed by South Carolina State College where he as the class valedictorian on May 21, 1925 delivered an address entitled, “We have Crossed the Bay; the Ocean Lies Before Us.” Entering South Carolina State as a college freshman the following year, where he was elected class president, he transferred to Howard University in 1926 and received his B.A. in the Spring of 1930.

Entering Yale Divinity School in the Fall of 1930, he received  his B. D. degree in 1933.  At the time of his death, Dr. Coan was the oldest living alumnus of Yale Divinity School and a focus of a research project by that school.  Through a scholarship by the philanthropist Ms. Caroline Hazard, upon the unanimous recommendation of  his dean and two others of his favorite professors,  he was offered a scholarship to continue his studies at Yale.  Enrolled at Yale University graduate school from 1933-1934, and with Dean Weigle as his chief advisor,  Dr. Coan chose as his thesis, “Daniel Allen Payne:  Christian Educator.”

Ms. Hazard, after reading his thesis, assisted in its publication.  By now an avid researcher, and after receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Morris Brown College in recognition of his pioneering work in laying the foundation of the present department of Christian Education of the A.M.E. Church,  Dr. Coan spent Summer 1949 at the Union Theological Seminary researching the planting of the A. M. E. Church in South Africa.  The result of that research project, “The Influence of the African Methodist Church upon the Culture/Religion of the South African Bantu Tribes” (1950) is included in the Atlanta University Summaries of Research Projects, 1947-1952 (1953). During the year 1954-55,  Dr. Coan registered in the Hartford Seminary Foundation completing his residence requirements for the doctoral program.  Awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1961,  the title of his dissertation was “The Expansion of Missions of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Africa, 1896-1908.” Inextricably intertwined with Dr. Coan’s scholarly journey was a life of manual labor to support his rich scholarly endeavors and a life of Christian labor to fulfill his Christian calling.  Ordained a Deacon in 1932 and an Elder in 1934, Dr. Coan pastored churches in the states of Rhode Island and Georgia.  He served on the faculty at Morris Brown College where he was College Minister and Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy and Religion for twenty years. Following that service were nineteen years at the Interdenominational Theological Center where, in 1959, Dr. Coan became one of the original faculty members,  a position he would hold until his retirement in 1974. For more than nine years, Dr. Coan resided and served in Southern and Central Africa as an overseas Missionary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In the 1960s, developing an idea of Bishop Wright’s, he founded the R. R. Wright School of Religion in what was during apartheid called “The Trans Vaal ” section, fifty miles away from Johannesburg  in Everton, the home of Steve Biko. 

Dr. Coan was President and  Superintendent  of the Wilberforce Institute, a school providing elementary and secondary teacher training.  While he also served as Acting Bishop, his primary vocation was teaching.  An excerpt of an invitation from Bishop Adam Richardson, presiding bishop of the same area of Dr. Coan’s work in South Africa, sheds light on the importance given to the ten years of dedicated work by Josephus Coan. Bishop Richardson’s letter is to Ras Kofi Kwayana, teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, Atlanta, and the son of Dr. Coan’s niece, Tchaiko Kwayana,  to attend the dedication of a building at the newly re-opened  Wilberforce Community College:

Wilberforce Community College of Eaverton, South Africa will observe and celebrate the Dedication of the Josephus Roosevelt Coan Distance Learning Center and Faculty Housing Development.  As a great nephew of Dr. Coan, the Board of Trustees is pleased to extend to you an invitation to attend this signal event.  The ceremony will take place on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 at 2:00 p.m. on the Wilberforce Campus.  We are delighted that you will be able to represent your family on this historic occasion.

Dr. Coan spent nearly ten years in South Africa during the early development of the Wilberforce Institute and the R. R. Wright Seminary.  After a 40 year hiatus, following the infamous Bantu Education Act of the former apartheid regime, Wilberforce Institute has risen from the ashes as Wilberforce Community College.  A renaissance has taken place with an infusion of nearly $6.1 million in construction through the United States Agency for International Development and its office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad.

It is only right and fitting that this new phase of development be named in honor of this scholar and servant, Dr. Josephus R. Coan.  I am sure that your family is as proud of his service as we are grateful.  He is highly regarded by the people who love and support this educational enterprise of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  We are pleased that his name will be attached to this new development in perpetuity. We are also sure that this experience will assist you in your pursuit of greater understanding of and appreciation for Africa and her people.  We are certain that what you discover will find its way into your classroom to the long-term benefit and delight of the students you teach.

At both the groundbreaking ceremony symbolically on January 15, 2002 which Tchaiko Kwayana attended and the opening of the Facility on September 24, 2003, the effusive  testimonies of male and female alumni of Wilberforce Institute of the love and care their “daddy,” Dr. Coan, gave to them  were profound.  Not only were these proud sons and daughters of Africa full of praise for the quality of the academic instruction they received  but, with amusing anecdotes to back up their  claims, they were most  impressed with how this man who lived in the humble dorms with them, speaking their languages, taught them by sometimes what they considered “extreme” examples how important it was to fulfill responsibilities as mundane as keeping the grounds clean and washing the dishes (called wares), an important lesson for both genders. Just as Dr. Coan’s educational journey took this son of sharecroppers in and out of the segregated South to the most prestigious academic institutions in the nation,  so also did his wider scholarly and religious affiliations include an impressive array of  national and international learned and professional societies.   With a research and publishing  record no less stellar including The Church’s Educational Ministry:  A Curriculum Plan currently used by twenty-three constituent denominations  and theological seminaries throughout the United States, a portion of his papers were officially opened  to the public at Emory University’s  Candler School of Theology’s special 100th Birthday Party November  2002.  They are housed in The Special Collection Archives, a Division of Emory University’s Robert W. Woodruff Library. Continuing the honors, The Interdenominational Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2003 awarded Coan an Honorary Doctorate degree. Perhaps  one of the most far-reaching projects spawned by Dr. Coan’s life and work is  The Yale Divinity School’s Students of Color Black History Project.  Two Yale Divinity School’s professors who had found him to be the oldest Yale Divinity School alumnus interviewed him. They lead the  researching of his tenure at that institution and that of  other students of African descent over the decades.  It  is being studied with all its racial and academic ramifications. Dr. Coan was married to Sammye Coan who died in the 1970s; Eloise Coan, his second wife, also preceded him in death.  Josephus R. Coan is survived by one brother-in-law, Mr. Emanuel Poston of Columbia, SC; nieces Gwendolyn Gibbs and Dorothy Cook McGrady (Uriah) of Atlanta; Mary Wilcher (Blucher) of Spring Valley, NY; Vermelle Matthews (Eugene) of  Beauford SC;  Tchaiko Kwayana (Eusi) of San Diego and Guyana; Gina Reeves (Tim) of Tom’s River, NJ; Eleanor Jackson (Wife of Bobby.) The next generation of this family line begun by Simpson Coan and Ralph and Louise Foster are these young adults, the great nieces and nephews of Josephus Coan:  Troy Matthews, Shirley Wilcher Scott, Lisa Matthews Wigfall, Samuel Wilcher, Olubayo Jackson, Kofi ,  Alaf Kwame, and IyaboEffua Dorthula Kwayana,  and Simone and Taylor Reeves.  The most recent generation are Bryce Wigfall, Afriye, Tegest, Yaa, and Ina Kwayana, and Myria Scott.  Josephus Coan leaves a host of cousins throughout the USA from both the Foster and the Coan Families and many friends. Because the mission inspired by Dr. Josephus R. Coan must go on, and as he has received many flowers while he lived, the family asks that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Josephus R. Coan Foundation to be established to support projects at home and at Wilberforce Community College, Eaverton, South Africa. Dr. Coan served as Pastor and later Assistant Pastor of St Mark A.M.E. Church, Atlanta, GA where homegoing services will be conducted on Saturday, February 14th at 1p.m.

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Josephus Roosevelt Coan Papers (Emory) Coan (b. 1902) is an AME minister, educator, and missionary to South Africa (1938-1947). Diaries, notebooks, correspondence with South African religious leaders, print material from the AME Church in South Africa and Georgia, photographs, and a number of rare books, including some from the library of the late AME Bishop William A. Fountain.

Daniel Alexander Payne: Christian Educator. Philadelphia: AME Book Concern, 1935

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A Time To Speak, A Time To Act

The Movement in Politics

By Julian Bond

An exhortation to political involvement within the decrepit electoral system by the Georgia state legislator and former SNCC activist who stole the show in the 1968 Democratic Convention by becoming the first black man to receive Vice Presidential mention. Bond writes the balanced, sagacious prose of the would-be junior statesman casting about for a national constituency. A reformist who senses the limits of reformism, Bond sees the Nixon Administration (“the bland leading the bland”) endeavoring to strangle the “second Reconstruction” of the 1960s. What he is looking for is an “escape from the circle of politics that always escalates to protest, culminates in rebellion, and results in repression..” The diagnosis is astute enough but the solutions suggested are partial, problematic and equivocal.

He plumps strongly for community control—including black-run rackets, prostitution and numbers if they must exist in the ghettos—and heralds the need for a nationwide organization “Negroes and Practical Politics, Inc.” (NAPPI) to channel information, political expertise and funds to prospective black candidates.

At present there are some 1800 black officials in the U.S. and Bond wants to double and triple their numbers but he shies away from any discussion of how unity is to be achieved among the highly fragmented leadership and black power ideologues from LeRoi Jones to Carl Stokes. Once or twice he raises the specter of violence and black guerrilla warfare in the cities but without any real conviction—it may be morally justified, but it won’t work. Despite the firm recognition that “representative democracy has yet to work for us,” Bond can endorse no other way: “I find it increasingly satisfying. It is a pleasure to be a politician.” In the end this is no more than a temperate and somewhat forlorn plea to “the young people” to return to the electoral mire at the grassroots level and combat the mounting apathy that threatens . . . 1972; 163 pages


Google Reviewer

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

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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.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider’s account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early ’60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

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A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story

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Brown here relates the dramatic story of her youth, her political awakening and her role in the Black Panther Party when she succeeded her lover Huey Newton to become the group’s first female leader. Though smoothly written, the book contains much reconstructed dialogue that may daunt readers. Brown’s memoir takes her from a Philadelphia ghetto to California, from college to cocktail waitressing, from wanting to be white to joining the black power movement. She meets Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson and Bobby Seale, goes to jail, visits North Korea and North Vietnam, debates Marxism and gets involved in Oakland, Calif., politics. When other Black Panthers seemed to lose sight of the revolution and seek power for its own sake, Brown, with a growing feminist consciousness, left the group.

She now lives in France and expresses ambivalent feelings about the party she once loved. Having made her acquaintance, the reader wonders about her present life.—Publishers Weekly

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Allah, Liberty, and Love

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By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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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)

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Ancient African Nations

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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 /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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update 21 July 2012




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