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James H. Cone

Theologian James Hal Cone was born on August 5, 1938 in Fordyce, Arkansas. With his parents’ teachings on faith and his strong understanding of the value of an education, Cone began his formal training with a diploma from Ouachita County Training High School in 1954. That same year, he received his call to the ministry and became a pastor at age sixteen. After receiving his B.A. degree from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958, he attended Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois where he received his B.D. degree in 1961. Continuing his studies, Cone received both his M.A. degree in 1963 and his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1965 from Northwestern University.

Armed with a strong divinity education and serving as an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Cone began his professional career as a professor at Philander Smith College, in 1966. He then taught at Adrian College in Michigan. Beginning in 1970, Cone joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York, where in 1977, he was awarded the distinguished Charles A. Briggs Chair in Systematic Theology. Cone also created a systematic Black theology. Cone created a Christian theology that was based on African American experience, history, and culture.

Among his numerous books are Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church (1984), Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or Nightmare (1992), and Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation and Black Theology (1999).

Cone passed away on April 28, 2018.

Accession Number

A2006.004

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/24/2006 |and| 5/10/2006

Last Name

Cone

Maker Category
Middle Name

H.

Occupation
Schools

Philander Smith College

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Northwestern University

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Fordyce

HM ID

CON03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Arkansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Black Theology.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/5/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon, Broccoli, Potatoes

Death Date

4/28/2018

Short Description

Theologian James H. Cone (1938 - 2018 ) was an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a faculty member of the Union Theological Seminary. Rev. Cone was also the author of 'Black Theology and Black Power,' 'A Black Theology of Liberation,' and 'Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation and Black Theology.'

Employment

Philander Smith College

Adrian College

Union Theological Seminary

Favorite Color

Black

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James H. Cone's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James H. Cone lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James H. Cone describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James H. Cone talks about his maternal uncle who ran away from home to study

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James H. Cone talks about his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James H. Cone describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James H. Cone talks about his mother's emphasis on education and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James H. Cone recalls his father's lawsuit against Ouachita County Training School

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James H. Cone talks about the demographics of Bearden, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James H. Cone describes his childhood neighborhood in Bearden, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - James H. Cone describes how his church and community influenced him

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - James H. Cone recalls the community leaders of Bearden, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - James H. Cone recalls memories of the black community in Bearden

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - James H. Cone recalls race relations in Bearden, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James H. Cone recalls attending first grade and his uncles in World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James H. Cone recalls his parents' lessons about segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James H. Cone recalls his admiration for black lawyers and ministers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James H. Cone recalls the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James H. Cone remembers the murder of Emmett Till

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James H. Cone recalls his calling to the ministry

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James H. Cone recalls his decision to attend Shorter College in North Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James H. Cone recalls attending Philander Smith College before integration

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - James H. Cone recalls the integration of Little Rock's Central High School

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - James H. Cone talks about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - James H. Cone talks about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - James H. Cone reflects upon the differences in white and black religious doctrines regarding segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - James H. Cone recalls debating whether to interrupt a white Methodist church

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - James H. Cone recounts the history of the African Methodist Episcopal church

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James H. Cone describes his experience of segregation in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James H. Cone recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s visit to Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James H. Cone recalls his initial turn toward the black power movement

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James H. Cone describes his interpretation of black power

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James H. Cone compares the audiences of Martin Luther King., Jr. and Malcolm X

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James H. Cone reflects upon the Nation of Islam and his own mis-education

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James H. Cone describes his discovery of blackness in the gospel

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James H. Cone talks about his theological writings on black power

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - James H. Cone describes the white clergy's support of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James H. Cone describes the emergence of the black power movement

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James H. Cone reflects upon what led him to black theology

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James H. Cone reflects upon the clergy's reception of his black theology

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James H. Cone reflects upon his teachings on black theology

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James H. Cone talks about teaching that Jesus Christ was a person of color

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James H. Cone reflects upon the segregation of churches

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James H. Cone reflects upon the demography of the Catholic church

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James H. Cone talks about Minister Louis Farrakhan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James H. Cone narrates his photographs

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Slating of James H. Cone's interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James H. Cone recalls teaching religion and philosophy at Philander Smith College

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James H. Cone explains what precipitated the Watts riots of 1965

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James H. Cone recalls the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Watts riots

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James H. Cone recalls his resignation from Philander Smith College

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James H. Cone recalls how he founded black theology, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - James H. Cone recalls how he founded black theology, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James H. Cone describes how he reconciled his race with his religion

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James H. Cone describes his decision to maintain his role as a theologian

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James H. Cone compares the struggles of Jesus Christ and the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James H. Cone describes Martin Luther King's and the clergy's response to black theology

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James H. Cone calls for white churches to denounce African Americans' oppression

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James H. Cone reflects upon the role of the church in slavery

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James H. Cone describes Malcolm X's point of view regarding Christianity

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James H. Cone reflects upon how race affected interpretations of Christianity

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - James H. Cone talks about the misrepresentation of Jesus Christ's race

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - James H. Cone recalls being offered a position at Union Theological Seminary

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - James H. Cone recalls the African American community's response to his first book

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - James H. Cone describes his position as a black theologian and a Christian

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James H. Cone reflects upon the acceptance and relevance of black theology

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James H. Cone reflects upon the incompatibility of the ministry and politics

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James H. Cone talks about contemporary religious incidents

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - James H. Cone reflects upon his career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - James H. Cone describes the greatest achievement of the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - James H. Cone reflects upon the genocide in Darfur, Sudan

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - James H. Cone describes his hopes for the African American community

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$6

DAStory

6$3

DATitle
James H. Cone reflects upon the Nation of Islam and his own mis-education
James H. Cone compares the struggles of Jesus Christ and the African American community
Transcript
If blackness was the bond in the North, what role did Islam play in Malcolm's [Malcolm X] life and in the movement and in your life as a theologian and a Christian?$$See Malcolm was talking about black in the '50s [1950s] from the time he got out of prison. So Nation of Islam was describing Christianity at the white man's religion all the way back in the 1930s and '40s [1940s]. Now Elijah Muhammad didn't emphasize blackness, Malcolm emphasized that, but Elijah Muhammad did critique whiteness, and he critiqued Christianity in the most powerful way that anyone could think about from a black point of view. So already with Malcolm's voice criticizing the churches for preaching a white man's religion, that impacted us profoundly in the church, particularly in the '60s [1960s]. Now we sort of passed it off in the '50s [1950s], but when black power emerged we could see the whiteness of Christianity as white people preached it. And as it was found in the black churches 'cause we had these white pictures of Jesus in these black churches. We could see this white gospel that was being preached. Now--and we begin to say now how can we black people bow down to a white Jesus. We are not worshiping a God that looks like us, a savior that looks like us. We are worshiping a savior that look just like the man who oppresses us. Now that's a powerful message, and it was a Muslim that articulated that in such a way down in Harlem [New York, New York], in Detroit [Michigan], in Chicago [Illinois], they articulated that with the force of moral and religious power that no black could ignore that. I certainly could not.$$So what did that make you think about the education that you'd received--(simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well I--$$Of and, and--$$Yeah, the education that I received.$$Was white (laughter).$$I said, I said (laughter) I sort of smiled, and I said, you know, I've been mis-educated, mis-educated. I remember going back reading Carter G. Woodson, 'The Mis-Education of the Negro.' And which if you teach a person what to think you don't have to worry about what he does. And here I had learned all this theology, all this religion, six years in graduate school [Garrett Theological Seminary; Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois] I was studying religion, white religion. Teaching me what the gospel was about; all these theologians I read but not one of them mentioned anything about black people, anything about black people's struggle for justice in this society. Here, I was in seminary from '58 [1958] to '64 [1964] and didn't read one book by a black person, didn't hear anything about the Civil Rights Movement in my classes. And when I got my conversion to blackness I got myself liberated from the mis-education I had learned in graduate school. That's when I knew I had to either leave the church or discover in that gospel the truth that would empower black people in their struggle for justice.$So how did you relate the struggle of Jesus Christ to the struggle of black people?$$Well, I began to see that Jesus did not come from an advantaged group. Jesus was a Jew in the time in which Rome oppressed the Jews. So Jesus was a carpenter; he was a man who was concerned about the poor, the weak, the helpless in the society. There was no doubt about that when you read the New Testament. Jesus didn't say blessed are the rich for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. No; blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who struggle for justice; that the blessed right there. So it wasn't difficult--Jesus began his ministry by saying the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. To set at liberty the captives and to set free those in prison. Now that's how he started his career, and he died just like black people died in those riots. He died humiliated on a cross like a lynched victim, like white people lynching black people. So if you want to understand something about Jesus, you have to see what happened to black people in this society. As Jesus was crucified, and the crucifixion was nothing but a lynching, a 1st century lynching. It happened to slaves; it happened to the foreigners, not to the Romans citizens. So when you come to this country, then Jesus was in a similar position that black people are in this country. So the lynching of black people was nothing but a crucifixion and people like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, they made that connection between lynching and the crucifixion. Between Jesus-what's happened to black people and what's happened to Jesus in the 1st century and I saw that. And anybody can see if you read the Bible with a little bit of openness.$$What did your critics say?$$They did not like what I was writing, and they came at me fiercely, but I was ready for that. Because I went into the ministry in order to defend the gospel, in order to preach the gospel. And in order to do precisely who in--the very same thing that the one who embodied that gospel to us, namely Jesus Christ. So I--you cannot do right and not expect people to oppose you. King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] had already demonstrated that, and so had Malcolm X. So I was not surprised when there were objections to the way in which I understood the Christian faith. And they were powerful. And, and especially in the white community, but a lot of people in the black community didn't like it either.