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By J. Floyd-Thomas

Via interpreting the minister who helped encourage the founding of the Harlem Unitarian Church--Reverend Ethelred Brown, Floyd-Thomas deals a provocative exam of the non secular and highbrow roots of Black humanist concept.

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Extra resources for The Origins of Black Humanism in America: Reverend Ethelred Brown and the Unitarian Church (Black Religion Womanist Thought Social Justice)

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As theologian James Cone explains, “the idea of heaven provided ways for black people to affirm their humanity when other people were attempting to define them as non-persons. ”4 To grasp fully the dynamics that gave rise to the Harlem Unitarian Church, we need to consider the broad social and intellectual context of the Black experience in Harlem during the early twentieth century. By the 1920s, the four most significant factors that shaped the lives of 32 The Origins of Black Humanism in America Black men and women were: the mass movement of Black Southerners to the North, and of Afro-Caribbean people to the United States; the common vision of Progressive reformers to make American local, state, and national government more responsive to the needs of a changing body politic; and the transformation of Harlem into a heralded and exemplary urban Black enclave.

Reflecting on this period of his adult life, Brown once remarked that he had ignored “the abnormal religiousness” of his youth. Nevertheless, he believed that he had been “called by God” to enter into ministry, that is, according to the vernacular of modern Protestantism, the divinely inspired internal compulsion one feels to become a preacher of the Christian gospel. By his account, Brown failed to heed this call for twelve years of his adult life. But on April 20, 1907, he was abruptly dismissed from his position as the First Clerk of the Treasury for reasons that remain unclear.

Granny intimated boldly, basing her logic on God’ justice, that one sinful person in a household could bring the wrath of God upon the entire establishment, damning both the innocent and the guilty, and on more than one occasion she interpreted my mother’s long illness as the result of my faithlessness. I became skilled in ignoring these cosmic threats and developed a callousness toward all metaphysical preachments. 24 While lending full credence to the adage that “child is father to the man,” Wright also demonstrates another vital aspect of contractual humanism: an antiauthoritarian imperative that serves as an overall desire to have a sense of mastery over one’s own life.

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