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Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois

by Kerry Pimblott

Availablepaperback$30.00s 978-0-8131-7847-9
Availablecloth$45.00s 978-0-8131-6882-1
Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century
336 pages  Pubdate: 09/10/2019  6 x 9  12 b/w images

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In 1969, nineteen-year-old Robert Hunt was found dead in the Cairo, Illinois, police station. The white authorities ruled the death a suicide, but many members of the African American community believed that Hunt had been murdered—a sentiment that sparked rebellions and protests across the city. Cairo suddenly emerged as an important battleground for black survival in America and became a focus for many civil rights groups, including the NAACP. The United Front, a black power organization founded and led by Reverend Charles Koen, also mobilized—thanks in large part to the support of local Christian congregations.

In this vital reassessment of the impact of religion on the black power movement, Kerry Pimblott presents a nuanced discussion of the ways in which black churches supported and shaped the United Front. She deftly challenges conventional narratives of the de-Christianization of the movement, revealing that Cairoites embraced both old-time religion and revolutionary thought. Not only did the faithful fund the mass direct-action strategies of the United Front, but activists also engaged the literature on black theology, invited theologians to speak at their rallies, and sent potential leaders to train at seminaries. Pimblott also investigates the impact of female leaders on the organization and their influence on young activists, offering new perspectives on the hypermasculine image of black power.

Based on extensive primary research, this groundbreaking book contributes to and complicates the history of the black freedom struggle in America. It not only adds a new element to the study of African American religion but also illuminates the relationship between black churches and black politics during this tumultuous era.

Kerry L. Pimblott is lecturer in American history at the University of Manchester.

By attending so carefully to the social history of Cairo, the author forces a reconsideration of older arguments about the relationship of religion, civil rights, and black power, that have grown stale and usually depend on the statements of national figures such as King, Stokely Carmichael, and so forth. What we get here is an intensive on-the-ground examination of how religion and the rhetoric and practice of black power actually operated in a local community that had a very particular history, and one that did not look like the Deep South familiar from the civil rights movement. -- Paul Harvey, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Pimblott’s Faith in Black Power offers a new and unique interpretation of the relationship between the Black church and the Black power years of the Civil Rights Movement. Rooted in an enormous amount of newly discovered primary sources, this path-breaking book contributes greatly to our understanding of the second phase of the African American led Freedom struggle. -- Journal of Pan African Studies

Pimblott’s ability to connect the dynamics of Cairo, Illinois, and the United Front to larger national histories of civil rights and social justice are quite commendable. Future microhistories of grassroots efforts like those described in this monograph would give us a much-needed nuanced interpretation of Black Power and black faith during a key period in the history of social justice movements. -- Journal of Southern History

[An] excellent monograph [that] shows the dynamic research currently being produced on black radical activism in the Ohio Valley. [It] challenges readers to reconceptualize what it meant to be a black activist, revealing the many ways previous understandings of radical activism have hidden the critical roles of understudied groups. -- Ohio Valley History

What she has produced here is a fine study on one small and decidedly local civil rights effort that found that Black Power rhetoric and black theology and traditional church-based faith and organizing were not at odds but in fact could, combined, prove both morally persuasive and organizationally effective. -- American Historical Review

Faith in Black Power is a stunning achievement. Masterly crafted and beautifully written, it adds new consideration to discourse surrounding the relationship between African-American Christianity and the black power movement. -- Reading Religion