James Hal Cone: Humble Giant in the Movement for Black Liberation

By Nikia Smith Robert
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was completed prior to the death of Rev. Dr. James H. Cone on April 28, 2018.
The belief that God is Black and on the side of the oppressed, for some, is a bold claim. For Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, however, this is a supposition that is unexceptional to his lived experiences and the genesis for his emergence as the “Father of Black Theology.”
Dr. Cone preaches in James Chapel in 1969, shortly after he joined the faculty
Growing up in rural Bearden, Ark., in a politically charged climate of anti-Black racism, segregation, and economic inequality, Cone wrestled to understand what it meant to be Black and Christian in America. In response, he drew from the faith of his mother and found refuge in the liberating gospel at Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. He accepted the call to ministry at age 16 and was a pastor until graduation. Cone pursued graduate studies at Garrett Biblical Institute (now known as Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) and earned a Ph.D. degree from Northwestern University in 1965.1 From humble beginnings, Cone entered graduate school with the security of his mother’s faith and inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. But he left influenced by the rhetoric of Malcolm X and questioning his faith. As he states in his book, Black Theology & Black Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1969; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997), in looking to reconcile spiritual discernment (Martin) with political agitation (Malcolm) against the backdrop of

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