Religious Studies | Topics in American Religious History: Religion and Civil Rights
R434 | 4159 | Dixie


The religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: “Love Your enemy.
Take the initiative in seeking ways by which you can have the
experience of a common sharing of mutual worth and value. It may be
hazardous, but you must do it.” For the Negro it means he must see
the individual white man in the context of a common humanity. The
fact that a particular individual is white, and therefore may be
regarded in some over-all sense as the racial enemy, must be faced;
and opportunity must be provided, found, or created for freeing such
an individual from his “white necessity.” From this point on, the
relationship becomes like any other primary one.
				–Howard Thurman, Jesus and the
Disinherited

This is (Martin Luther King Jr.’s) contribution....Every time the
cattle prod was used, every time the fire hose was used, every time
a black person was beaten, we saw the beastiality to which the white
man has degenerated in a racist society. And so we began to see we
had an enemy and to understand his nature.

				–Albert B. Cleage, The Black Messiah

When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement, they think of
important individuals and events like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Beyond
the fact that much of the black leadership in the movement was
clergy, few people stop to recognize the significant role religion
played in that social drama. In this course, we will explore the
religious dimensions of the Civil Rights Movement  from World War II
through the rise of Black Power. By examining the interracial,
interdenominational, and interreligious aspects of the movement we
shall seek a better understanding of how religious cultures and
creeds reformed the American social landscape. After examining the
Civil Rights Movement in its historical context, we will turn our
attention to contemporary American society to see to what extent the
movement’s  goals were achieved, and whether or not religion’s
influence on American social movements has endured or outlived its
usefulness.