February is recognized as Black History Month in America. Why? Because Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) decided it was a good idea to set aside a month for special attention to black history in a month that contained the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. A lot of people agreed, and that’s how traditions get rolling.
Thabiti Anyabwile has a post about Woodson, complete with links to one of Woodson’s books. He also promises to write a few posts this month on aspects of Black Church History, so keep an eye on his site.
With an African-American elected as President, many people are tempted to think that it’s time to stop observing things like a special month for Black History: After all, isn’t history just history, and wouldn’t it be better if we just mainstreamed black history into American history with no artificial dividing wall? I can recognize that as a worthy goal, but I also have to admit that until I have populated my mind with a few dozen African-American figures, it’s no good pretending that I have personally mainstreamed black history into the American experience as it exists in my own memory and historical consciousness. Even in my own field of expertise, theology, when I tell myself the story of the last couple centuries of thought, I am not able to bring in very many characters who are black.
Anyabwile doesn’t mention this in his own post, but one of the most helpful books I’ve seen recently in this regard is his own Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cutlural Captivity (IVP Academic: 2007). The book is organized in chapters with a clear systematic-theological outline (Revealtion, God, Man, Christ, Salvation, Spirit), and each chapter traces the historical trajectory of its subject from the earlist American writings to the recent past. Anyabwile is Reformed, and uses that as a theological baseline for his evaluations of the various theologians. As the title makes clear, he views the trajectory of African-American theology as the story of progressive defection from biblical truth. And as he develops the story, he introduces one theological thinker after another who I’ve never read (or even heard of) in what I thought was my fairly comprehensive survey of “mainstream” theological history.