Black Women's Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb

Black Women's Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb

by Betty Livingston Adams


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Black Women's Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb by Betty Livingston Adams

2017 Wilbur Non-Fiction Award Recipient

In Black Women’s Christian Activism, Betty Livingston Adams examines the oft overlooked role of non-elite black women in the growth of northern suburbs and American Protestantism in the first half of the twentieth century.

When a domestic servant named Violet Johnson moved to the affluent white suburb of Summit, New Jersey in 1897, she became one of just barely a hundred black residents in the town of six thousand. In this avowedly liberal Protestant community, the very definition of “the suburbs” depended on observance of unmarked and fluctuating race and class barriers. But Johnson did not intend to accept the status quo. Establishing a Baptist church a year later, a seemingly moderate act that would have implications far beyond weekly worship, Johnson challenged assumptions of gender and race, advocating for a politics of civic righteousness that would grant African Americans an equal place in a Christian nation. Johnson’s story is powerful, but she was just one among the many working-class activists integral to the budding days of the civil rights movement.

Focusing on the strategies and organizational models church women employed in the fight for social justice, Adams tracks the intersections of politics and religion, race and gender, and place and space in a New York City suburb, a local example that offers new insights on northern racial oppression and civil rights protest. As this book makes clear, religion made a key difference in the lives and activism of ordinary black women who lived, worked, and worshiped on the margin during this tumultuous time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781479814817
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Betty Livingston Adams is an Independent Scholar whose work focuses on American/ African American religious history. A Yale PhD, she was a Global Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and a Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 "Please Allow Me Space": Race and Faith in the Suburbs 17

2 "A Great Work for God and Humanity": African American Christian Women and Organized Social Reform 38

3 "The Home Away from Home": Suffrage, War, and Civic Righteousness 58

4 "Unholy and Unchristian Attitude": Interracial Dialogue in Segregated Spaces, 1920-1937 82

5 "Putting Real American Ideals in American Life": Church Women and Electoral Politics 105

6 "Carthage Must Be Destroyed": Health, Housing, and the New Deal 127

Conclusion: "You Just as Well Die with the Ague as with the Fever" 151

Notes 161

Selected Bibliography 213

Index 235

About the Author 246

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