Social and Political Utilizations of Gender and Sexuality in African American Religion and the Black Church

AHA Session 142
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Wellesley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Houston Roberson, Sewanee: University of the South
Tracey E. Hucks, Haverford College

Session Abstract

Convergences between gender, sexuality and religion in the African American spiritual tradition influenced the reorganization of black institutions and communities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This panel examines how gender and sexuality were deployed in and around African American religion to foment local and global social and political transformations in black life. All three papers examine various aspects of this theme in the development of religious, secular and political institutions. The first presenter's paper focuses on black newspaper coverage of ministers in the early twentieth century and demonstrates that editors and reporters constructed a discourse of sex scandal that attempted to undermine black church leadership. The second presenter's paper centers on the ways in which postemancipation black churches regulated gender and sexuality in the context of marriage and other interpersonal relationships between African American men and women. Churches in this regard were foundations on which ideas and practices around gender and sexuality spilled over into meanings of freedom. The third and final presenter's paper looks at the manner in which black nuns teaching in the Jim Crow South made claims based on gender and religion in an effort to desegregate Catholic higher education after 1917. The desegregation of Catholic colleges and universities helped to open the door for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Through this panel, we hope to demonstrate that gender and sexuality were tools employed by African Americans in the context of religion to effect social and political changes in black communities.

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