Faith in Black Power: Chicago’s Urban Training Center for Christian Mission, 1966–70

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
Sheraton Ballroom IV (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Erik S. Gellman, Roosevelt University
How did Chicago’s denominational churches engage with the Black freedom struggle in the late 1960s? Founded in 1963 by several local churches “transcending denominations,” the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission (UTC) represented one such response. I will explore how the scale of UTC programs changed dramatically with the award of a five-year grant from the Ford Foundation to train African American pastors and organizers.  The subsequent appointment of C.T. Vivian as Director of Fellowships and Internships in 1965 took this program in an explicitly political direction. (Jesse Jackson was among the first 19-men trained under Vivian's program at the UTC in 1965). By 1968 Vivian and others designed two sessions of Chicago Action Training (CAT) at the UTC designed for “planning a strategy of Black Power, Black identity, and Black unity” because, according to the UTC, “Black CATs are no longer hung-up on services; they see the taking of power from structures which affect their lives.” Students who came to the center attended lectures, read history, discussed strategy, and engaged in innovative training exercises like “the Plunge” where participants had to survive on their own for seven days without access to housing, food, or other resources. 

By analyzing the combination of religious, Black nationalist, and other ideologies that formed the basis of the UTC’s pedagogy in the late 1960s, this paper will then seek to understand how activists applied their training in different protest groups on the West and South Sides of Chicago, especially compared to other religious and civil rights groups like the Community Renewal Society.  Moreover, the UTC’s history has the potential to illuminate new dimensions of late 1960s protest movements in Chicago, bringing a reevaluation of activist networks and goals, the ideology and practice of Black Power, and the role religious faith played among its participants.

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