Black Messiah: Reverend Albert B. Cleage, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, and the Capitalization of Diaspora

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Adam Ewing, Virginia Commonwealth University
On Easter Sunday, 1967, the Rev. Albert B. Cleage of Detroit’s Central Congregational Church unveiled an eighteen-foot-high painting, “The Black Madonna and Child,” and inaugurated his Black Christian Nationalist movement. Insisting that the acknowledgment of a Black Messiah was a predicate to the resurrection of the Black Nation and the galvanization of a Black revolutionary consciousness, Cleage and his followers launched a national recruitment effort, and broadened their cultural and economic footprint in Detroit by pursuing a series of business ventures: a bookstore and cultural center, a cooperative market, a farm, and a school. The ecclesiastical pan-Africanism practiced by members of Cleage’s church—renamed the Shrine of the Black Madonna—drew on a long tradition of independent black church building in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa that merged elements of faith, diasporic identity, entrepreneurship, and liberationist politics. Boasting a rich, extensive, and well-cataloged archive, Cleage’s Black Christian Nationalism offers a useful vantage point from which to explore these connections. This paper will pay particular attention to the capitalization of diaspora in Cleage’s church, and to the consumption of popular pan-Africanism—prophetic, affective, locally rendered and negotiated—more widely considered.
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