Black Dignity

“… the divide between the religious and the secular, provide an entry point for the church in North America to engage with racial justice struggles? ”

Team Members/Contributors

Vincent William Lloyd Villanova University Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

In the United States, the language of dignity is a common denominator of the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the black power movement, and black feminist organizing. In 2016, the Movement for Black Lives disseminated a platform that begins, “Black humanity and dignity require Black political will and power,” and #BlackLivesMatter-associated preacher Osagyefo Sekou proclaimed, “I understand the gospel to affirm black dignity.” To what extent is there a specifically African American understanding of dignity, and to what extent is it connected with Christian accounts of dignity? I argue that black organic intellectuals such as Sojourner Truth, Paul Robeson, and Pauli Murray exemplify black understandings of dignity that straddle the divide between the religious and the secular, and I further argue that such figures exemplify dignity not only as conceptualized but as performed. Hypothesizing that dignity might provide a fruitful point of entry for churches in North America to engage with questions of racial justice, I propose a Christian-ethical analysis of the use of dignity in African American protest movements. Grounded in a survey and analysis of the state of the scholarly literature on dignity in Christian and secular contexts, I propose examining five African American leaders, attending to their religious backgrounds and (sometimes implicit) theological visions. By locating dignity in such contexts, I aim to show that there is a distinctive African American tradition of reflection on dignity, and this tradition can enrich Christian ethical reflection.