Black Freethinkers argues that, contrary to historical and popular depictions of African Americans as naturally religious, freethought has been central to black political and intellectual life from the nineteenth century to the present. Freethought encompasses many different schools of thought, including atheism, agnosticism, and nontraditional orientations such as deism and paganism.
Christopher Cameron suggests an alternative origin of nonbelief and religious skepticism in America, namely the brutality of the institution of slavery. He also traces the growth of atheism and agnosticism among African Americans in two major political and intellectual movements of the 1920s: the New Negro Renaissance and the growth of black socialism and communism. In a final chapter, he explores the critical importance of freethought among participants in the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Examining a wealth of sources, including slave narratives, travel accounts, novels, poetry, memoirs, newspapers, and archival sources such as church records, sermons, and letters, the study follows the lives and contributions of well-known figures, including Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker, as well as lesser-known thinkers such as Louise Thompson Patterson, Sarah Webster Fabio, and David Cincore.
From well-known intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and Nella Larsen to often-obscured thinkers such as Amina Baraka and Bernardo Ruiz Suárez, black theorists across the globe have engaged in sustained efforts to create insurgent and resilient forms of thought. New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition is a collection of twelve essays that explores these and other theorists and their contributions to diverse strains of political, social, and cultural thought.
The book examines four central themes within the black intellectual tradition: black internationalism, religion and spirituality, racial politics and struggles for social justice, and black radicalism. The essays identify the emergence of black thought within multiple communities internationally, analyze how black thinkers shaped and were shaped by the historical moment in which they lived, interrogate the ways in which activists and intellectuals connected their theoretical frameworks across time and space, and assess how these strains of thought bolstered black consciousness and resistance worldwide.
Defying traditional temporal and geographical boundaries, New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition illuminates the origins of and conduits for black ideas, redefines the relationship between black thought and social action, and challenges long-held assumptions about black perspectives on religion, race, and radicalism. The intellectuals profiled in the volume reshape and redefine the contours and boundaries of black thought, further illuminating the depth and diversity of the black intellectual tradition.