Jaramogi [Jah-Rah-Moe-Jee] Abebe [Ah-Beh-Beh] Agyeman [Ah-Jee-Mahn] was a religious leader in Detroit who created a church movement that combined the teachings of Christianity with Black nationalism. Agyeman was moved to start the movement after working in integrated churches and seeing a necessity for empowerment within the Black community.
Agyeman was born Albert B. Cleage Jr. on June 13, 1911 in Indianapolis, Ind. His father, Albert Sr., was a well-known doctor in Detroit who helped found Dunbar Hospital, the city’s only hospital that allowed Black doctors and students to practice. Agyeman studied at several schools. He got his B.A. from Wayne University in Sociology in 1942, and his Bachelor of Divinity from Oberlin in 1943. He was ordained in the former Congregational Christian Church in the ’40’s.
Agyeman preached in several integrated churches, but leaders found his leadership of Black church members questionable. In the ’50’s, Agyeman served at the St. Mark’s Community Church, a Presbyterian denomination. Agyeman and other Black members broke with the church and formed the Central Congregation Church in 1953, which focused on working with poor residents. It was renamed the Central United Church of Christ in the ’60’s.
As the civil rights movement grew, so did Agyeman’s focus on Black community development. Agyeman also began embracing pan-Africanist theories and philosophies. In 1967, Agyeman announced the start of his Black Christian National Movement and founded the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Detroit. In 1968, Agyeman released the book, Black Messiah, which painted Jesus as a Black revolutionary.
In 1972, Agyeman released his second book, Black Christian Nationalism, which expanded on the themes of the Movement. Agyeman also made the Movement a separate Christian denomination, and adopted his new name, which translated into “liberator, holy man, savior of the nation” in the Luo dialect, and the Amharic and Akan languages.
The Movement was renamed the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC), which exists to this day with churches in Atlanta, Houston and other cities. Agyeman preached self-reliance, and a self-contained Black community. In a handful of videos found online, Agyeman talks about his dream that Black Americans unify by way of voting, financial awareness and other tenets familiar to the Black Nationalist movement of the time.
Agyeman died on February 20, 2000.
The PAOCC is currently led by Bishop D. Kimathi Nelson aka Jaramogi Menelik Kimathi.