The late Dr. James H. Cone is widely considered the founder of Black Liberation Theology, which, in his words, Cone saw as “mainly a theology that sees God as concerned with the poor and the weak.” The Arkansas native was born August 5, 1938.
James Hal Cone was raised in the racially segregated town of Bearden. He graduated from Philander Smith College and then attended the Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary before earning his master’s and doctorate in Divinity from Northwestern University.
Cone had a crisis of faith after hearing a speech from Malcolm X that decried Christianity as the white man’s religion.
Torn between the strong message of nonviolent protest and faith from Rev. Martin Luther King and the Black radicalism of the Nation of Islam leader, Cone was moved to combine the slain leaders’ differing ideologies after their tragic assassinations. He emerged from the Little Rock, Ark. church office occupied by his brother, another minister, and introduced the concept of Black Liberation Theology in the late ‘60s.
Among Cone’s several books, the pivotal “Black Theology and Black Power” was published in 1969 just as the rise of the Black Power Movement began to take hold. Black Liberation Theology stood as an affront to the patrician image of the white church, making certain to center Black suffering and oppression as God intended according to Cone’s several comments on the concept of his theology.
That same year, Union Theological Seminary in New York, hoping to usher in diversity, named Cone as an assistant professor. Prior to his hiring, no African-American was admitted to the theological doctorate program; Dr. Cone oversaw the educational careers of over 40 Black doctoral students.
Dr. Cone remained at Union until his death in 2018. He was 79.
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