Womanist Theology as
O ye fairer sisters whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and
muscles are never strained, go learn by experience. Had we had
the opportunity that you have had, to improve our moral and
mental faculties, what would have hindered our intellects from
being as bright, and our manners from being as dignified as yours?
Had it been our lot to have been nursed in the lap of affluence and
ease, and have basked beneath the smiles and sunshine of for-
tune, should we not have naturally supposed that we were never
made to toil?
—Maria Miller Stewart (African American writer, 1803–1879)
Womanist theory is the “love child” of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Black Power movement of the 1970s. For Black women, the white feminist movement made clear certain realities. White women could find employment in academia and had indeed done so, but theirs were pretty much the only female faces to be found there. Black women were still standing in line behind their white American sister counterparts.
Similarly, at the close of the 1970s, following the most tumultuous period of social change in contemporary American history, African American women began to name their experiences of discrimination; sexual, heterosexist, and domestic violence; abuse; and disenfranchisement at the hands of Black men. Many African American male clergy and theologians, instead of leading the charge against inhumane and antiquated modes of relationship, carried this type of behavior and exploitation into the seminary environment. Dwight Hopkins tells us that when Black women began to enter seminaries, they were faced with some African American men who resisted their ordination, denied Black women’s calling by God, and in some cases abused them sexually.1