Ideology, Culture, and the Realities of Racism in the AME Foreign Agenda toward Events and Issues in Britain and France, 1885-1905

By Little, Lawrence S. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Ideology, Culture, and the Realities of Racism in the AME Foreign Agenda toward Events and Issues in Britain and France, 1885-1905


Little, Lawrence S., The Western Journal of Black Studies


Abstract

Although imperialism in Africa and American overseas expansion occupied much of the foreign agenda of members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) at turn of the century, events and issues in Europe, especially in Britain and France, also figured prominently in that agenda. Influenced by politics, religion, and racism, AME members promoted issues of liberty, equality, and self-determination in Europe and used European affairs and sentiment to highlight and address African American domestic problems within a global context and arena. Still, when they attempted to apply those arguments to various international situations such as British imperialism in Ireland and anti-Semitic justice in France, they often confronted contradictions and dilemmas in American ideology and culture that the realities of racism made difficult to reconcile.

The collective and individual public statements of members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church provide an opportunity to examine the ideological and cultural assumptions and motivations that influenced African Americans who placed national and international problems of oppression within a global arena. By the 1890's, the AME church had emerged as a vanguard institution of political and social activism dedicated to reform. The church provided a national and international platform from which AME members actively espoused and pursued the domestic and international goals of their rhetoric and ideals. Although middle-class by many American standards, the leadership of the AME, both ministry and laity, were members of the "black elite." They were among the political, economic, and social leaders of the African American community who assumed their positions through motivation and ability and who often maintained professional and, occasionally, social links to the white community. The hierarchy of the ministry, especially among the bishops and elders, included politically active and outspoken people who represented a wide spectrum of black political and social thought. Everyone within the ministry from local preacher to bishop was considered itinerant, and since mobility was crucial to advancement, many within the ministry traveled extensively throughout the nation and globe, which allowed them to shape cosmopolitan views of the world.

The black elite among the laity, influential within and beyond the denomination, also illustrated great diversity that included educators, politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and social reformers. In addition, AME publications, especially the Christian Recorder (Recorder), the oldest, continuously published black weekly newspaper, and the AME Church Review (Review), the only black quarterly journal for much of the period, attracted works from African American leaders closely associated with the denomination. Most of the leading African Americans of the era wrote for the various AME publications and often spoke at the numerous denominational gatherings, meetings, and conferences. In an age of escalating racial animosities accompanied by intensified rhetoric of the racial inferiority of people of color, members of the black elite were sensitive to the way the world viewed them as people of color and, more important, apprehensive over their place in that world. Thus, examining events and issues in Europe at the turn of the century through African American lenses not only provides a unique perspective forged by American racism but also provides a greater understanding of the depth and breadth of how ideology and culture affect the manner that all Americans relate to other people across the globe.

Although imperialism in Africa and American overseas expansion occupied much of the foreign agenda of AME members at turn of the century, events and issues in Europe, especially in Britain and France, also figured prominently in that agenda. Since slavery, African Americans have aligned with various groups of Europeans in the struggle against American racism and its expressions. …

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