Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois

Journal of Pan African Studies, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois


A review of Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois by Kerry Pimblott (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2017. 227 pp., notes and bibliography; ISBN: 978-0-8131-6882-1) reviewed by Eric R. Jackson (Book Review Editor, Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies; jacksoner@nku.edu) Professor of History Department of History and Geography; Director--Black Studies Program; Northern Kentucky University and Heather Crabbe (crabbehl@nku.edu), Assistant Dean Chase College of Law Northern Kentucky University.

A nineteen year old African American named Robert Hunt was found dead in a Cairo, Illinois police state in 1969. The white city leaders as well as most members of the police department viewed Hunt's death as a suicide. However, most local African Americans saw this incident as murder and ultimately a continuation of the city's use of political oppressive and racial violence to control the activities and destiny of the people of African descent in Cairo. Soon after this incident, however, a rebellion and several protest movements erupted throughout the city. Furthermore, the city became a focal-point for many regional and national Civil Rights groups and organizations. More importantly, African American Cairoites established their own Civil Right organization, known as the United Front, led by Reverend Charles Koen, who helped to fuse the activities and theology of local Black American churches with the emerging Black Power movement in the city. The book under review here, titled Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois, seeks to analyze this process from its origins to its conclusion.

Scholar Kerry Pimblott, formerly an Assistant Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies and History at the University of Wyoming, but currently a lecturer in International History, with specializations in United States History and African Diaspora Studies, at the University of Manchester--England, explores the origins and objectives of a group of African American community activists that emerged in Cairo, Illinois after a nineteen year old Black American male was found dead in the local police station in 1969 despite the claims of most the officers that the young man committed suicide. More specifically, the author contends that her study rests on several "claims about the relationship between black power, the black church, and African American Christianity" (p. 6). Pimblott also contends that her book "challenges dominant conceptions of black power's deChristianization by demonstrating the sustained and pivotal role played by the black church and African American Christian discourses to the movement mobilization in Cairo" (p. 6).

The author further notes that her study "shows that in their effort to construct a viable black power movement, activists in the Cairo [Illinois] United Front forged important connections with nationally prominent black theologians, urban ministers, and their affiliated organizations" (p. 7). The emergence of this local Civil Rights movement, Pimblott concludes, "both contributes to and complicates our understanding of black freedom struggles in the borderland" [states] (p. 13).

Faith in Black Power is separated into five fairly equally-divided chronological, thematic, and potent chapters. For example, in her first chapter, titled "On Jordan's Bank," Pimblott examines the history and plight of African Americans in Cairo from the early 1800s to late 1930s. The author concludes that during these years African American "Cairoites" were regulated "to the lowest rungs of the river city's declining economy" which "hindered the development of a proletarianized black working class and attendant black middle class capable of sustaining autonomous institutions" (p. 23). During these years, the author also notes that the political reforms passed by the city's white leadership during the early 20th century "undercut the ward-based electoral power of black voters" that greatly forced most local African Americans into supporting the Black church as the only institution suited for "political protest and social movement activity" (p. …

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