African American Preachers and Politics: The Careys of Chicago

By Angell, Stephen W.; Dickerson, Dennis C. | Church History, June 2012 | Go to article overview

African American Preachers and Politics: The Careys of Chicago


Angell, Stephen W., Dickerson, Dennis C., Church History


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As a church dynasty, the Archibald J. Careys (Sr. and Jr.) of Chicago are arguably as significant as the Adam Clayton Powells of New York and the King-Williams clan of Atlanta, but they have attracted far less scholarly attention. This book will go far to remedy that lack, in a treatment that illumines much about African American church life and its connections with politics over a period of more than a century.

Dennis Dickerson is especially interested in the father's and son's use of the public square to benefit their African American constituents. He emphasizes various ideological sources for their do-good efforts: the eminently practical nature of Methodism from John Wesley onward, and the vision instilled by Social Gospel and black liberation theologies (although it was not, as the author states, Walter Rauschenbusch who pioneered the Social Gospel in New England during the 1870s; probably he means Washington Gladden). Still, the Carey's public square labors look quite secular, with only a slight religious and biblical patina distinguishing their rhetoric from that of a Thurgood Marshall. Dickerson asserts that their lives become more meaningful when we pay attention to their deeds as well as their words, in that Social Gospel, Wesleyan, and black liberationist tenets "become intrinsic to their public ministries and defined how they functioned in these roles" (12).

A deeper look into Dickerson's narrative shows that this last assertion is only partially true. It would be a mistake to portray the Careys in too altruistic a light; they also engaged in "shameless self-promotion . . . [and] yearned for position and power even when it harmed their broader efforts to benefit the black population" (13). Their wealth had its privileges: Archibald Carey, Jr.'s friendship with New York Congressman and Baptist pastor Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at one time featured Carey's suggestion that both men, together with their wives, should "run up to Martha's Vineyard for a while" (72). The world inhabited by the Careys thus would be illumined not only by histories of civil rights movements but also by histories of African American elites such as Lawrence Graham's Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class (New York: Harper Collins, 1999)--unfortunately, not in Dickerson's bibliography.

Roughly one third of the book recounts the life of Archibald Carey Sr. (1868-1931), nurtured in the warm bosom of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Georgia, was on the leading edge of the Great Migration of African Americans to urban areas of the North, arriving in Chicago in 1898. Carey Sr. was elected a bishop in the AME Church in 1920. A loyal Republican and friend of Chicago Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson, Carey had considerable clout in the Windy City. He was involved in a number of reform and benevolent activities, including arguing for greater participation by women in the leadership of his denomination, and coordinating relief for African American victims of the 1927 Mississippi River flooding. …

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