The author, a Black Canadian professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, takes on the formidable task of comparing the theology and social ideology of four prominent, yet very different, black leaders and finds some common ground in their views towards racism. But his narrow content analysis of a few works by each subject (an approach favored by intellectual historians a generation ago) claims too much for the power of ideas alone. Paris often obscures the social backgrounds of the leaders; arguably Malcolm X and Powell assumed religious roles as much by circumstance (prison for Malcolm, his father's ministry for Powell) as by divine revelation. The author's treatment of Powell, who left an unimpressive written legacy, is particularly weak. Paris exaggerates Powell's House role and fails to ask how Powell's many legal problems may have swayed his actions (e.g. in his 1956 endorsement of Eisenhower). And however great the four were as leaders, they were not necessarily significant theologians; biographer David L. Lewis and historian August Meier have faulted King, for example, for theological shallowness. Most importantly, Paris rarely alludes to the crises that rocked black America from 1954 on; King, especially, shifted beliefs in meeting new challenges. Still, in contrasting the activist King with the conservative Jackson, Paris' approach works well and he offers good insights. Unlike Malcolm and Powell, both men laid claim to Christian leadership and both have left innumerable texts for analysis. Other writers in their ministrations to black radicalism have avoided Jackson altogether, though he reflected the views of the majority of black clergy. Otherwise Paris presents a brave but frustrating volume.
Pub Date: April 26, 1978
Page Count: -
Publisher: Pilgrim Press--dist. by United Church Press