Where Have We Gone From There?: Success, the American Dream, and the Black Religious Experience

Where Have We Gone From There?: Success, the American Dream, and the Black Religious Experience

Dwayne E. Meadows (Independent Researcher, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7835-2.ch005


It is the author's position that Martin King's final keynote address at the tenth annual session of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where the theme was “Where Do We Go From Here” is a significant point of reference in the ongoing struggle of African Americans in America. Indeed, 50 years after King's sudden death, his turn toward economic and political empowerment is still the cornerstone of the Black agenda in America. Therefore, with the preceding as our contextual mooring, the author will consider that unique expression of African American culture, Black religion, and the Black church in its 21st century iteration. How has suburban life and the ongoing search for success and the “American Dream” affected Black faith traditions? What do we believe, and who is our God? What has become of the “Souls of Black Folk?”
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The Sixties: A Prelude

To understand the effect suburbanization has had on the religion of African Americans in the Twenty-First Century, one must consider the historical and cultural antecedents that have led us to the present times. And while an exhaustive survey thereof, specifically, the mass migration of Negroes from the South to the North and West, is beyond the purview of this chapter, the 1960’s—the final decade of the Second Great Migration—is for several reasons, an excellent place to begin our quest. Kenneth T. Walsh, in an article for U.S.News and World Report entitled “The 1960s: A Decade of Promise and Heartbreak,” remembers a time of

affluence on an unprecedented scale for most Americans but also a rising sense of social conscience based on the idea that millions of people of color and other disadvantaged groups were being left behind (Walsh, 2010)

Indeed, the Sixties were some of the most gloriously turbulent years in the history of the United States. In 1960, America was the wealthiest nation in the world (Classora Knowledge Base, n.d.). Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and Have Gun Will Travel, programs that idealized the American West, and America's distinctive brand of individualism, were the most popular television shows. Willie Mays, Jim Brown, Sandy Koufax, and Bill Russell were well on their way to Hall of Fame careers.

The Nation, then over a decade into the Cold War, had become pathologically obsessed with the skulking Communist bugaboo; and soon would act on its fears by sending its human treasure eight-thousand miles away, to “make the world safe for democracy.” African Americans, one-hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, would persist in their Sisyphean journey toward freedom and justice. The 60’s, Walsh asserts, was

a decade of extremes, of transformational change and bizarre contrasts: flower children and assassins, idealism and alienation, rebellion, and backlash. For many in the massive post-World War II baby boom generation, it was both the best of times and the worst of times. . . In social terms, the number of college students doubled between 1940 and 1960 to 3.6 million, creating a huge pool of high-minded if sometimes misguided activists with the motivation and time to devote to political and social causes. Society moved ever more rapidly from the industrial age to an economy dominated by service and white-collar work, creating more dislocation and a profound sense of disorientation (2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Atomistic: Atomism refers to the idea of the self-interested individual, as opposed to the “collective,” as the primary source of analytical discourse.

Existential: The lived reality of a human subject.

Disenfranchised: To deprive an individual or a group of something that is legally or morally theirs.

Saga: A term coined by Swiss theologian Karl Barth, whereby he sought to lift Biblical pre-historicism beyond what he calls its “degenerate” expressions—legend and myth. Scripture, therefore, understood as Saga searches for “ultimate” meaning in the poetic pictures painted by sacred texts.

Transmute: To change or modify.

Adamic: Of or related Adam, who, according to Jewish and Christian sacred texts, was the first human being created by God.

Bromide: A trite, antiquated, or hackneyed saying.

Epistolary: Of or related to the writing of or substance of a letter.

Hegelian: Related to the philosophical system of the German Idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Specifically, Hegel’s idea of thesis (any given assertion or belief), antithesis (a counter-assertion), and synthesis, the creative resolution of two contrasting assertions.

Dialectical: Argumentation between opposing points of view.

Praxis: The working application of theory.

Cruciform: Literally, in the shape of the Cross. Metaphorically refers to the idea of suffering, torment, and affliction.

Pietism: In Christianity, strict, unyielding adherence to doctrinal imperatives.

Ecclesiology: The study of the Church—its theology and social function.

Eschatology: The study of “last things,” especially as relates to Christian ideas of heaven, hell, and the final resting place of the spirit or soul.

Archetypal: Something that exists as a type, symbol, or definitive form after which other things are patterned.

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