Session 3

We Know Their Names: The Power of Reading Black History Together

America in Crisis

Political and church history in America is often shared as a supremely white history,  filled with white names, white experience, and analysis that centers white people. Black history has long been viewed by American society as “extra,” celebrated for a short time every year, but not essential to understanding daily life or discerning the future. How should we think about history? What more can be done?

According to Dr. Inscore Essick, History is a way of seeing how we got to this moment and letting the past tell us who we are and teach us about our sins. The study of the past is the study of the future, it is study of the past for the future. For this session, we invite you to consider the pain that comes when Black Americans have been and are still forced off of their land and away from their homes by racist political and social powers.

Please view the videos and read the conversation between Black clergy and General Sherman at the close of the Civil War.



Video Lecture: Part 1

Some questions to consider:

  • What can you discern about Black churches in Savannah from this transcript (numbers, land, denomination)?
  • What might it say that Black clergy were the representatives?
  • How would you describe the Black clergy’s understanding of the changed situation?
  • What did they want for themselves and their parishioners?
  • How might we be reading this transcript differently because of our present moment?

Video Lecture: Part 2

Suggested Resources

Black Clergy and Major-General Sherman Talk Emancipation (transcript)

John Inscore Essick: We Know Their Names Slides

For Further Reading and Reflection:

Land Possession, Discrimination, and Dispossession:

Podcast: “The Deed” (Uncivil podcast devoted to the history of “40 acres and a mule”)

Pete Daniel, Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights

Nathan Rosenberg and Bryce Wilson Stucki, “How USDA distorted data to conceal decades of discrimination against black farmers”

Audrey Lim, “We Shall Not Be Moved: Collective ownership gives power back to poor farmers,” Harper’s Magazine (July 2020)

Vann R. Newkirk II, “The Great Land Robbery: The shameful story of how 1 million black families have been ripped from their farms,” The Atlantic (September 2019)

Lizzie Presser, “Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery. The Reels Brothers Spent Eight Years in Jail for Refusing to Leave It,” an article co-published by ProPublica and The New Yorker (July 2019)

Environment and Relationships:

Crystal Wilkinson, The Birds of Opulence (novel by a Kentucky author about vexing black relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality)

J. Drew Lanham, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist)

Podcast: J. Drew Lanham interview with Phoebe Judge on “This Is Love”

Video: J. Drew Lanham, National Audubon Society Keynote Lecture 2017, “Wandering Wildly: Following the Heart’s Path to Conservation”

Richard, M. Mizelle, Jr., Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination (Mizelle teaches on race, medicine and the environment at the University of Houston, has published on the 1927 flood and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita)

Music: Bessie Smith, “Backwater Blues” (1927)

African American Religious History:

Milton C. Sernett, African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, 2nd edition (document collection of personal narratives, sermons, letters, protest pamphlets, early denominational histories, journalistic accounts, and theological statements)

Edward Crowther and Keith Harper (editors), Between Fetters and Freedom: African American Baptists since Emancipation



After the Session: Research, Action, and Reflection

1. Review John Inscore Essick’sWe Know Their Names Slides of the conversation between Black Clergy and General Sherman. During the Zoom meeting, we discussed Sherman’s questionable motives and paternalistic tone and the limited options available to Black communities represented by the Black clergy. Dr. Brogdon added that Sherman and the Union Army’s paternalism and single focus on “assisting the government” in return continues today in the way police officers, all levels of government officials, and employers speak to Black persons and Black community leaders. Can you describe in your own words why this dynamic of paternalism continues to exist in America? How does this dynamic perpetuate systemic racism and fuel the crisis today?

2. In his 2017 Audubon Society Keynote Lecture, ornithologist Dr. J. Drew Lanham leads the audience to imagine themselves as birds with specific needs to thrive, guides them through the boundaries and threats he faces as a black birder, and then teaches them to empathize with, to imagine with compassion and understanding, Black communities and other impoverished, threatened communities. Follow Drew Lanham’s lecture here, and journal about your reactions to his experience and his lessons for conservation:  J. Drew Lanham, National Audubon Society Keynote Lecture 2017, “Wandering Wildly: Following the Heart’s Path to Conservation.”

3. Research and Rewrite: Spend at least 30 minutes browsing the collections of the  Smithsonian National African American Museum  or other African American history website. Note people’s names, dates, and influence, and try to connect them to the narrative of American history that you carry in your mind, your library, or your school curriculum. Rewrite history, draw a new timeline for example, using these historical people and events as central characters. What does this new history tell you? How does it inform your outlook on current events?

Dr. Lewis Brogdon

Research Professor of Black Church Studies and Preaching

Dr. Lewis Brogdon has served in numerous positions in undergraduate and graduate institutions as a professor – Assistant Professor of New Testament and Black Church Studies at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and Religion and Biblical Studies at Claflin University, and an Associate Professor of Christian Studies at Bluefield College. He also served those institutions as an administrator – the founding director of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary’s Black Church Studies Program, Provost at Simmons College of Kentucky and Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Research at Bluefield College. Brogdon is the author of several books including A Companion to Philemon (Cascade 2018), The Spirituality of Black Preaching (Seymour Press 2016) and others.

Dr. Brogdon is also a popular preacher, lecturer, and panelist. He has lectured at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, the Interdenominational Theological Center, the University of Chicago Divinity School, Claflin University, and Radford University on nihilism in black America. He was the keynote speaker at a city wide Martin Luther King dinner in Dayton OH, and received an invitation to the White House in 2014. Brogdon is an ordained minister of twenty six years and has pastored churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Dr. Laura Levens

Assistant Professor of Christian Mission

Dr. Levens oversees course development and teaching for the department of Christian Mission. She teaches a Foundations of Christian Mission Course, exploring biblical, theological, and historical aspects of mission practice. She also teaches several mission elective courses based on student interest in topics like Social Justice, Global Christianity, Women’s Experience, Leadership and Wisdom, and Biblical Interpretation.

Her scholarly interests include Christian missions history, women in Christian history, biblical interpretation, justice and transformation, and theology and practice of mission. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Missiology, the Conference on Faith and History, American Baptist Historical Society, and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.

Dr. Levens is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, and is ordained through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She has served in various Kentucky, Texas, and North Carolina congregations and para-church ministries as associate minister, youth work, camp and retreat staff, preacher, teacher, and advocate for the rural homeless. She currently serves as the volunteer Children’s Sunday school coordinator for Central Baptist Church in Lexington, KY.

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