Remembering Black Atheists From History

Cord Jefferson, in a blog at BET, says that the growing African-American atheist movement is a reminder to Americans that not all black heroes rose from the church.

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John Lewis, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King (OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

In a blog entry at BET, Cord Jefferson says that members of a rising African-American atheist movement want to remind people that not all prominent black leaders and artists hailed from the church. He points to A. Philip Randolph and Langston Hughes as examples.

When most Americans think of the civil rights movement and early African-American advancement, they also tend to think of religion. From what most of our history books tell us, it was groups like Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam that catalyzed Black progress. This isn’t to say that people of all races and denominations weren’t a part of civil rights -- many Jews, for instance, played a big roll in ending Jim Crow -- but regardless of what those people looked like, they mostly met in churches, mosques and synagogues. Even nowadays, Black leaders like Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton remain deeply rooted in the church while they pursue racial justice.

While most African-Americans fought against bigotry from pews in the church, however, some did not, and you don’t hear about these people very often. The growing Black atheist movement wants to put a stop to that.

Did you know that famous Black author Langston Hughes (pictured above) had doubts about religion? Did you know that A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer who stood by Dr. King’s side during his “I Have a Dream” speech, was an atheist? It’s likely that you didn’t, and it’s likely many others don’t, too. That’s because, for whatever reason, the accomplishments of Black atheists have been overlooked by many historians in favor of the accomplishments of Blacks who made names for themselves from behind a pulpit.

Read Cord Jefferson's entire blog entry at BET.

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