Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans
Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali
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This sentiment, the brash assertion of individual freedom, informs and empowers each of the four personalities profiled in this book. Randal Maurice Jelks shows that to understand the black American experience beyond the larger narratives of enslavement, emancipation, and Black Lives Matter, we need to hear the individual stories. Drawing on his own experiences growing up as a religious African American, he shows that the inner history of black Americans in the 20th century is a story worthy of telling.
This book explores the faith stories of four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali. It examines their autobiographical writings, interviews, speeches, letters, and memorable performances to understand how each of these figures used religious faith publicly to reconcile deep personal struggles, voice their concerns for human dignity, and reinvent their public image. For them, liberation was not simply defined by material or legal wellbeing, but by a spiritual search for community and personal wholeness.
Introduction. "We Have Been Believers": Towards an Inner History of African Americans
1. I Sing Because I am Free: Ethel Waters
2. "Jazz is her Religion": Mary Lou Williams
3. "I am Free to be What I Want to Be": Muhammad Ali
4. A Religious Conversion, More or Less: Eldridge Cleaver
Conclusion: We Have Been Believers in a New Jerusalem
This book explores the personal and public religious dimensions of four prominent African Americans of the twentieth century: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali.