By: Matthew Wesley Williams
May 07, 2018
His contributions to the academy extend far beyond the numerous books and articles he penned over the past 50 years. Through personal cultivation, Dr. Cone touched the lives of countless doctoral students, FTE Fellows, mentees and colleagues in academic guilds and disciplines.
Today we grieve the loss of Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, a Bill & Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary. He was a friend and mentor to many in the FTE community and will be missed dearly. On behalf of FTE, I offer our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Cone’s family, friends, and colleagues.
As a child, each communion Sunday at my home church, we would confess, “there is no task more sacred than the liberation of black people.” My personal formation as a man, minister and faith-rooted leader took place in institutions and congregations shaped by the unprecedented liberating witness of James Cone. My testimony is an echo of innumerable scholars, pastors and leaders, past and present. And it is with that, I believe Dr. Cone’s illuminating shadow will loom over many generations to come.
As we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Cone, I want to reflect on the impact of his work. In 1968, three years after completing his doctorate, Dr. Cone served on the first selection committee for FTE doctoral fellowships. At the time, there were only 18 African American doctoral students studying religion in the U.S. With an eye for social change, Dr. Cone led the field with groundbreaking leadership in black liberation theology, while building a Black intellectual community.
His contributions to the academy extend far beyond the numerous books and articles he penned over the past 50 years. Through personal cultivation, Dr. Cone touched the lives of countless doctoral students, FTE Fellows, mentees and colleagues in academic guilds and disciplines. An ever-present figure in the field, Dr. Cone’s influence will continue whenever his students apply for FTE Fellowships. Or, when his work is cited in abstracts or dissertation proposals.
Dr. Cone’s legacy as a change-maker will live through the liberating pedagogies of students of color who produce intelligent dissertations, articles and monographs. His work will always remind us that we cannot: disassociate the cross from the lynching tree, accept the church’s contradictory messages of liberation or settle for white Christian liberalism that ignores the abuse of communities of color.
To scholars of color, let Dr. Cone’s work be a call to action. A call that gives you the courage to reject conditions of oppression at predominantly white institutions. And to always write so that you fully recognize your ancestral lineage, communities of accountability and your own freedom.