This book reflects three major currents in the African American religious experience. The first pertains to the historic role of black clergy initiatives and programs for black advancement. These normative expectations drive most assessments of the effectiveness of black preachers and parishioners and how well they served their surrounding communities. The second relates to the emancipatory ethos of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and its tradition and reputation for staunchly defending black people. This study examines the complicated forces that determined whether AME clergy and congregations met with either success or stalemate in achieving liberationist objectives. The third refers to the development of the clergy/politician. While most observers applauded preachers’ activities in innumerable efforts to protect black human and civil rights, others eschewed the presence of men of the cloth in political office. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, various black leaders believed that ministers who entered the rough-and-tumble of politics disrespected their sacred calling and compromised their independence.
During most of the twentieth century, Archibald J. Carey Sr. (1868–1931) and Archibald J. Carey Jr. (1908–81), father and son, stood in the public square as defenders of black civil rights, as political officeholders, and as AME clergy committed to their denominational ethos of social activism. They thought that politics enhanced their ministerial effectiveness and enabled them to fight for better jobs, housing, and other amenities crucial to their churches and communities. They were practitioners of public theology, which approached church and civic affairs as inter-related spheres in which ministers pursued liberationist goals beneficial to the black population. Moreover, the Careys, both of whom were admirers of AME founder Richard Allen, emulated his espousal of Wesleyan social holiness, through which spiritual renewal among believers spilled over to efforts to renew society in the direction of equity and justice. To accomplish their aims, the Careys defined public theology as a praxis with politics at its core. They convinced their religious communities to empower them to bargain with white politicians. The give-and-take of political involvement placed the Careys in circumstances in which undesirable (p.x) alliances and associations tainted their reputations. They thought, however, that these affiliations were both necessary and inescapable if they wanted to achieve a larger good for their communities. Their poor choice of allies and their pursuit of selfish goals at times undermined their efforts, but their accomplishments convinced them that public theology pursued through politics ultimately improved the condition of African Americans.
Numerous debts are owed to the archivists and librarians, interviewees, and scholars whose cooperation made this book possible. The staffs at the Chicago Historical Society, the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, the Dwight D. Eisen-hower Library, and the Dirksen Congressional Center facilitated the research and made the work easier. The staffs at the Robert Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, the Swarthmore College Library’s Peace Collection, the John Hope and Aurelia Franklin Library at Fisk University, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, and the Interlibrary Loan Department at Vanderbilt University also were very helpful. A Freedom of Information request to the FBI yielded important information. Interviews with the Careys’ family members and associates played a crucial role in the research. I have received ongoing cooperation from Dr. Elizabeth Bishop Trussell and Dr. Dorothy E. Patton, the granddaughters of Bishop Archibald J. Carey Sr. and the nieces of Reverend Archibald J. Carey Jr. They gave informative interviews and shared valuable family memorabilia.
Colleagues in various disciplines read insightfully and critiqued rigorously the manuscript either wholly or in part. They include Kenneth M. Hamilton of South-ern Methodist University, Reginald F. Hildebrand of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Annetta L. Gomez-Jefferson of the College of Wooster, Barbara Dianne Savage of the University of Pennsylvania, Hanes Walton of the University of Michigan, and Robert H. Reid Jr., the retired editor of the Christian Recorder. I am grateful to President Larry E. Rivers of Fort Valley State College, an accomplished historian, for inviting me to his institution to speak about the Careys as part of the John Davison Lecture Series in 2006. I received useful responses and critiques from this attentive audience. Two leaves from Vanderbilt University enabled me to conduct research and write, as did a Religious Institutions Sabbatical Grant provided by the Louisville Institute. I appreciate the generosity of both institutions.
My family remains an unfailing source of support and encouragement. Without Mary A. E. Dickerson, my wife and partner, this project would not have reached fruition. She provides stability, patience, and love, all of which are indispensable elements of any research and writing effort. My children, Nicole, Valerie, Christina, and Dennis Jr.; and my granddaughters, Melanie and Morgan, cheered the project in multiple ways. My mother, Oswanna Wheeler Dickerson, passed away on January 18, 2009, but before her serious illness, she read parts of the manuscript and validated what she recalled about the Careys. She also spoke on behalf of my late father, (p.xi) Carl O. Dickerson. My brothers, Carl and James, were supportive, and our late brother, Dr. Charles E. Dickerson, my history professor, would share their pride. Craig Gill, editor-in-chief of the University Press of Mississippi, always believed in this project, and to him I owe a large debt. The shortcomings of the book, of course, are all mine.