"'I May Be Fatherless, but I'll Go': The Use and Critique of Chicago School Sociology in Black Chicago Protestantism"

Kai Parker, University of Virginia

This paper discusses how African American Protestants in mid-twentieth century Chicago harnessed Chicago School sociology in their conceptions of prophetic social justice, yet also developed a critique of this notion of social justice. First, the paper analyzes how black Chicago Protestants used the Chicago School concept of social disorganization in order to apply the biblical prophets’ notion of social justice as justice bestowed upon the fatherless and the widow to their social outreach ministries in the city. Here I focus specifically on how in his 1935 Masters of Sacred Theology thesis, Samuel Martin, Rector of black Chicago’s elite St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, interpreted two Chicago School texts, The Polish Peasant by W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki and Social Pathology by Stuart Albert Queen and Dilbert Martin Mann. The paper then turns to black Chicago gospel music’s formulations of gender and family that critiqued this merging of biblical prophetic justice with modern social science. This critique worked against the patriarchal logics guiding the influence of social science on public policy approaches to racial inequality in the decades after World War II. I focus in particular on how Pentecostal gospel singer Shirley Caesar reversed the top-down models of prophetic justice and Chicago School-oriented outreach by rendering the fatherless child as the facilitator of God’s justice. I conclude by ruminating on the ways in which the contrast between Caesar and Martin illuminates the political stakes and theological valence of recent debates in African Americanist scholarship over the work of two sociologists in the Chicago School tradition, E. Franklin Frazier and William Julius Wilson.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 177. Racializing the American City