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Remembering Distinguished Alum Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology

April 29, 2018
Rev. Dr. James Cone Speaking at the Rall Lectures in 1969

Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone Memorial Livestream

Monday, May 7th | 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. | Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful

Garrett-Evangelical will be showing a livestream in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at 10:00 a.m. on May 7th of Rev. Dr. Cone's Memorial Service at Riverside Church in New York. All are welcome to come as they are able throughout the morning.

Celebrating the Life of Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone: A Service of Remembrance

Tuesday, May 8th | 2:00 p.m. | Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful

A Service of Remembrance will be held on May 8th at 2:00 p.m. in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful. Dr. Larry Murphy, emeritus professor of the history of Christianity at Garrett-Evangelical, will speak about Rev. Dr. Cone's life and works. The service will also feature readings and reflections on Rev. Dr. Cone from Garrett-Evangelical community members. All are invited to attend.

Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology, professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary, and distinguished alum of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, died on Saturday, April 28, 2018. He was 79.

Known as the founder of Black Liberation Theology, Cone challenged the dominant white theological paradigm in 1969 with his prolific book, Black Theology & Black Power. Decades later, Cone’s influence, writings, and scholarship continues to shape generations of scholars, pastors, and activists working for the dismantling of white supremacy. As liberation theologies from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and more have flourished, the impact of Cone’s work can be felt around the world.

“Garrett-Evangelical joins the world in grieving the loss of this great latter-day prophet,” said Dr. Lallene J. Rector, president of Garrett-Evangelical. “We celebrate the transformative impact his life and work have had on so many lives. Though he will be sorely missed, his work for liberation must go on."

Cone, who was born and raised in Arkansas, received a bachelor of divinity degree from Garrett Biblical Institute (GBI) in 1961, and master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees from Garrett/Northwestern University in 1963 and 1965. Over the years, Cone has both criticized and praised his theological education and training at Garrett Biblical Institute (now known as Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). In his most recent book published in 2013, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone speaks briefly of two very different experiences with GBI faculty, one with a professor he identifies as “one of the most blatantly racist professors there” in contrast to his systematic theology professor, Dr. William Hordern, who “treated me as a human being” and recognized Cone was “capable of thinking theologically.” Hordern and Dr. Philip S. Watson, both professors in systematic theology, encouraged Cone to pursue doctoral studies. Upon being accepted to the doctoral program, Cone became Garrett's first black doctoral candidate.

Reflecting on Cone’s time as a student at Garrett Biblical Institute, President Rector said, “Garrett-Evangelical was blessed by the grace Dr. Cone extended some number of years ago when President Neal F. Fisher offered public acknowledgment and apology for the racist behavior Dr. Cone experienced during his time as a student at the seminary. In the years following, we have enjoyed Dr. Cone as a dear friend and beloved alum of the seminary and we have cherished the opportunities to learn directly from him when he was on campus.”

Garrett-Evangelical has both hosted Cone on campus and awarded him numerous times. In 1969, Cone returned to campus as the keynote speaker for the annual Rall Lecture. This moment was captured in a now iconic photo of Cone passionately speaking from the pulpit in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful. In 1987, Garrett-Evangelical recognized him as a distinguished alum at the 130th Commencement service. In 2000, he was the keynote speaker at the “Black Theology and Ministry in the New Millennium Conference” where he was also awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree. Ten years later, Cone returned to Evanston to deliver the 2010 Academic Convocation address in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful and was awarded the Eliza Garrett Distinguished Service Award.

Over the course of his career, Cone lectured throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. He was a member of numerous professional societies, including the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the American Academy of Religion, and the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in the Philippines. He was a founding member of the Society of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion (SRER).

Cone was the author of 12 books and over 150 articles. In his 1986 book, My Soul Looks Back, Cone asks, "What is the relationship between my training as a theologian and the black struggle for freedom? For what reason has God allowed a poor black boy from Bearden [Arkansas] to become a professional systematic theologian?” He concludes, “As I struggled with these questions . . . I could not escape the overwhelming conviction that God's spirit was calling me to do what I could for the enhancement of justice in the world, especially on behalf of my people.” May we each work for the “enhancement of justice in the world” and may Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone rest in power.