Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism
(Northwestern University Press, 2019) by Christopher Cameron
, an Associate Professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, is a precise and nuanced history of African American secularism from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. This text is written with economy and clarity as defined by four concise chapters that detail the major moments in African American history including some discussion of Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights-Black Power era. Traversing nearly two centuries of black thought, from the Antebellum period to the demise of the Black Power era, Black Freethinkers
is the first comprehensive historical survey of black free thought. For Cameron, free thought encompasses atheism, agnosticism, deism, paganism and other non-traditional modes of thinking. Cameron’s work focuses primarily on the ideas advanced by African American men and women of letters such as Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin to support his core argument that freethought and “unbelief” have been key elements of Black thought since the era of enslavement to the institutionalization of free thought oriented associations in African American society.
Cameron’s work forces us to rethink the way we study the era of enslavement and African American culture, and the place of Douglass as an American intellectual central to this history, as well as the role of religion in Black life more generally. In many respects, his text presents a more humanistic portrait of African American thought and culture from a historical perspective that goes well beyond most texts on this subject.
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., has taught survey courses in U.S. history, Western Civilization, and upper division courses on the history of African Americans at the university level for more than fifteen years. Her teaching and research interests include: African American intellectual history, gender in U.S. history, and race/ethnicity studies. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history. She has published book chapters, essays, and encyclopedia entries and edited/authored five books. Her latest publications include
Bury My Heart in a Free Land: Black Women Intellectuals in Modern U.S. History (Praeger, 2017) and, with Dr. G. Reginald Daniel, professor of historical sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara,
Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union (University Press of Mississippi 2014). You can learn more about her work here or follow her on twitter (@DrHettie2017).