Fortress Press

Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights

Witnessing and Testifying

Black Women, Religion, and Civil Rights

Rosetta E. Ross (Author)


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After a chapter exploring Black women's religious context and presenting early examples of this work by women of the ante-bellum and post-Reconstruction eras, Ross looks at seven civil rights activists who continue this tradition. They are Ella Josephine Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Way DeLee, Clara Muhammad, Diane Nash, and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson.

In a fascinating narrative style that draws on biography, social history, and original archival research, Ross shows how their moral formation and work reflect both womanist consciousness and practices of witness and testimony, both emergent from the black religious context.

Ross' major work is engrossing history and moving ethical challenge. Examining Black women's civil rights activism as religiously impelled moral practices brings a new insight to work on the movement and lifts up a paradigm for engagement in the mountainous challenges of contemporary social life.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800636036
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 312
  • Publication Date January 9, 2003


"This is an excellent example of womanist theological studies. Ross cogently argues the moral logic and religious convictions of seven African American women who played decisive roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Ross' lucid cognitive maps offer important and long overdue assessments of each woman's moral agency and the milieu in which she worked as a doer-of-justice. The force with which Ross clarifies concretely the race, sex, class indignities as they arise in the context of the Civil Rights Movement is of utmost importance. On the whole, a much needed testimony."
– Katie G. Cannon, Ph.D.
Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary-PSCE

"By examining the lives and faith of key Black women leaders, Rosetta Ross reminds us that Black women have never been afraid to step out in faith and to step up to the challenge a moral moment presents and to change things."
– Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund

Table of Contents

Photography Credits
  1. Religion and Public Life: Early Traditions of Black Religious Women's Activism

  2. Working for Survival and Liberation: Racial Uplift and Social Responsibility
    Womanist Theology and "Keeping on Down the Freedom Road"
    Witnessing and Testifying
    Sojourner Truth: A Black Religious Woman's Antebellum Activism
    Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Turn-of-the-Century Activist

  3. Continuing the Traditions: Attention to the "Least" in Civil Rights Activism

  4. Ella Baker: Passing on Values of Attending to the "Least"
    Septima Poinsette Clark: Education for Citizenship
    Empowering Local People as a Moral Value

  5. Giving the Movement Life: Black Women's Grassroots Activism

  6. Fannie Lou Hamer: Realizing Promises of Religious Faith and Hope
    Victoria Way DeLee: Community Activism as Religious Practice
    Self-Realization as Moral Practice from a Grassroots Perspective

  7. Clara Muhammad: Supporting Movement Ideas Outside Its Mainstream

  8. Clara Muhammad and the Nation of Islam
    Religious and Moral Influences in Muhammad's Early Life
    Muhammad's Role in the Development of the Nation of Islam
    Muhammad's Religious and Moral Perspectives

  9. "Fire Shut Up in My Bones": Black Women Students in the Movement

  10. Diane Nash: Passionate Agitation for Positive Quality of Life
    Ruby Doris Smith Robinson: Building Community and Sustaining Community Protest
    Nash and Robinson: Young Visionary Activists

  11. Testimony, Witness, and Civic Life: The Meaning of Black Women's Civil Rights Participation

  12. Testifying and Witnessing
    Values and Virtues: Models and Practices in Black Religious Women's Activism
    Black Religious Women and Public Life