Fortress Press

A Rumor of Black Lutherans: The Formation of Black Leadership in Early American Lutheranism

A Rumor of Black Lutherans

The Formation of Black Leadership in Early American Lutheranism

James R. Thomas (Author)


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The history of Lutheran engagement in the Black context in the United States is regrettably thin. The book helps Lutherans in the US and other students of American history to assemble a complete account of the role of early American Lutherans in higher education among African Americans.

The book does so by tracing the stories of ten remarkable African Americans from their encounters with Lutherans through to the powerful and impactful lives of ministry and service they went on to lead.

Diverse in place, time, and work, these ten mini biographies paint a richly unified portrait of the ways Lutherans have supported African Americans in higher educational pursuits.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506486185
  • eBook ISBN 9781506486192
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 138
  • Publication Date May 28, 2024


A Rumor of Black Lutherans finally allows Black Lutheran scholars to tell the story of our ancestors, innovators, and powerful elders who came before us. It outlines struggles any Black Lutheran clergy person or congregation would instantly recognize, resistance to white supremacy through the means of grace provided by the church, and hope in the stories laid out before us by Dr. Thomas's loving and careful scholarship. Whole stories for whole people--that's what's offered in this volume.

Rev. lenny duncan, PhD student, Graduate Theological Seminary, Berkeley, California

Beyond the very rumor of biblical angels themselves, could there possibly be any rumor more timely or more fitting for North American Lutherans to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest than A Rumor of Black Lutherans! Years into the future, many will remain indebted, myself first of all, to Professor James Thomas for rendering public these ten profiles in courage at a time when such a dearth of leadership seems evident at nearly every turn.

Rev. Dr. Gary M. Simpson, professor emeritus of systematic theology and emeritus Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary Chair of Theology, Luther Seminary

James Thomas's book provides a welcome contribution to a long-overlooked subject, the history of African American leaders within the larger story of Lutherans in America. Through ten brief biographies of individuals who lived between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, he illuminates this often-invisible history, emphasizing the ministry and witness of these pioneers in a church that often barely acknowledged their presence. This work is a thoughtful contribution that both broadens our understanding of what constitutes Lutheran history and contributes to contemporary discussions about Lutheran identity, culture, and context.

Dr. Susan Wilds McArver, H. George Anderson Professor of Church History, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

As provocative as it is informative, James Thomas's A Rumor of Black Lutherans serves as a painful reminder of the role white mainline denominationalism has played in giving divine sanction to Black subordination. In paying homage to the ten profiles in courage selected for the work, Thomas reminds us of the continual tragedy/triumph nature of the African American journey. It has been tragic in the sense that even our most cherished religious symbols have made their way into the legitimation of white privilege. The triumph lies in the protracted yet redemptive struggle of these stalwart figures to overcome that legitimation by choosing human dignity over staid genuflecting, and in so doing, choosing freedom over bondage. Those with a deep concern for the current pretensions to post-racialism and how Christian faith can rediscover its liberating conscience will find this work a remarkable treasure.

Dr. Harry H. Singleton III, former professor of religion and theology, Benedict College, Columbia, South Carolina; instructor in African American studies and religious studies, University of South Carolina

A Rumor of Black Lutherans is a silver tapestry on the stuff of leadership, or what notable author Dr. James Thomas recalls of Willie Lawrence Herzfeld: "artful, sometimes angry, resourceful." It is real. These chapters beautifully articulate lives of courage, resilience, faithfulness, tenacity, and innovation. Individual narratives are blended in a way that reveals a disposition to community that Daniel Payne, the first African American Lutheran president, yearned for in his early experience at Gettysburg Seminary: "More than 600 miles from the place of my nativity. Among strangers, among benefactors, but not among friends in the strict sense of that word." This work is part history; it is also incarnational theology.

There are lessons to take from the volume, and Thomas allows the reader to see them in stark relief. One of these is how our readiness to receive leadership is otherwise than leaders who will find a way anyhow. Multitudes of decades stepping into conflict, breakthroughs and saved lives in Alabama through the triumphs of Rosa Young, Nelson Trout's early work with the LGBTQIA+ community. There is something here for all of us. A Rumor of Black Lutherans is an opening to a discovery. Thomas invites the reader to walk through these pages and assess the rumor yourself.

Dr. Michael Reid Trice, PhD, Spehar-Halligan Professor and founding director of the Center for Ecumenical and Interreligious Engagement, Seattle University