New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity During the Great Migration

Author: Judith Weisenfeld, the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion

Publisher: New York University Press, February 2017

When Joseph Nathaniel Beckles registered for the draft in the 1942, he rejected the racial categories presented to him and persuaded the registrar to cross out the check mark she had placed next to Negro and substitute “Ethiopian Hebrew.” “God did not make us Negroes,” declared religious leaders in black communities of the early-20th-century urban North. They insisted that so-called Negroes are, in reality, Ethiopian Hebrews, Asiatic Muslims or raceless children of God. Rejecting conventional American racial classification, many black Southern migrants and immigrants from the Caribbean embraced these alternative visions of black history, racial identity and collective future, thereby reshaping the black religious and racial landscape.

Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement and a number of congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, Judith Weisenfeld draws on extensive archival research and incorporates a rich array of sources to highlight the experiences of average members. New World A-Coming demonstrates that the efforts by members of these movements to contest conventional racial categorization contributed to broader discussions in black America about the nature of racial identity and the collective future of black people that still resonate today.

Text and book cover courtesy of the publisher

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