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The history of black theological education is increasingly perceived as being of critical importance to our understanding of the black church and its relationship with the wider Christian community. Recent studies have also suggested that this history is of critical importance to efforts aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of contemporary black theological education. Unfortunately, histories of the theological education of blacks at some of the most prominent and important centers of theological education in this nation have yet to be written. This collaborative project, titled “‘Been in the Storm So Long': Yale Divinity School and the Black Ministry—One Hundred and Fifty Years of Black Theological Education,” attempts to make a modest but important contribution to the correction of this oversight by chronicling and preserving the history of the black presence at Yale Divinity School from the 1830s to the mid-1980s.
The purpose of this projected three-year study is to contribute to the understanding of the history of theological education for blacks in America, linking church and academy, with particular attention to the experience of blacks at Yale Divinity School. It also seeks to elucidate the impact that theological education at YDS had on the lives and careers of generations of church and community leaders, many of whom have made significant contributions both at home and abroad. In addition, this study will attempt to ascertain effective (as well as ineffective) strategies employed in the theological education of blacks in hopes of contributing to the formation of new paradigms for black theological education.
Throughout the course of this study, a series of public forums will be convened. The inaugural forum, made up of Black YDS alums from the 1940s and 1950s, was held on February 15, 2005. It examined the pedagogy of gender and racial inclusion at YDS. Forum participants included Dr. Richard I. McKinney (YDS '42), former president of Storer College, professor of philosophy emeritus, and former chair of the Department of Philosophy at Morgan State University; Rev. Dr. Rena Weller Karefa-Smart (YDS ‘45), first black woman graduate of YDS, proponent of global ecumenism, Episcopal priest, and former professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University School of Religion; Rev. Samuel Slie, (YDS '52, '63) associate pastor of the Church of Christ at Yale and Morse College Fellow; and Mrs. Bernice Cosey Pulley (YDS '55), World YWCA representative to United Nations (ECOSOC) and social justice activist.
This forum was the first in a series that will be held over the next 18 months exploring the black presence at YDS. Future forums will focus on themes such as YDS and the wider New Haven community, Black women and the YDS experience, and Black alumni and their impact throughout the world. A concluding conference will feature black YDS alumni who are contributing to contemporary black theological education in the church and the academy.Principal Investigators
Principal investigators of this collaborative project are the Rev. Dr. Yolanda Y. Smith, assistant professor of Christian Education at Yale Divinity School, and Dr. Moses N. Moore, Jr. '77 M.Div., associate professor of American and African American religious history at Arizona State University. Smith's expertise is in Christian pedagogy, and she also has experience in the gathering of oral histories and preservation techniques. Moore 's expertise is archival research, and he has completed a number of projects focused on YDS alumni. Both will also draw upon their previous research related to the black experience at Yale Divinity School.
Their preliminary research has revealed that, since the irregular and unofficial matriculation of James W. C. Pennington ("the Fugitive Blacksmith") in the 1830s, black theological education and Yale Divinity School have been intertwined. Generations of black ministers, educators, missionaries, and community leaders have been shaped by their encounter with the faculty, students, and wider environs of the Divinity School. These men and women have critically and selectively appropriated theological and ministerial tools provided by the Divinity School to address the varied and changing needs of the black community. Yale Divinity School has in turn been enriched by the presence of black students (as well as black faculty and staff) who have shared their vibrant culture and religiosity with the YDS community, along with their unique theological and biblical insights.
Unfortunately, the history and significance of the more than 150 years of theological education of blacks at Yale Divinity School has been overlooked and ignored by scholars of American religious and theological history. Therefore, this study is presented as a corrective of this oversight. Smith and Moore believe project, though focused on Yale Divinity School, will nevertheless help illuminate the broader history and impact of black theological education and its continued importance. In addition, their hope is that the written and oral testimony of those who have "Been in the Storm So Long" might instruct and inspire present and future black seminarians as they also prepare to minister in an increasingly complex and fractured world.