In the early twentieth century, African Americans waged propaganda war against the scourge of lynching. Theater was a vital element of this effort, and over two dozen plays were written with the intent of depicting the horror that accompanied these brutal acts of violence. These plays, though largely neglected by historians, have been studied as elements of an effort to promote antilynching legislation. Until now, however, their testimony to important religious currents in African American culture has been ignored. A closer look at these texts reveals them to be engaged in theological discourse that examines the role of God and the church in the face of evil. These plays reflect a burgeoning humanism in African American culture, particularly among the intelligentsia. By creating characters and constructing plot lines that explicitly challenged the goodness of God in light of African American suffering, or by exposing the hypocrisy and impotence of the church to bring about an end to violence and oppression, these playwrights were engaged in a form of vernacular theology. By observing their efforts, we add a fresh layer to our understanding of African American life during this time period.
- ©© 2008 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture