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This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Randal Maurice Jelks, Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas, to discuss his new book Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). The book offers a fascinating look into the religious lives of four individuals, and Jelks also weaves his own religious narrative in and out of the stories he tells.
Here is a portion of our conversation, edited for length and clarity. A full audio recording that includes a lively Q & A can be found here.
Kristin - Kobes - Du - Mez - Ways
Kristin Kobes Du Mez: This is in many ways an innovative book, Randal. Can you start by telling us how this book came about?
Randal Maurice Jelks: This book came about first of all reading an article in the New York Times about radical women, by Margo Jefferson. And the paragraph that struck me most was on Ethel Waters—that Ethel Waters was a “notorious ****.” And I thought, I’ve got to do an article on this. I’ve got to go figure out, what was the relationship between the Graham crusade that Ethel Waters sang at at the end of her life? And then I began to think about other people’s lives that I saw, and how religion was a part of it, and how did they handle it?
Everybody - African-Americans - Relationships - Inner - Self
Everybody writes about African-Americans for external relationships, but what about the inner self that motivates people? That’s what I that I wanted to get at. You don’t think about yourself in terms of categories, you transcend those categories.
KDM: You make the argument that the inner lives of black people are just as important to explore as thehistories of human rights protests and political...
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