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MAY 31, 2022

Georgia Historical Society Dedicates New Civil Rights Marker Recognizing Ibo Landing

The Ibo Landing historical marker erected on St. Simons Island, Georgia

St. Simons Island, GA, May 26, 2022 – The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) unveiled a new Georgia Civil Rights Trail historical marker recognizing the legacy of Ibo Landing on May 24, 2022, in Glynn County. This is the first historical marker that discusses the importance of oral tradition in the remembrance of historical events.

Ibo Landing (also spelled Ebo and Igbo) is one of the most storied events in St. Simons Island history. In 1803, captive members of the Igbo tribe of West Africa revolted on their slave ship in Dunbar Creek. They chose to drown rather than be enslaved.

“The Ibo Landing marker explores the mass suicide of enslaved people at Dunbar Creek in 1803 and examines the cultural impact of that history, which has been passed down through the oral traditions of the Gullah-Geechee,” says GHS Marker Manager Elyse Butler. “With this new historical marker, anyone can simply walk up and learn more about the rich Gullah-Geechee tradition that helped preserve the memory of this act of resistance.”

Project partners for this historical marker included the Georgia Historical Society, Glynn Academy Ethnology Club, Coastal Georgia Historical Society, and the Saint Simons African American Heritage Coalition.

The marker dedication took place at 15 Market Street, Old Stables Corner, a property of the St. Simons Land Trust (SSLT), which is accessible to the public. In attendance were Sherri Jones, Executive Director of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society; Rev. Franklin Graves, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church; Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Saint Simons African American Heritage Coalition; Sandy White, Education Director of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society; Rachel Waters, President of the Glynn Academy Ethnology Club; and Elyse Butler, Marker Manager at the Georgia Historical Society.

For more information about the Ibo Landing historical marker dedication or the Georgia Historical Society marker program, please contact Keith Strigaro, Director of Communications, at 912.651.2125, ext. 153 or by email at

The marker reads as follows:

Ibo Landing: The Legacy of Resisting Enslavement

In 1803 Igbo captives (also Ibo or Ebo) from West Africa revolted while on a slave ship in Dunbar Creek. It is believed that at least ten Igbo drowned, choosing death over enslavement. The Gullah Geechee, descendants of enslaved West Africans along the southeastern US coast, passed down the story of the Igbo's suicide through oral tradition. The tradition, illustrated by the Igbo saying, “The water brought us here, the water will take us away,” highlights the use of water as a means for the enslaved Igbo to escape back to Africa. Many works by prominent African-American authors and artists feature similar stories of water or spiritual flight as symbols of resistance. A portion of Dunbar Creek, west of this location, is still referred to as Igbo or Ibo Landing.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, the Glynn Academy Ethnology Club, and the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition


The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) administers Georgia’s historical marker program. For almost 25 years, GHS has erected nearly 300 new historical markers across the state on a wide variety of subjects. GHS also coordinates the maintenance for more than 2,200 markers installed by the State of Georgia prior to 1998. Online mapping tools allow users to design driving routes based on historical markers, and a mobile app helps visitors locate and learn about markers nearby. Visit for more ways to use Georgia’s historical markers and experience history where it happened.

Georgia Historical Society (GHS) is the premier independent statewide institution responsible for collecting, examining, and teaching Georgia history. GHS houses the oldest and most distinguished collection of materials related exclusively to Georgia history in the nation.
To learn more visit

What About Principalities and Powers?

We Have Power Over Those Too


APR 18

Welcome to “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined.” You get a glimpse here of the kind of work that I do both at Church Mission Society and Missio Africanus where I help students of all levels (from unaccredited courses to PhD) explore the theological (and missiological) implications of the rise of World Christianity. In the newsletter, I focus on the subject of global witness in the context of the twenty-first century. Every Thursday, I share a thought that has spoken to me in the week, one or two resources that I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission to give you something to think about as you go through your day. I pray one of these will energise you.

1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off


Today, I am responding to a friend who asked me last week what I think about Paul’s mention of principalities and powers in Eph 6:10.

I grew up in Africa, in a community that, just like many other African communities, teaches its children that spirit beings are real and that spirits interact with the human/material world constantly. There are, at least, as I learned as a child, myriads and myriads of spirits in the cosmos. All of them are created beings, but some of them are of people who have died and have joined the community of many other spirits. (I do not have enough information to have a conviction about this or what to do with it, but I have no doubt that spirits exist and that they exert a great deal of influence in our world). Spirits, as far as we understand them, are infinitely more powerful than humans. That is why people invoke them and call on their ancestors—they are more powerful as spirits than they were as humans. This worldview causes people to spend a lot of time attending to spirits, either listening to them (or discerning what they want done) or sacrificing to them (to increase their power). The quality of one’s life in such communities is often attributed to the power of the spirits on their side or, to put it more correctly, the spirits to whom they belong. Of course, this is their quality, not Western quality.

Nothing could prepare me for the theological culture shock I experienced when I landed in Europe. My theology students went straight to thinking about witches when I spoke about spirits. The younger students thought of Harry Potter while the older ones often went to Macbeth’s three witches. When I began to study theology, I was amazed to hear my colleagues (and professors) explain Paul’s “principalities and powers” as evil ideologies, systems, institutions and organisations without imagining that there are spirits behind them. Of course, many of them believe spirits do not exist or are too far away to care about and interact with the human world. Turning back to explore African thought on this, I learned that these evil systems are the outworking of the evil spirits and that any efforts to change them without engaging the spirits do not result in real change. The call to witness for Christ and serve in God’s work to heal this sin-sick world must, therefore, involve a spiritual wrestling with principalities and powers and a pulling down of strongholds. To pray “your kingdom come” is to dethrone the evil powers that corrupt our world. We cannot have both. Where the Spirit of God reigns, the principalities also always seek to rule. This is our life, until Christ comes and makes all things new.


In this Institute of World Mission Podcast, scholar Boubakar Sanou talks about the crucial role of worldviews in cross-cultural mission. Sanou argues that when mission agents downplay or ignore worldview transformation in their cross-cultural missionary endeavour, they only end up with recipients who demonstrate or masquerade a change of behaviour with the tendency to revert to the previous “mode of operation they know [which can] easily lead to syncretism.” In other words, we cannot expect the gospel message to indeed impact people’s lives and truly transform their behaviours and outcomes without first considering and allowing it to affect their thought patterns and how they see the world they live in. If we do not do this, we end up with no converts or behavioural disguises based on the hope of “being rewarded.”

3. Quotes I am Pondering

  • If the person of Jesus is superlatively central to the gospel—and he is—every culture into which the gospel makes in-roads will need to answer the question Jesus himself posed to his hand-picked disciples: “who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). — Joseph Ola

  • When we are able to catch the spirit of Jesus then we are in mission. When the church catches the spirit of Jesus it will have no alternative but to engage in actions which challenge the evil of society. — Mary Mikhael

  • When the church becomes intercultural, it does not preach reconciliation to the world, it lives it. — Safwat Marzouk

I pray that you will be faithful in whatever God calls you to do this week.

Some various words on the Annunciation

Mosaic from the people of the Philippines, Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.
 (photo by Bridget)

Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson:

“This young peasant girl discerns the voice of God in her life commissioning her to a momentous task. Exercising independent thought and action, she asks questions, takes counsel with her own soul. In a self-determining act of personal autonomy, she decides to go for it. This is her choice and it changes her life. A woman of Spirit, she embarks on the task of partnering God in the work of redemption.”

Catholic womanist theologian Diana Hayes:

Black Catholics also speak a new and challenging word about Mary, the mother of God, rejecting the symbol of passivity for the courageous and outrageous authority of a young unwed mother who had the faith in herself and in her God to break through the limitations society placed upon her in order to say a powerful yes to God, standing alone yet empowered. Hers was not a yes to being used merely as a passive, empty vessel, but a yes to empowerment, challenging the status quo by her ability to overcome those who doubted and denied her and to nurture and bring forth her Son as a woman of faith and conviction. The image of Mary and the infant Jesus is an image of strength and courage, of a mother’s determination to bring forth this child regardless of the circumstances and conditions opposing her, a situation in which many black women have often found themselves.

But why is this proof or authentication so often necessary? Historically, persons of African descent have not been seen as Catholic. Despite our more than five hundred years in the church in the United States and our two-thousand-year-old presence in the universal church, whose origins were in the Middle East and Africa, including black Africa, we are seen usually as newcomers, converts all, with little right or authority to demand what are seen as the privileges of the faith.


Annunciation from Life of Jesus Mafa: the Mafa people of North Cameroon enacted biblical scenes, which were then photographed and drawn in order to provide a complete visual narrative of Jesus' life

A rather more humorous perspective from Jewish feminist biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine:

The Virgin Mary made me nervous. When I was a child growing up in a predominantly Roman Catholic town in Massachusetts, my friends informed me that Jesus would return the same way he had come before–that is, a Jewish virgin would be his mother. Being the only Jewish virgin in the neighborhood, I might therefore become the messiah’s mother. Consequently, during much of second grade I was absolutely petrified that an angel would appear in my bedroom, say, “Hail, Amy-Jill,” and tell me I was going to be pregnant.

Poet Denise Levertov (see also my post from December):

She did not cry, ‘I cannot, I am not worthy,’
nor, “I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,
consent illuminated her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.

courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

And that’s what I personally think of most often on the Feast of the Annunciation–the courage required to say “Yes” to the voice of God when it finds its way to you, in your particularity, confronting you immediately and individually and with the full knowledge you have no way of evading the responsibility of response.

From Levertov’s poem:

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

And so I pray to resist that relief, and embrace, instead, terrifyingly outrageous authority


Stained glass window from the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (photo by Bridget)


Two South Carolina pastors announce they will stand for co-moderators of the 226th General Assembly


The Rev. CeCe Armstrong and the Rev. Tony Larson used the month of February to discern their call and discuss their shared vision for the PC(USA)

Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service - March 5, 2024


Two South Carolina pastors will stand for co-moderators of the 226th General Assembly, set for June 25 through July 4, with plenary sessions to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and committee work online.

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong, associate pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church on James Island in Charleston, part of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, and the Rev. Tony Larson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Surfside Beach, which is in the Presbytery of New Harmony, have announced they will stand together.

“The Holy Spirit has been at work through the voices of our colleagues and mentors who have given us holy ‘nudges’ to offer ourselves for service by standing for this office,” the two pastors said in a statement. “In prayerful conversation, consultation and investigation, we have discerned that together we are willing to stand.”

The two pastors said their conversation began with key staff members of the Presbytery of New Harmony, including New Harmony’s executive presbyter, the Rev. Gavin Meek, and its associate for pastoral concerns, the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby.


The Rev. CeCe Armstrong


The Rev. Tony Larson

Recently, Larson began serving as moderator of the presbytery. Meek called him one day last month to discuss an upcoming meeting agenda. Toward the end of the conversation, Meek told Larson he had one more thing to discuss: “I think you should stand for co-moderator of the General Assembly,” Meek told a surprised Larson.

You have enough experience in ministry, Meek told him. You’ve got polity skills and you have served the presbytery through its Committee on Ministry. “You have vision and energy that would serve [the PC(USA)] well,” Meek said, adding he and Busby had a person in mind “we think might stand with you.”

“That call came — oh, my stars!” Armstrong recalled. “I have undying respect for the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby, an iconic African American clergywoman.”

“I’m going to ask you to pray,” Busby told Armstrong. “I think you will like him, and I endorse him. You have faith and skills the denomination can benefit from.”

“Pray fast!” Busby urged Armstrong. “We need to make some deadlines.”

A week later, Busby had only one question for Armstrong: “What did the Lord say?”

That “God speaks through people I admire,” Armstrong told her. “[Busby] told me, ‘If God is saying this, I’m going to introduce you to him.’”

“We found time to have a phone conversation. We shard our experiences in ministry, our vision for the church and our theological perspective,” Larson said. “That began this work of prayerful conversation with one another, with God and others who have served in the role.”

“It all happened in the month of February!” Armstrong said.

Their vision is wrapped in helping Presbyterians “recognize who their neighbor is,” Armstrong said, while also “training their replacements” as older Presbyterians age out of leadership positions. “We are the church, but we won’t always be here,” she said. “How do we train those who will replace us?”

Trinity Presbyterian Church features “a vibrant group of older adults,” Larson said. Many Trinity members moved to Surfside Beach during their retirement years. “The church has to be a place that connects them to the community and introduces them to the neighborhood.”

“That’s part of my vision for the church in the 21st century, a time of great division in many ways,” he said.

When Armstrong first came to St. James, she moved in with a couple because of housing limitations. Her mother “was preparing to leave this life, and so she selected this set of parents for me,” Armstrong said. When Armstrong told this couple what she and Larson were discerning, the husband advised her that “If you are going with God, then trust God will be with you whatever that looks like.”

The senior pastor at St. James, the Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson, put it even more succinctly: “It’s about time!” When Armstrong told the session, they prayed for her and told her, “Do you know what it means for this congregation?”

“They’re already preparing,” Armstrong said. “Without their endorsement I would do nothing.”

An endorsement from both presbyteries, which are adjacent, is expected soon. “Each of our presbyteries has a story to tell about teaming up for a shared witness to Jesus Christ,” Larson said.

Larson shared the news with the Trinity congregation on Sunday. “They don’t get on their feet very often unless told to by an asterisk in the bulletin,” he said with a smile, but they did when they heard his news. “There were a lot of ‘God be with yous’” expressed when Larson shook people’s hands after worship. “There’s definitely some excitement.”

“I suspect the biggest challenge right now is there is a heaviness in our political arena,” Armstrong said. Even though the PC(USA) “is heavy laden with words and policies, we are a visual denomination” as well, Armstrong said. She expects “people will take in our visual presentation” with one candidate being a Black female, and the other a white male.

Larson said he’s been clear with Trinity’s session and the congregation that “the vision of the kingdom is broad and expansive and inclusive.”

“I think that’s a message that resonates with people here, and I hope that finds resonance in the larger church,” he said. While they were discerning their call to stand as co-moderators, “We talked about alignment in our discernment,” including gifts and skills and shared vision, he said, “and that’s true for the larger church.”

“Part of the work is to seek a vision of alignment, trusting God that even when there are differences, Christ intends healing, wholeness, reconciliation and grace,” Larson said.

“We just connected in February, and yet we are very certain this was a God call,” Armstrong said. “We bring what we have, but we know God provided it in the first place.”

“Neither had it on our radar a month ago,” Larson said. “To get to know one another and hear these affirmations has been a joy.”


Over the past two hundred years, the United States has played a important role in the economic and political activity of Haiti, its close neighbor to the south. The United States’ refusal to recognize Haiti as a country for sixty years, trade policies, military occupations, and role in Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal from Haiti are little known by Americans, but significant for the development, or rather, lack of development in Haiti. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and has economic and health statistics comparable to those in Sub-Saharan Africa. A major factor in analyzing the state of Haiti today is its relationship with the United States both now and throughout history.

Haitian Independence, American Silence

Haiti declared its independence from France on January 1st, 1804. From 1791 to 1804, the slaves of Haiti, then known as the French colony Saint-Domingue, fought off their French slave owners. France fought to hold on to Haiti, as it was their wealthiest colony, exporting sugar, indigo, and coffee. In 1804, under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, they succeeded in throwing off their colonial power. The Haitian Revolution marked a significant event in history. Haiti became the first modern state to abolish slavery, the first state in the world to be formed from a successful revolt of the lower classes (in this case slaves), and the second republic in the Western Hemisphere, only twenty-eight years behind the United States (Reinhardt 247).

Despite this landmark event, the United States did little to respond to the Haitian Revolution. In fact, its silence is very telling: it was frightened because the Haitian Revolution threatened its economic interests. Southern plantation owners, fearful of revolts from their own slaves, worked to prevent their slaves from learning of the Haitian Revolution. They also pressured the United States government to refuse to recognize Haitian independence, which it did until 1862, after Southern states seceded from the Union.

Some argue that beyond economic motives, Americans did not acknowledge the Haitian Revolution because they simply could not understand it. The concept of slaves overthrowing their French masters and ruling themselves in a nation was not only threatening, it was unthinkable, “ a revolution by Blacks definitely was something that could not be” (Reinhardt 250).

While the United States refused to diplomatically recognize Haiti, it continued trade relations with the new nation. Prior to the revolution, the United States was a large trade partner with Haiti, second only to its colonial power, France. Throughout the 19th century, the United States continued to import Haitian agricultural products and export its own goods to Haiti, with unfavorable trade policies for Haitians. In fact, by the mid-19th century the United States exported more goods to Haiti than to any other country in Latin America (Farmer 51). During the 19th century, its first century as a nation, Haiti was heavily burdened and its development stuck; it was forced to repay France in order to receive diplomatic recognition, and was diplomatically isolated from all other major powers (see Plummer 1992).

The Haitian Revolution was a significant event in the history of the Caribbean, Western Hemisphere, and world. However, Haitian Independence was not recognized by the United States at the time, to the detriment of the country, and is still left out of popular knowledge of the time period. The writers of history are those in power, as is clear in the case of the historiography of the Haitian Revolution (Trouillot 29).

Military Occupation, 1915-1934

In 1915, the United States Marine Corps invaded Haiti, and remained in the country for almost twenty years. Nominally there to keep peace within the country (there had been six presidents and untold violence during the prior five years), the military played an important role in re-shaping the country’s government and in forming their national army. That national army is infamous today for its undemocratic coups and violations of human rights.

The military occupation also provided an opportunity for the United States to strengthen its economic ties with the country. Since the late 19th century and early 20th century, the United States attempted to revitalize mercantilism in the Caribbean, with a large focus on Haiti (Plummer 12). This trade had devastating effects on Haiti, as Haiti models how “foreign trade… can foster socioeconomic decline” (Plummer 40).

Political Turmoil in the 1990s and early 2000s

In December 1990, Haiti completed its first democratic elections, after violence surrounding prior elections caused them to be aborted. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest with tremendous support from the black poor of the country, was elected with 67% of the vote, and took office on February 7th 1991. On September 29th 1991, the Haitian military removed him from office and forced him to sign a resignation. He spent the next three years in exile, returning in 1994 and serving out his term until February 1996 (see Farmer 2006). During the time of his exile, the country was in chaos, and its next political elections were not approved by international election commissions. The U.S. military occupied Haiti from 1994-1997 in order to “establish peace” and “restore democracy” (see Ballard 1998).

In 2000, Aristide won another presidential election, garnering over 92% of the votes. The next several years saw violence and political agitation in Haiti. On February 28th, 2004, Aristide was taken from the country by the Haitian and American militaries and flown to South Africa, where he is still in exile (see Farmer 2006).

The United States’ role in both the coups against Aristide have been disputed. Aristide, among others (ex. Farmer 2006), claim the United States was directly involved in his forced removal from the country in 2004. The Haitian military and the Haitian National Intelligence Service, set up and funded by the CIA in the 1980s, were both key players in the coups against Aristide.

Foreign Aid

Haiti holds many records: the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and the first nation of former slaves, for example. Another is the highest per-capita rate of NGOs than any other nation. Haiti is desperately poor and has horrible health statistics, so in some ways it makes sense that many non-Haitians, especially Americans given its proximity, work in NGOs in the country. The benefits and harms of the large numbers of foreign NGOs within the country are examined in scholarly literature (see Schuller 2007, for example). One of the major drawbacks to the work of NGOs within the country is the vast majority of them work outside of the government, and most are not even registered with the government. By bypassing the state, NGOs weaken it; American money, both from the federal government and from individuals, flows to NGOs and not, in general, the Haitian government, making it even harder for the state to function.

An additional form of foreign aid has been food aid given by the federal government to Haiti. This food aid, heavily subsidized by the U.S. federal government so that it benefits American farmers, has flooded the Haitian markets, driving prices down. This, along with environmental degradation, has forced many Haitian farmers to give up their farms and move to Port-au-Prince and its surrounding slums.

The Future of U.S.-Haitian Relations        

A recent publication by the Brookings Institution with recommendations for the Obama administration on its policy towards Latin America stressed that the United States should be involved in facilitating elections and strengthening Parliament and political parties in Haiti (The Obama Administration and the Americas 107). Because of the recent devastating earthquake, priorities have certainly shifted from strengthening political institutions to providing for immediate physical needs and building up infrastructure. With recent discussion in the Senate about Haiti becoming “some sort of receivorship” (Senator Dodd) or “something far more draconian” (Senator Corker), it is clear that Haiti and the United States will continue to be politically and economically tied (MacFarquahar 1).



Note: These sources provided background information for this paper, and though not all are directly cited, all are important scholarship and primary source in understanding the topic.

Ballard, John R. Upholding Democracy: The United States Military Campaign in Haiti, 1994- 1997.   London: Praeger, 1998. || A description of the military campaign in Haiti in the mid-90s from the view of the U.S.    military.

Farmer, Paul. The Uses of Haiti. Maine: Common Courage Press, 2006. || A stinging condemnation of U.S. policy towards Haiti from a physician-anthropologist     who has worked in the country for thirty years; provides a self-proclaimed Haitian version of the relationship between the two countries.

Greene Balch, Emily, editor. Occupied Haiti. New York: The Writers Publishing Company, 1927. || A report of the conditions under the U.S. occupation of Haiti.

MacFarquahar, Neil. “Haiti is Again a Canvas for Approaches to Aid.” The New York Times. 30    Jan. 2010. || A current article about foreign aid to post-earthquake Haiti, incorporating dicussions at     the United Nations and U.S. Congress.

McCrocklin, James H. Garde’Haiti: Twenty Years of Organization and Training by the United  States Marine Corps. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute, 1956 || An original Marine Corps document describing the United States’ military’s formative role in the development of the now infamous Haitian National Army.

Montague, Ludwell Lee. Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938. Durham, NC, Duke U. Press, 1940. || A comprehensive history of United States-Haitian relations through the occupation.

Plummer, Brenda Gayle. Haiti and the United States: The Psychological Moment. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1992. || Examines the intertwining history of the two countries and the impact of the U.S. on Haiti’s poor development outcomes.

 —. Haiti and the Great Powers, 1902-1915. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. || Examines the trade relations between Haiti and the United States, and other foreign powers, during the turn of the 19th century.

Reinhardt, Thomas. “200 Years of Forgetting: Hushing up the Haitian Revolution.” Journal of Black   Studies 35 (2005): 246-261. || An article examining the historiography of the Haitian Revolution in the United States.

Schmidt, Hans. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. New Brunswick, NJ:   Rutgers U Press, 1971. || A stinging condemnation at the occupation using Marine Corps documents.
Schuller, Mark. Invasion or Infusion? Understanding the Role of NGOs in Contemporary Haiti.   The Journal of Haitian Studies, Vol. 13 No. 2 2007. ||  An important article examining the influence of NGOs on Haitian cultural, political, and economic autonomy.

The Obama Administration and the Americas. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009. ||  Recommendations for the Obama Administration on their policy towards Latin America, including Haiti.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. || A historiography of the Haitian Revolution, using the silencing of this event along with the attempts by German neo-Nazis to cover up the Holocaust, as a gateway into examining the processes by which the powerful produce history.

Ann Petry: The Story of America’s First Black Woman to sell more than one million copies as an author

By Preta Peace Namasaba, BlackStars News

February 13, 2024

Literature serves as a reflection of humanity and a means by which people understand each other. This is why the scarcity of Black women writers before 20th-century American literary archives is a troublesome reminder of the arduous times in which they dwelled. One woman who went against the tide was Ann Petry. Pivoting from a career as a pharmacist, Petry became an author, narrating the intricacies of Black life during the mid-20th century. Her first novel, The Street, was the first book by an African-American woman to sell over one million copies.

Petry was born in 1908 and raised in Old Saybrook, a middle-class town in Connecticut. Her family was one of the few Black residents in the town but naturally harbored ambitions to elevate in life. This was only a mere fifty or so years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and although Connecticut was one of America’s more Black-friendly states, Petry and her family were not spared the indignities of Black American humanity at the time.

Petry’s father was a pharmacist who owned a drugstore and her mother was a chiropodist and businesswoman. The women in her family were strong role models who showed Petry that success was possible. “It never occurred to them that there were things they couldn’t do because they were women,” Petry would later say of her mother and aunts.

Although her parents tried to shelter her from society’s worst, Petry experienced a few unfortunate and memorable incidences. She had to deal with racist teachers and neighbors although the state didn’t institute the stringent Jim Crow segregation measures. Her father had to write a letter to a local newspaper complaining about a teacher who refused to teach his daughters and his niece. These personal experiences would later feature prominently in Petry’s stories and novels.

But it was the power of praise that propelled Petry to become a writer. Her high school English teacher had Petry read an essay Petry had written aloud to the class, after which the teacher commented: “I honestly believe that you could be a writer if you wanted to.”

She didn’t immediately follow the writing path as her parents wanted her to tread the well-established family path and become a pharmacist. Petry earned her degree from Connecticut College of Pharmacy in 1930. For several years, she worked as a pharmacist in her father’s drugstore – never forgetting her ambition to become a writer.

Following her marriage, Petry moved to Harlem in New York City. She worked as a journalist, columnist, editor and even participated in Harlem’s American Negro Theatre. It was her first time experiencing urban life and the poverty, hardship, and segregation in Black communities. She got to understand the struggles that the majority of Black people across the country went through daily. Her early years in New York- seeing neglected children up close and living among the poor- left an indelible mark on her and led her to put her experiences to paper.

Petry’s short stories attracted the attention of the publisher Houghton Mifflin and in 1945 received a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship to complete her first novel. A year later, she finished The Street , a novel about a single Black mother in Harlem during World War II. The book is a social commentary on black urban life at the time, navigating complex themes such as racism, sexual harassment, violence, and class divisions. Although it is not autobiographical, Petry’s experiences as a resident of New York City inspired the story.

The novel earned Petry critical appraisal and brought her national attention. She achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the first Black woman writer whose work sold more than a million copies. Ultimately, The Street sold over 1.5 million copies and remains her most popular. Petry later wrote two other novels for adults and several fiction and nonfiction books for young people.

Disliking the sudden fame and attention from her literary success, she moved back to Old Saybrook in 1947. She lived in the town until her death on April 28, 1997, at age 88. A trailblazer, Petry left an indelible mark in both the literary and African-American communities. But perhaps most importantly, she exemplified the importance of telling our stories.

Solidarity with the Suffering:
Reflection #2

From Hunter Farrell, UM Board Member

Email: February 19, 2024


Dear friends, 

We arrived safely in Amman, Jordan last Friday, crossed the border into the occupied West Bank and drove up to Jerusalem 2 hours later. In the days since, we have filled every day from 8 am until 9 or 10 at night meetings with local Christians to hear their stories, pray with them and try to understand the extremely painful context in which they have been called to witness. 

The continuing Israeli assault on the people of Gaza is so brutal that you can see Palestinian Christians struggle to make sense of it, even after 4 months of the violence. Churches, hospitals, schools and the homes of most of the Christians (whose numbers have shrunk to only 1% of the population of Gaza) have been completely destroyed by the Israeli rocket and drone attacks. A Christian psychologist from Gaza broke down in tears when she tried to describe the accumulated trauma and its impact on young minds and hearts: "We have learned to fear the voice of the planes"-- which constantly overfly Gaza and strike terror in all the displaced Gazans. 

While Gaza has dominated the headlines since October 7, the surprise to us is how the Israeli Government has ratcheted up the speed of its ongoing campaign to force Palestinians to emigrate or move off of valuable land. Groups of extremist settlers have been encouraged by the fiery language of Jewish nationalism used by Prime Minister Netanyahu and several members of his cabinet to "redeem the land", cleansing it of its non-Jewish population. The impact on Palestinian lives of the stepped-up campaign and sharp increase in settler violence has been staggering for us to witness:

Petry was born in 1908 and raised in Old Saybrook, a middle-class town in Connecticut. Her family was one of the few Black residents in the town but naturally harbored ambitions to elevate in life. This was only a mere fifty or so years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and although Connecticut was one of America’s more Black-friendly states, Petry and her family were not spared the indignities of Black American humanity at the time.

  1. Last Friday, we sat with Fakri, a 62-year-old Palestinian grandfather who has lived all his life in his great-grandfather's house in the Jerusalem district of Silwan. This area of coveted Palestinian land has seen an aggressive campaign of harassment of Palestinian residents by armed Israeli gangs and the demolition of Palestinian homes. Fakri's home-- with everything he owned except the clothes he was wearing-- was bulldozed to the ground two days earlier. As we sat with him and heard his story, he said, "Even more painful than the demolition of my home was the demolition of my dreams". According to our hosts at the Sabeel Centre, 22 Palestinian homes have been demolished in 2024 in Jerusalem alone.

  2. The American executive director of the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said this: "October 7 was a tragic day for Israel. But the actions in Gaza are so far beyond that initial massacre that we now have a sustained massacre with extreme violence targeting primarily civilians, women, and children."

  3. This morning, we watched in horror as a Caterpillar bulldozer (yes, made in the USA) demolished the dreams of two Palestinian families in a district of Bethlehem. We stood with the families, prayed, and sang-- and two vehicles of Israeli Government riot police arrived to "keep order", but there was no stopping the bulldozer. I'm posting video from that encounter to Facebook and Instagram.

  4. In lengthy meetings with Palestinian Christian leaders from Bethlehem and Gaza, they wanted to know why the U.S. churches were so oblivious to their suffering. Their request? "You can help us most by praying for us and telling our story to your people."

These encounters with Palestinians have been as intense and moving as our tears combined. But what keeps me awake at night is my part in all of this. A portion of my federal tax payments go to subsidizing Israel's continuing war on the people of Palestine-- the U.S. sends $3.8 billion to the Israeli Government each year in military aid. And now I see with my own eyes what it is doing to Palestinian families. 

Pray with me that a movement of justice-seekers-- Jewish, Christian, Muslim and non-religious-- would rise up in our nation to work for justice in Israel/Palestine. Below you'll find a devotional reflection written by Pastor Rick McNutt, a member of our group. More soon... 

With you in Christ, 


The second Email from UM Board Member Hunter Farrell: February 21, 2024 



I'm in Doha, Qatar en route home to Pittsburgh from a trip that has both weighed me down and set me free. I feel a heavy obligation to share what I have seen: 

  • the heartbreaking human cost of a settler colonial project on steroids;

  • the haunting realization that every day President Biden delays action, more Palestinians will die in Gaza, more Palestinian homes will be demolished, more Palestinian property will be seized, and more Palestinian children will be tempted to believe what Israeli society tells them about their nature: they are less than human and are guilty because of their identity.

Yet conversations with Palestinian friends have also set me free:

  • free from the fear of upsetting Jewish colleagues: the most loving words I can offer them include the heartbreaking truth that Israel's 100-year war on Palestine is wrong and betrays the heart of our shared Scriptures-- "chosenness" is an inclusive welcome in Scripture and can never be the exclusive birthright of a few;

  • free to leave my privileged, safe, "middle-of-the-road" position-- if I claim to be part of Christ's body with Palestinian siblings, I have to join them in putting my body in the streets and on the line to speak and act for justice for Palestinians;

  • free to bear the spirit of gratefulness and not despair I saw in so many of the Palestinian friends we met along this journey.

I'm deeply grateful for your prayers and for amplifying the voices of Palestinian mission companions and for your advocacy-- even when there is a cost to you.

I've included a blog the group asked me to write that will be published on the Israel/Palestine Mission Network website tomorrow. My wifi connection here in Doha Airport won't allow me to upload the images-- Google "John Gast American Progress" to get a sense of the spirit of settler colonialism that I have grown to see inhabits deep places in my mind and heart and must be seen and addressed if I am to "see" Palestine as God does.

God's joy and peace and justice surround you.

With you in Christ,


Two Unanswered Questions

Hunter Farrell

“How can you Christians in the United States stand by in silence as our people are blown up night after night?” The question from the twenty-year-old daughter of a Palestinian pastor from Gaza hit me like a freight train. 
We had just heard from a group of six Christians from Gaza whose life circumstances had taken them out of the besieged territory before the October 7 Hamas assault and massive Israeli retaliation that has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians-- mostly civilians. Rather than just sitting with the pain of her question—many of her family members are still in Gaza-- I mumbled a hurried response about being distracted…about not understanding the long history of land seizure and military occupation against the people of Palestine.


Land seizure

But the pastor’s daughter’s question has stayed with me. Why have our churches remained silent while watching video clips of daily rocket attacks against a largely unarmed civilian population? Why have we not responded to the use of starvation and the intentional withholding of medical supplies as weapons of war? These acts are clearly war crimes, yet my moderate, “middle-of-the-road” upbringing keeps me from speaking out— or is it something much deeper and more sinister? 
Why is it that so many of us American Christians can speak eloquently about peace and justice and yet turn a blind eye to the 70 years of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian families from their farms, villages and cities? What is the root cause of our blindness (if these were my children being intentionally deprived of food and subjected to rocket attacks, I would have crossed the line into violence or insanity months ago). 
A brilliant, new book by Palestinian pastor and trusted friend, Dr. Mitri Raheb, Decolonizing Palestine (Orbis 2023), is helping me understand why we U.S. Christians have not seen Palestine for so long: my ancestors colonized North America, built a nation on the stolen lands of Native Americans, and ethnically cleansed an entire continent, therefore, the Israeli land grab and erasure of Palestine is a script of settler colonialism that lives on within me. The voices of Manifest Destiny, the “White Man’s burden”, and the “civilizing” mission of the Church whisper continually in my subconscious. Israel projects itself as a democracy in a region of dictators; light in the midst of darkness. No wonder I can’t hear the screams from Gaza.


John Gast’s “American Progress”, image by Wikipedia

o wonder it took the African Methodist Episcopal Church—an African-American denomination of more than three million members worldwide—to be the first U.S. church to call for an end to the U.S.’ financial support of the Israeli military assault on Gaza. The U.S. gives Israel more than $3 billion/year in military aid and the U.S. Senate last week voted to increase that amount to $14 billion). The AME Church members’ lived experience on the underside of “the White Man’s burden” gives them a much more critical perspective and raises the second question I can’t stop thinking about: “Why are we paying for the destruction of people?”, asked AME Senior Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr.[1] 
I don’t know about you, but I am struggling how to respond to these two questions— our churches’ silence before war crimes and our complicity with genocide by paying for the bombs that will be fired on Gaza tonight. 
How would you respond to these two questions?

“Prominent Black Church Leaders Call for End of U.S. Aid to Israel”. New York Times, February 16, 2024:

Author: B. Hunter Farrell
World Mission Initiative
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

co-author, Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility & Co-Development (

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