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50 Anniversary of the Unveiling of the Black Madonna

by Pastor Mbiyu Chui

On Easter Sunday, 1967, something epic and profound happened on the corner of Linwood & Hogarth in Detroit, Michigan that had a ripple effect across the entire African Diaspora. Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr. (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), founder and 1 Holy Patriarch of the Shrine of the Black Madonna unveiled a visually stunning and poignantly stirring chancel mural of the Black Madonna. Creating enough controversy to shake the fragile foundation of traditional Christian belief, this theological tsunami occurred during the rise of the Black Power Movement, giving birth to a wave of cultural awakening among the black masses. This historically correct rendering of the Mother of Jesus, not only edified the son of GOD being born of a Black woman, but also the knowledge and biblical accuracy that a black man came, suffered and died to save a Black Nation. It was essentially a statement of 

our shared faith. However, on a much broader level the unveiling of the Black Madonna reflected tremendous meaning for Black culture in America, as an unfolding conception of the value and power of our history, faith, religion and experience as a people. It helped black people feel a little less uncomfortable about embracing who we are as African people born in America. It helped many who were previously afraid to think about Jesus as having some color (other than white), to revisit the distorted religion we were given on slave plantations across the South.

Truth-be-told it forced Black theologians, preachers and biblical scholars, if even against their will, to rethink the false history, theology and interpretation of Christianity we have adopted without any critical consciousness. Culturally speaking the Black Madonna has served to elevate the archetypical image long held of Black women at home and abroad, returning her to a position of integrity, honor and reverence in the world. It also created the opportunity to marry the truth of this historical revelation with the power of an iconic image. If self-image is key to the human personality and human behavior, then the image of the Black Madonna has served to heal the psychic wounds of millions of black folks who have suffered from the white myth of Black inferiority for centuries. The image of the Black Madonna ushered in a new era for the pursuit of truth among Black artists, painters, poets, writers, singers, dancers, and creative artisans throughout the country and beyond. Even today, some 50 years later, the reawakening of black consciousness among young black millennials is yet made possible by the aftermath of a watershed event-- the unveiling of the beautiful Black Madonna!!!

This event is being presented in celebration of the Grand Opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the 50th Anniversary of the Unveiling of the Black Madonna do not necessarily represent those of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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