James Hal Cone, considered the “Father of Black Liberation Theology,” died Saturday, April 28 at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, according to reports. He was 79.
Cone founded Black Liberation Theology in the late 1960s, inspired by both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christian message and Malcolm X’s freedom by “any means necessary” mantra.
Cone published several groundbreaking books, “Black Theology & Black Power” (1969), “A Black Theology of Liberation” (1970) and “God of the Oppressed” (1975), in which he maintained that God is Black and fiercely called out the White theology community for their hypocrisy and silence when it came to the Black struggle in America.
“He once called himself ‘the angriest theologian in America,’ and explained that he was driven to rage by the failure of leading white theologians to forcefully condemn institutional racism, and especially lynching,” The Washington Post reported.
Born on Aug. 5, 1938, in Fordyce, Arkansas, and raised in nearby Bearden, Cone began his journey in ministry as a teenager. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Philander Smith College in 1958, a Bachelor of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1961 and a master’s and doctorate from Northwestern University in 1963 and 1965.
In his lifetime, Cone received 13 honorary degrees, including an honoris causa from the Institut Protestant de Théologie in Paris, American Black Achievement Award (1992), Theological Scholarship and Research Award (1994), Fund for Theological Education Award (1999), Arkansas Black Hall of Fame (2003) and the Julius C. Hope Champion of Social Justice Award (2006). This year, he was elected to the 2018 class of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Cone’s most recent book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” earned him the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, jointly awarded by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville.
Cone taught Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York until his death.
He is survived by his sons Michael and Charles, daughters Robynn and Krystal, and two grandchildren, Jolei and Miles.
A funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Monday, May 7 at Riverside Church in New York City. The service will be livestreamed.