By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
“Give, and it will be given to you.”
Luke 6:38 (NIV), The Bible
During Black Philanthropy Month and throughout the year, religious institutions are, among other things, both the recipients of charitable contributions and the distributors of charity. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois described the work of one Black church in the following manner:
Various organizations meet here, –the church proper, the Sunday-school, two or three insurance societies, women’s societies, secret societies, and mass meetings of various kinds. Entertainments, suppers, and lectures are held beside the five or six regular weekly religious services. Considerable sums of money are collected and expended here, employment is found for the idle, strangers are introduced, news is disseminated and charity distributed. At the same time this social, intellectual and economic centre is a religious centre of great power. (Chapter 10, “Of the Faith of Our Fathers”)
Both Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were early 20th-century philanthropist-educators with first-hand knowledge of the significant role that Black churches played in community life. More recently, Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists (2011) and Robert P. Madison’s Designing Victory, A Memoir (2019) have provided more examples of church support for Black families, Black communities, and Black businesses.
As we approach the end of Black Philanthropy Month (August) 2020, interested readers are invited to take a look at the Fullwood book, which inspired “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland,” and the Madison book, which tells the life story of one of the honorees featured in this 2019 Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) exhibition. Both titles can be purchased online via the WRHS website at https://www.wrhs.org/s/merchandise/wrhs-store/.