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The Imposing Preacher

Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Black Public Faith

By Adam L. Bond

Publication Year: 2013

As a distinguished Baptist pastor, educator, and public servant, Samuel DeWitt Proctor made it his mission to serve American life by fighting against racism. In The Imposing Preacher, Adam Bond shows how Proctor, as the product of a prophetic black church tradition, a social gospel-laced liberal Protestantism, and a black middle-class integrationist ethos, envisioned a type of pulpit activism through which the United States could realize a civil society and genuine community, and was able to anticipate and contest some of the themes articulated in the black religious movements of the late twentieth century.

Bond shows Proctor to be a public theologian committed to developing an inclusive and racially pluralistic global society that confronts racism as the social crisis of its time. Proctor did not respond to segregation through marches and visible protests. Instead he saw the classroom and the pulpit as the sacred spaces for dialogue about race in America. In this way, he presents an alternative model of religious and social leadership and for studies of African American religion in the twentieth century.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Books are the products of teamwork. Though the ideas and words belong to the authors, someone (or several people) created an environment in which the authors could flourish. Such has been the case in my life. Several people worked with me and on my behalf to make this book possible....


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-6

In his 1972 New York Times article, George Dugan gives a fitting description of the new pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor. Dugan states, “Rugged looking in his black doctoral robe, close to 6 feet tall and weighing 210 pounds, the 51-year-old preacher was an imposing figure in the pulpit.”1 Proctor was a grand presence indeed. Yet...

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pp. 7-34

The waning years of the civil rights movement produced a flurry of theological activity among clergy and professors within the black Christian experience. That activity, to some extent, carried into the late-twentieth-century writings and sermons of these thinkers. One of the watershed moments that prompted the surge of ideas was Stokely Carmichael’s “Black Power” proclamation. The....

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2 On the Making of a Public Theologian

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pp. 35-74

Samuel DeWitt Proctor was a prominent Baptist minister, college president (of two historical black colleges), and former associate director of the Peace Corps during the Kennedy-Johnson administration—among other things.1 Yet Proctor’s beginnings were humble, as an African American growing up in a segregated community in Norfolk, Virginia. He lived under Jim Crow...

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3 On the Making of a Public Faith

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pp. 75-114

Samuel DeWitt Proctor’s faith provides insight into understanding his concerns about racism in America. His understanding of those doctrines or faith claims that make up the Christian witness is an amalgam of his experience as an African American and his theological education (local church and academic). He was a bridge figure or pragmatic harmonizer. His was a theology that made theory...

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4 Everybody Is God’s Somebody

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pp. 115-148

Proctor’s public faith had at its foundation a concern for black humanity. His numerous sermons and publications reflect a belief in the worth of persons, especially, but not limited to, African Americans. Race remained a constant in his religious reflections. His own experience as an African American included Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and the introduction of affirmative...

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5 Preparing Public Theologians

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pp. 149-178

Samuel D. Proctor moved into retirement in 1989 with a desire to enhance the work of Christian ministry in America. He wanted to pass along the knowledge he had accumulated over his long and fruitful career. The instruction he sought to provide for up-and-coming church leaders brought together his public, practical, and pastoral theologies. He especially wanted to convey his ....

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6 Creating a Genuine Community

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pp. 179-208

The notion and construction of a “genuine community” was Samuel DeWitt Proctor’s remedy to the racial crisis in the United States. The nation’s glaring social disparities were the product of centuries of racist practices, he believed. He envisioned a world in which justice and fairness prevailed. And he believed that the United States could achieve community. He saw it in his own life....

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pp. 209-218

Samuel DeWitt Proctor has been a neglected person in research on American Christianity. This book makes the case for his inclusion into the “canon” of American church history. He was a public theologian who channeled his faith claims into strategic activities meant to transform American society. He forged his theological position in the nurture of an African American community, a black Baptist experience and institution, and a liberal theological seminary...

Appendix: Photo Gallery

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pp. 219-222


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pp. 223-234

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 235-246

Index of Biblical References

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p. 247-247

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781451452242
E-ISBN-10: 1451452241
Print-ISBN-13: 9780800699727
Print-ISBN-10: 0800699726

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013