- Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois by Kerry Pimblott
Kerry Pimblott's Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois seeks to challenge conventional claims that Black Power groups and black church denominations possessed separate agendas during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. According to the author, the Cairo United Front, based in Cairo, Illinois, combined the ideological and political efforts of Black Power and black theology to create a multipronged political, legal, economic, and social approach to combating racial violence and discrimination in the local black community.
The monograph follows an inception-to-decline narrative of the United Front and its key leaders, Charles Koen and Hattie Kendrick. Chapter 1 chronicles the history of the African American community in Cairo and emphasizes the role of faith communities in the development of local identity. Although this history parallels many of the dynamics of the national narrative of African American history, local and national intersections are not consistently made explicit. Chapter 2 explains the early rise of civil rights efforts in Cairo by focusing on the tensions between the comparatively more diplomatic leaders of the NAACP and the Black Power–driven youth. This chapter also expertly weaves together collections of handwritten notes and local newspaper articles, as well as reports, minutes, and various papers from the Student Nonviolent [End Page 213] Coordinating Committee and the local chapter of the NAACP, to describe Koen's and Kendrick's lives. Chapter 3 recounts the founding of the United Front in 1969 and its growth into a political organization whose main purpose was to bring together "disparate ideological wings" from both the Black Power movement and black churches (p. 105). Chapter 4 describes financial strategies that black churches implemented to support the political efforts of the United Front. Like chapter 2, this section contains strong narrative components driven by reports, records, and letters from prominent leaders of the local movement. Chapter 5 addresses the decline of the organization beginning in 1972 amid the challenges associated with navigating the "triple threat of a conservative president, an unsympathetic Republican governor, and an intractable civic elite dominated by members of a formidable local chapter of the WCC [White Citizens' Council]" (p. 186). Local police and legal officials put great pressure on activists' efforts, resulting in the arrest and conviction of several of the organization's leaders. Black churches retracted financial support from the organization. Despite its limited long-term political effectiveness, the United Front still managed to have future success on the legal front, which is detailed in the concluding chapter. The events in Cairo inspired the United States Commission on Civil Rights to hold a three-day hearing in 1972 to investigate the "'poverty [and] racial strife'" that seemed abundant in the area and to determine whether these events were unique or representative of the future of the nation's black urban populations (p. 219). The commission made nineteen recommendations but yielded few results, some of which would not be actualized in any way until nearly a decade later.
In addition to her focus on the local efforts of the United Front, Pimblott also sets out to examine the importance of women's leadership within the organization. In that regard, the author's treatment of Hattie Kendrick as a key figure is comparatively underdeveloped. Still, Pimblott's ability to connect the dynamics of Cairo, Illinois, and the United Front to larger national histories of civil rights and social justice are quite commendable. Future microhistories of grassroots efforts like those described in this monograph would give us a much-needed nuanced interpretation of Black Power and black faith during a key period in the history of social justice movements.