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  • Dancing Redemption's Song, Across GenerationsAn Interview with Katie G. Cannon
  • Alison Gise Johnson (bio)

womanist, mentoring, pedagogy, African American history

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Katie G. Cannon

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Alison Gise Johnson

Katie Geneva Cannon is an ethicist, theologian, and educator whose work focuses on womanist theology and black theology. Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, in 1950, Cannon was educated in Kannapolis's segregated elementary schools and attended Barber-Scotia College, a historically black college [End Page 75] founded in 1867 to prepare freed slave women and their daughters for careers in the working world. She later received a master of divinity from Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Georgia and a master in philosophy and PhD in religion from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She was the first black woman to be ordained a Presbyterian minister. Cannon has held teaching positions at Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Wellesley College, and Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is currently the Annie Scales Rogers Professor for Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

In addition to contributing over fifty book chapters, Cannon is author or editor of eight books: God's Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and Theological Education (with the Mud Flower Collective) (1985); Black Womanist Ethics (1988); Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community (1998); Inheriting Our Mothers' Gardens: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective (with Lefty Russell, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, and Kwok Pui-lan) (1988); Alienation and Anger: A Black and a White Woman's Struggle for Mutuality in an Unjust World (with Carter Heyward and Sung Min Kim) (1992); Teaching Preaching: Isaac Rufus Clark and Black Sacred Rhetoric (2007); Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader (with Emilie Townes and Angela Sims) (2011); and the Oxford Handbook of African American Theology (with Anthony Pinn) (2014).

After writing a paper on the matriarchal character of the Book of Jeremiah, I was invited by my Hebrew Bible professor to go and have a talk with Dr. Katie Cannon about my writing. I did. I walked into her office at Temple University, sat down and looked at the artwork and buttons papering the walls. At her prompting, I began my story of what I had written in my Hebrew Poetry course, and stated that Professor Wright sent me to her to discuss my writing. She listened and then began asking questions, as if to excavate my soul. "What is your work?" she asked. "I want to develop a restorative ethic of community based on the Hebrew Bible," I answered. "Sounds like you want to be an ethicist," she said. The interrogation continued, "How long do you want to be here?" As if speaking in tongues, I heard myself say, "Not long. I think my community needs me."

Over the course of an hour, which is the standard amount of time given to each student meeting, Dr. Cannon articulated the hierarchy of theological disciplines—Hebrew Bible, New Testament, history, theology, with ethics bringing up the rear. I responded that I did not care about hierarchies, but I did need her to flesh out what exactly an ethicist was since that was the only course in which I received a C in my master's program. I told her I needed help with my writing; she assured me that because I was a thinking being, with the right tools, writing would not be a problem. She invited me to take her class. I tried to register for it, but it was at capacity requiring that I call her directly for permission. I did. To my surprise, she answered, and we talked and laughed for more time than [End Page 76] I can recall. After hanging up, my husband, Ross commented that whomever I was talking to would play a very special part in my life. "To whomever I was talking to ..." At that time, I had no idea this beautiful soul had been a forerunner in every arena in which she walked. Katie Geneva Cannon, the first African American woman ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA; the first woman to earn a PhD from Union...


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