Over the past two years, I have been conducting research for a book project on African American freethought, an orientation that ranges from non-traditional forms of religious belief (such as Deism or pantheism) to atheism and agnosticism. There is no developed historiography on this topic, however I have found a good amount of secondary and primary sources thus far and would like to share some of these for others interested in the topic. Some of these deal specifically with black freethought, while others examine white freethought or American religion but nevertheless provide a useful theoretical grounding for studying black freethinkers.
Anthony Pinn, The End of God Talk
Anthony Pinn, Varieties of African American Religious Experience
Anthony Pinn, Introducing African American Religion
Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, Vol. 1
Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism
James Turner, Without God, Without Creed
Barbara Savage, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us
Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion
Jeffrey B. Ferguson, The Sage of Sugar Hill
Thadious M. Davis, Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance
Mark D. Morrison-Reed, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination
Rebecca Goetz, The Baptism of Early Virginia
John R. McKivigan, The War Against Proslavery Religion
Daniel Fountain, Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation
Zachary McLeod Hutchins, “Rejecting the Root: The Liberating, Anti-Christ Theology of Douglass’s Narrative” Nineteenth-Century Literature Vol. 68 No. 3 (December 2013), pp. 292-322
Scott C. Williamson, The Narrative Life: The Moral and Religious Thought of Frederick Douglass
Waldo E. Martin Jr., The Mind of Frederick Douglass
Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison
Michael Lackey, African American Atheists and Political Liberation
Qiana J. Whitted, A God of Justice?
Published Primary Sources
Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Daniel Payne, “Slavery Brutalizes Man” Lutheran Herald and Journal of the Fort Plain, N.Y., Franckean Synod 1:15 (August 1, 1839)
Anthony B. Pinn, By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism
Anthony B. Pinn, Writing God’s Obituary
John Jea, The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher. Compiled and Written by Himself
James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries
Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice
Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
Nella Larsen, Quicksand
Richard Wright, The Outsider
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
William R. Jones, Is God a White Racist?
Sikivu Hutchinson, Moral Combat
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea
George Schuyler, Black and Conservative
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black
Arnold Rampersad, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Harry Heywood, Black Bolshevik
Yuval Taylor, ed. I was Born a Slave, Vol. 1
Gwendolyn Hall, ed. A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle
Autobiography of W.E.B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century
Jeffrey B. Perry, ed., A Hubert Harrison Reader
James Weldon Johnson, Along This Way
Newspapers and Periodicals
The Pittsburgh Courier
New York Amsterdam News
Alain Locke Papers. Manuscripts Collection, Moorland-Springarn Research Center, Howard University.
James Forman Papers, 1848-2005. Library of Congress.
James Baldwin Early Manuscripts and Papers, 1941-1945. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Richard Wright Papers, 1927-1978. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Langston Hughes Papers. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Zora Neale Hurston Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
W. E. B. Du Bois Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Hubert H. Harrison Papers, 1893-1927. Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Alice Walker Papers, Emory University Archives
This list is certainly not comprehensive but I think does showcase some of the best sources I have found to approach my research on black freethinkers. Other types of sources I will be looking at in the coming year include itinerant minister’s journals from the 19th century, as I’ve come across two that reference black atheism, interviews with former slaves, autobiographies and papers of black socialists and communists, and records of organizations that black freethinkers participated in or led, including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Black Panther Party.