A Bibliography of African American Freethought

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.

Secondary Sources

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
The Messenger

Archival Collections

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.

Share with a friend:
Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission.


Chris Cameron

Chris Cameron is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research and teaching interests are in African American and early American history, especially abolitionist thought, liberal religion, and secularism. He is the author of 'To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement' (Kent State University Press, 2014) and 'Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism' (Northwestern University Press, 2019). Follow him on Twitter @ccamrun2.

Comments on “A Bibliography of African American Freethought

  • Avatar

    You might want to add J. Saunders Redding and James Weldon Johnson.

  • Avatar

    Great post, Chris. Looking forward to hearing more as the project unfolds. Here are a few items I thought about as I read over your excellent list.

    1. Phil Zuckerman on WEBD’s “irreligion”
    2. WEBD, Prayers for Dark People
    3. WEBD UMass digital archive (including 1960 oral history with William Ingersoll)
    4. James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption (ed. Randall Kenan) [2010]
    5. James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985
    6. Freedomways Reader (ed. Esther Cooper Jackson)
    7. Howard “Stretch” Eugene Johnson, A Dancer in the Revolution
    8. Also, Anthony Pinn has forthcoming novel titled The New Disciples that might be of interest.

  • Avatar

    Thank you both for these great suggestions! I will definitely check out these people/sources.

  • Avatar

    Very helpful, thanks very much.

Comments are closed.