The Cross and the Lynching Tree
By: James H. Cone
"Based on impressive research, Cone argues that the lynching tree is a viable reality/symbol for reflection on the cross of Christ. According to Cone, understandings of the cross and lynching tree can mutually inform one another and explain how events of trauma and injustice can still inspire hope for the African American community.” --Christianity Today
"No one has explored the spiritual world of African Americans with the depth or breadth of Cone. Here he turns his attention to two symbols that dominated not only the spiritual world but also the daily life of African Americans in the twentieth century. In their inextricable tie, he finds both the terror and hope that governed life under violent racism as well as potent symbols of the African American past and present in the United States." --Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
"Once again James Cone demonstrates why he is indispensable as an interpreter of faith, race, and the American experience." —Bill Moyers
"James Cone is a world-historical figure in twentieth- century Christian theology. The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a powerful and painful song for hope in our dance with mortality—a song Cone courageously has led for over forty years!"—Cornel West
The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk. Both the cross and the lynching tree represent the worst in human beings and at the same time a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning. While the lynching tree symbolized white power and black death, the cross symbolizes divine power and black life God overcoming the power of sin and death. For African Americans, the image of Jesus, hung on a tree to die, powerfully grounded their faith that God was with them, even in the suffering of the lynching era.
James H. Cone (1938-2018) was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary. His books include A Black Theology of Liberation, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, and The Cross and the Lynching Tree, winner of the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. This year he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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