James Cone is a distinguished public intellectual and a black prophetic voice speaking into the white void. As the father of black liberation theology, his works stand alone as seminal and profound insights into the black spiritual and theological experience. He has taught systematic theology through the black experience. His works have been translated into nine languages. He began writing in the late ’60s and has continued into the ’10s.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) is his latest work and it is beyond thought-provoking; it is a call to action. It is an analysis of America through two symbols. More than an analysis, it is a criticism of something so deep in our DNA as Americans: post-civil war lynching of black Americans. Billie Holiday’s song Strange Fruit comes to life in the pages of this book.
The cross and the lynching tree are parallels historically. The cross was a first-century lynching. Black people rejected the control of the white power structures resembled by the lynching tree in favor of a new meaning: one where no man can kill the God-given spirit within you. Whites cannot win.
This has perpetual implications for today in the white void full of empty, soulless bodies oppressing the souls of black folk through white supremacy and white power. This oppression is in the DNA of America; 246 years of slavery and 100 years of legal segregation and lynching hang over America’s mantle, perpetually wedging itself in between blacks and whites in America. We cannot leave this history to fester since silence only empowers the powerful. Protest empowers the disenfranchised.
Everyone should read this book because everyone can benefit from a neo-marxist critical lens applied to America’s white hegemonic history. No honest individual can read this book and leave the experience thinking America innocent in the struggle for justice.
Anyone who seeks to find ammunition against white supremacy in all forms should pick up this book. Power through powerlessness is the way of the cross, and all forms of black resistance embody this power dynamic. God is the power that empowers the black spirit. This book embodies that spirit; I long to live in a world where everyone has Cone on their shelves.