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The preeminent scholar of black Unitarian Universalist history presents this long-awaited chronicle and analysis of the events of the Empowerment Controversy.

Product Code: 6595
ISBN: 9781558968196
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Skinner House Books
Pages: 440
Size: 8.5 x 5.5
Published Date: 06/06/2018
Availability:In stock
Price: $20.00

Mark D. Morrison-Reed, the preeminent scholar of black Unitarian Universalist history, presents this long-awaited chronicle and analysis of the events of the Empowerment Controversy, which rocked Unitarian Universalism in the late sixties and continues to reverberate. It was a time of revolution, of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Like the country, the young Unitarian Universalist Association was forced to reckon with demands for change and found itself fractured by conflict about the implications of a commitment to racial justice. Morrison-Reed synthesizes decades of research and extensive interviews to present a nuanced and suspense-filled drama about Unitarian Universalism’s great crisis of faith. As he writes, “Perhaps wisdom can be gleaned from the pain and upheaval of those years, a wisdom that will be of use today in a new era.” Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy represents a completion of the historical arc Morrison-Reed has traced since the publication of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination.

Meadville Lombard Theological School has compiled a selection of companion resources to enrich, deepen, and broaden an understanding of the era in which the events of the Empowerment Controversy occurred. To view those resources, click here.

To view a list of discussion questions created by the author, click here.

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Before and After Selma [1964–1966]

The Emergency Conference on the UU Response to the Black Rebellion [August 1966–November 1967]

The Formation of the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus [November 1967–May 1968]

The Cleveland General Assembly and Its Aftermath [May–December 1968]

Prelude to Controversy [January–July 1969]

Boston General Assembly [July 1969]

The Black Affairs Council Disaffiliates from the UUA [1970]

The Washington, D.C., General Assembly [1971]

Deadlocked [1972–1975]

Black Power Was the Trigger, Not the Cause

Endings and Beginnings


“The story of the Empowerment Controversy related here is a tale of honorable people pursuing dreams of racial justice, while battered by historical forces beyond their control and social circumstances not of their making, circumstances that forced them to choose between dearly held but conflicting values. It was a collision of worldviews and loyalties in which every decision was colored by the partakers’ humanity: noble intentions alongside inflamed passions; egocentrism masquerading as activism; susceptibility to self-delusion, defensiveness, and, as tragedy requires, hubris. The members of the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus, its white allies, contesting integrationists, and the institutional loyalists who saw themselves as fighting for the financial survival of the fledgling Unitarian Universalist Association all misconstrued and racialized a broader range of tensions. Cultural and denominational pressures that had been mounting along several fault lines were increased by the urgency of the late sixties and then released by the cause de jour. Underlying it all were competing needs for power and control.

A British Unitarian observer at that General Assembly said, ‘One can only hope that out of the heart-searching, the agony, and tears, love and justice will emerge triumphant.’ Tragedy rarely leads to triumph. But perhaps wisdom can be gleaned from the pain and upheaval of those years, a wisdom that will be of use today in a new era of turmoil and polarization.”

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