Book Review

Mark D. Morrison-Reed, Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy:  Black Power and Unitarian Universalism

By Ellen Campbell, First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto
Former CUC Executive Director, Former Member of the CUC Board of Trustees

January 24, 2019

Even as a small child, Mark Morrison Reed was bothered that there were so few people in the Unitarian church he and his parents attended who looked like him.  He felt at home and warmly loved in the church school, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and later the Youth Group.  But there were very few people in families like his.  This question has been a theme through Mark’s life and has directed the work he has done as a historian of Unitarian Universalism.

Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy: Black Power and Unitarian Universalism (Skinner House, 2018) is the fourth book Mark has written on the history of African American participation in the Unitarian Universalist community, and it deals with the explosive crisis in our denomination in the late 1960s and early 70s.

A number of Unitarians, particularly a new generation of young ministers, had become committed to the civil rights movement through their participation in the march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and were working in their communities with civil rights organizations.   Some congregations, mostly in urban areas, were beginning to develop racially integrated congregations, although the numbers were small.  The membership in most congregations, however, particularly in suburban locations and in New England (and Canada), was totally white.  Like the society around them, they displayed a full range of attitudes to racial integration, from very open and accepting to uncomfortable, and even racist.

Download and read the entire book review (pdf)

About Rev. Mark D. Morrison-Reed

Raised in the First Unitarian Society of Chicago, Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed served for 26 years as co-minister with his wife, Donna, at the First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York, and later the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto. He is a former president of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Board of Trustees and the Family Service Association of Metropolitan Toronto. He has also served as the vice-chair of the UUA Commission on Appraisal and Ministerial Fellowship Committee. As a historian of the African-American presence in UUism, he is the author of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination and Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism. He has also written In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby, is co-editor of two meditation manuals Been in the Storm So Long and Voices from the Margin and has several pieces in Guarding Sacred Embers: Reflections on Canadian Unitarian and Universalist History. He has retired from his affiliated faculty member at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago and from active ministry. He was also the coordinator of its Sankofa Archive, a collection of materials about the people of color who were UUs.

Read Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed’s 2013 CUC National Conference Keynote: Radical Inclusion