Join us for an in conversation event featuring award winning author Dr. Randal Jelks, where he will discuss his most recent work, Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver and Muhammad Ali. His book explores the faith stories of four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali. Dr. Jelks will be available after the event for a book signing.
About the Book
In 1964, Muhammad Ali said of his decision to join the Nation of Islam: “I know where I'm going and I know the truth and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want to be.”
This sentiment, the brash assertion of individual freedom, informs and empowers each of the four personalities profiled in this book. Randal Maurice Jelks shows that to understand the black American experience beyond the larger narratives of enslavement, emancipation, and Black Lives Matter, we need to hear the individual stories. Drawing on his own experiences growing up as a religious African American, he shows that the inner history of black Americans in the 20th century is a story worthy of telling.
This book explores the faith stories of four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver, and Muhammad Ali. It examines their autobiographical writings, interviews, speeches, letters, and memorable performances to understand how each of these figures used religious faith publicly to reconcile deep personal struggles, voice their concerns for human dignity, and reinvent their public image. For them, liberation was not simply defined by material or legal wellbeing, but by a spiritual search for community and personal wholeness.
About the Author
Randal Maurice Jelks is Professor of African and African American Studies and American Studies. He holds courtesy appointments in History, Religious Studies, and is the co-Editor of the journal American Studies. Jelks is a graduate of the University of Michigan (BA in History), McCormick Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity) and Michigan State University (Ph.D. in Comparative Black Histories). Jelks is also clergy person in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is the author of the two award winning books African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids (The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which was awarded the 2006 State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan and Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (University of North Carolina Press 2012), awarded the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association. His forthcoming book is titled Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver and Muhammad Ali (Bloomsbury January 2019). Currently Jelks is writing a new book titled My Friends Call Me Benny: The Benjamin Mays Story for Young Readers. In addition serving as an executive producer of a two-part biographical documentary I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled. Jelks has been a fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Park Triangle, North Carolina and has held a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Masaryk University, Brno Czech Republic (2015), has been a Visiting Lecturer at University of Regensburg (2014), Regensburg, Germany and taught at the University of Ghana, Institute for African Studies (2001 and 2007)