A Knock at Midnight: A Pedagogy of Womanist Spirituality

Valerie Moss

Language: English

Published: Nov 15, 2011


Author's abstract: African Americans, who have a spirituality rooted in African American religious traditions, often tend to thrive in life in spite of adversities (Billingsley, 1999; Raboteau, 2001; Ross, 2003, West, 1999; Williams & Dixie, 2003). The voices of African American women, nevertheless, remain marginalized in the larger society (Jones & Shorter-Gooden, 2003), in the Black Church (Coleman, 2008; St. Clair, 2008; Weems 1998/2005), and in academia (Pollard & Welch, 2006). Grounded in a wide array of African American theoretical traditions such as womanist theology (Canon, 1988; Grant, 1989, 1995; Weems, 1993, 1998/2005, 2004, 2005), black liberation theology (Cone, 1975/1997), beloved community (King, 1963), and the African concept of ubuntu (Battle, 2006, 2009; Tutu, 2004), and drawing on a variety of research methodologies such as spiritual autobiographies (Lee, 1836; Elaw,1846; Foote, 1879; Truth, 1892/1988), narrative and autobiographical studies (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Ellis & Bochner, 2003; Llewellyn, 2006; Nash, 2004), and personal~passionate~participatory inquiry (He & Phillion, 2008) inquiry, I explore my life and the life of my mother as African American educators working during the recurrent historical eras of segregation and desegregation in the U.S. South. The ideas and works of African American women, such as Jarena Lee (1836), Rebecca Cox Jackson (Walker, 1983), Zilpha Elaw (1846), Sojourner Truth (1850/2005), Julia A. Foote (1879), Ella Baker (Ransby, 2003), Dorothy Height (2003), Katie Canon (1988), Renita Weems (1988/2005,1993, 1999, 2004, 2005), and Delores William (1993) have given me "gifts of power" (Walker, 1983) which encourage me to hope despite the impinging darkness. I turn to the metaphor of "a knock at midnight" (King, 1963) to narrate our stories, paired with biblical stories, to illuminate the persistent nature of African American womanist spirituality in terms of courage, intelligence, persistence, heritage, persecution, hopelessness, unity, abuse, and devotion, which counter the meta narrative that often portrays African American women as invisible, trivial, and powerless creatures. I call for a pedagogy of womanist spirituality that honors black women's voices and experiences, counters hegemonic forces which constantly threaten to silence black women, challenges African Americans' narrowed focus on materiality, honors African American religious and spiritual heritages, and educates African Americans to thrive in life while maintaining dreams, hope, love and freedom in an unjust world