Posts by Carolyn Matthews

  • Black History is American History – February 16

    February 16, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Suzan Johnson Cook (1957)

    There are some stories and words that for some reason strikes a chord in a place deep within our hearts. Dr. Cook’s words in the last paragraph of this entry had that effect on me.

    Suzan Johnson Cook was born January 28, 1957, in New York City. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father, a trolley car driver and together they founded a security guard business that moved the family from Harlem, New York, to a home in the Gunn Hill section of the Bronx, New York. Cook was one of the few African American children to attend the Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx, and her parents helped to organize an African American Parent Teachers Association. Cook studied acting and singing at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she received her B.S. degree. She received her M.A. degree in education from Columbia University, her M.Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and her D.Min. Degree from Ohio’s United Theological Seminary. She is also a graduate of Harvard University’s President’s Administrative Fellows Program.

    In 1983, Cook was appointed pastor of the Mariner’s Temple Baptist Church in lower Manhattan, becoming the first African American woman to be named pastor of an American Baptist Church. At Mariner’s Temple, she inaugurated the Wednesday Lunch Hour of Power. After thirteen years of service, during which the membership increased from 15 to 500, in 1996, she became the founder and senior pastor of the Bronx Fellowship Christian Church. In 1990, David Dinkins appointed Cook as the first woman chaplain to the New York Police Department. She was also the first woman to be elected president of the Hampton University Minister’s Conference, the largest gathering of African American Clergy in the country.

    Cook served on the Domestic Policy Council in the White House in 1993, and with HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros as a consultant on Faith Initiatives from 1994 to 1997. She then became the co-founder and chief operating officer of JONCO Productions, Inc., a sales, management, and diversity firm which hosts a speaker’s bureau and media/book distributions. She is the author of several books including the best seller, Too Blessed To Be Stressed, released in 2002. In 1997, Ebony magazine named Cook one of the top fifteen women in ministry in the nation, and in 2000, she was named one of New York’s top five preachers.

    In 2010 President Barack Obama appointed Cook to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, a position created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. After being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she was sworn in on May 16, 2011, making her the first woman and first African American to hold this position. Her main responsibility was advancing the president’s agenda on promotion of the right to freedom of religion as a universal human right across the globe.

    Ambassador Johnson Cook left her post in October 2013, returning to private life as a minister and motivational speaker. Cook is married to Ronald Cook and they have two sons, Samuel David and Christopher Daniel.

    Cook was greatly influenced in her decision to pursue a career in ministry by Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon (our Wednesday entry), a Presbyterian minister and theologian. Cook speaks eloquently and forcefully about her call: “I make no apologies for being a woman. And I make no apologies for being a woman in ministry. If God didn’t want me to be in the ministry, he would not have called me. If he didn’t want me to preach, he would not have shut up the fire in my bones. If I couldn’t preach, I believe I would spontaneously combust. I even preach in my dreams. That’s one of the ways I knew God was calling me into the ministry in my early twenties; I would be sound asleep and wake up preaching.”

    Taken from:

    An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin McMickle

  • Black History is American History – February 15

    February 15, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Lucie E. Campbell (1885 – 1963)

    Lucie E. Campbell (Williams) was born on April 3, 1885, in Duck Hill (Carroll County), Mississippi, the youngest of nine children of Burrell and Isabella (Wilkerson) Campbell. Her father worked for the Mississippi Central Railroad and her mother worked as a cook. Shortly after Lucie’s birth, Burrell Campbell was killed in a train accident. In 1889 Isabella Campbell moved her family to Memphis. She not only wanted her children to receive an education, but she also wanted them exposed to the performing arts. She could not afford a musical education for all of her children, so Isabella sent Lora, Lucie’s sister, for piano lessons. Lucie would listen and practice the lessons on her own. When Lora wanted to cease the lessons, Lucie readily embraced the opportunity. Educated in the Memphis public schools, in 1899 Lucie Campbell graduated from Kortrecht High School (later Booker T. Washington) as class valedictorian at the age of fourteen. Later, she earned her baccalaureate degree from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and a master’s degree from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University.

    Campbell began her teaching career at Carnes Avenue Grammar School. In 1911 she was transferred to her high school alma mater where she taught American history and English. Respected by her colleagues as an educator, Campbell was elected vice president of the American Teachers Association. From 1941 to 1946 she served as president of the Tennessee Teachers Association (TTA). The same year that her tenure as president of the TTA ended, Campbell was named to the National Policy Planning Commission of the National Educational Association.

    Like other women of her era, Campbell was an activist for civil and social justice. In the same city that saw Ida B. Wells once take a determined stance against segregation, and coming a decade before Rosa Parks’ galvanizing act of civil disobedience, Campbell too defied the era’s Jim Crow laws by refusing to relinquish a seat in the whites-only section of a streetcar. As president of the Negro Education Association, she struggled with governmental officials to redress the pay scale and benefit inequities for Negro teachers. In 1938, at the invitation of President Franklin Roosevelt, Campbell attended the Negro Child Welfare Conference.

    While pursuing her vocation as a professional educator, Campbell also pursued her musical avocation. In 1904 she organized a group of Beale Street musicians into the Music Club. This group later became a thousand voice choir under the direction of Lucie that performed at the National Baptist Convention. In 1915 she was elected the Music Director of the National Sunday School and Baptist Training union Congress. She wrote songs and pageants for the Congress as well as the Congress’ study lessons and other instructional materials. In 1919, she published her first song, ‘Something Within’ followed by more than 100 other songs.

    In her position as music director for the National Baptist Convention’s Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress, Campbell introduced young promising talent and auditioned musicians to appear before the convention’s audiences. Such individuals included Marian Anderson, J. Robert Bradley, Thomas A. Dorsey, and Mahalia Jackson. In 1919, twenty years before she was denied access to Washington’s Constitutional Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Campbell introduced Marian Anderson (the first African-American singer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera) to the convention and served as her accompanist. She also discovered renowned Baptist singer J. Robert Bradley when he was twelve years old. Selected in the 1940s by English composer Roger Quilter to introduce his songs, Bradley gained global fame as “Mr. Baptist.”

    Lucie was the first woman among pioneering African-American gospel music composers such as the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, Thomas Andrew Dorsey, and the Reverend William Herbert Brewster. A trailblazing composer during the “Golden Age of Gospel,” she published more than one hundred compositions in America’s newly created musical genre, including “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (1921), “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done” (1933), “In the Upper Room” and “My Lord and I” (1947), and “Footprints of Jesus” (1949). Major gospel singers including Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Ruth Davis and the Davis Sisters recorded her songs. Campbell, like Tindley and Dorsey, endeavored to articulate the conventional language of everyday people in her compositions. As a composer her professional career covered the years from 1919 to 1962, a forty-three-year period during which few years passed without her penning a composition. Sung by everyone,  Campbell’s songs became standards. From 1919 through the 1920s and 1930s many of her songs were included in the Gospel Pearls, Inspirational Melodies No. 2, and Spirituals Triumphant Old and New, songbooks published by the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.

    On January 14, 1960, Lucie E. Campbell married her lifelong companion and business partner, the Reverend C. R. Williams. In June 1962, while preparing to attend a banquet held in her honor given by the National Sunday School and the Baptist Training Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., Campbell-Williams became gravely ill. She died six months later on January 3, 1963, in Nashville.

    Sources and further reading:

    An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin McMickle

    Bobby L. Lovett and Linda T. Wynn, Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee History (1996); Elizabeth Patrick, “Lucie (Lucy) Campbell Williams” in Notable Black American Women, Jessie C. Smith, ed. (1992); William M. Washington, ed., Miss Lucie Speaks (1971).


  • Black History is American History – February 14

    February 14, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Rev. Dr. Katie G. Canon (1950)

    For the next few days I will be featuring women preachers and musicians. This comes from a personal place and in preparation for my own preaching on this coming Sunday. Yes, there are women preachers, and yes there are women of color who are preachers/academics. When it comes to representation this is important and not just in regard to representation. If we are true to biblical teachings, Old and New Testament, we realize that women held places of leadership in biblical history.

    Dr. Katie G. Cannon was born in 1950 and was reared in Kannapolis, North Carolina. She experienced the Jim Crow oppression of the South, where racial segregation was the order of the day.

    Cannon’s teaching career took her first to the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She then taught at Temple University in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Cannon is currently the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

    Cannon is credited with a long list of firsts and many academic and scholarly achievements. In 1974 she was the first African American woman to be ordained into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of the USA. In 1983 she became the first African American woman to earn a doctor of philosophy degree (in Christian ethics) from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Barber Scotia College in North Carolina and a master of divinity degree from Johnson C. Smith School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta Georgia.

    Cannon’s most notable contribution is her development of a theological perspective known as womanist theology or womanism. Womanism seeks to critique traditional feminism pointing out the ways that the dual struggles of being black and female and being black, female, and poor in America have not been addressed by feminist thinkers, most of whom have reflected on feminist issues from the position of white privilege. Womanist scholars seek to reflect upon issues of oppression while using the experience of black women as the point of departure.

    Womanism seeks to offer a perspective from which the interrelated issues of oppression based upon race, gender, and class can be viewed. It also wonders how so much of earlier Protestant theology managed not to make these connections any sooner. Thus womanist theology offers a sharp critique of racism within the ranks of feminism and an equally sharp critique of sexism within the black church, black theology, and the civil rights movement.

    This information and full entry can be found in the book, An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage by Marvin A. McMickle.

    For further reading:

    Katie Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community.

    Jacqueline Grant, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Experience as a Source for Doing Theology with Special Reference to Christology,” The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center 13 (spring 1986)

    C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience.


  • Black History is American History – February 13

    February 13, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922 -1999)

    Marie Van Brittan Brown was the inventor of the first home security system. She is also credited with the invention of the first closed circuit TV.  Brown was born in Queens, New York, on October 22, 1922, and resided there until her death on February 2, 1999, at age seventy-six. Her father was born in Massachusetts and her mother was from Pennsylvania.

    The patent for the invention was filed in 1966, and it later influenced modern home security systems that we still use today. Brown’s invention was inspired by the security risk that her home faced in the neighborhood where she lived. Marie Brown worked as a nurse and her husband, Albert Brown, worked as an electronics technician. Their work hours were not the standard 9-5, and the crime rate in their Queens, New York City neighborhood was very high. Even when the police were contacted in the event of an emergency, the response time tended to be slow. As a result, Brown looked for ways to increase her level of personal security. She needed to create a system that would allow her to know who was at her home and contact relevant authorities as quickly as possible.

    Brown’s security system was the basis for the two-way communication and surveillance features of modern security. Her original invention was comprised of peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone. The final element was an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately.

    Three peepholes were placed on the front door at different height levels. The top one was for tall persons, the bottom one was for children, and the middle one was for anyone of average height. At the opposite side of the door a camera was attached with the ability to slide up and down to allow the person to see through each peephole. The camera picked up images that would reflect on the monitor via a wireless system. The monitor could be placed in any part of the house to allow you to see who was at the door.

    There was also a voice component to enable Brown to speak to the person outside. If the person was perceived to be an intruder, the police would be notified with the push of a button. If the person was a welcome or expected visitor, the door could be unlocked via remote control.

    Marie and Albert Brown filed for a patent on August 1, 1966, under the title, “Home Security System Utilizing Television Surveillance.” Their application was approved on December 2, 1969. Brown’s invention gained her well-deserved recognition, including an award from the National Scientists Committee and an interview with the New York Times on December 6, 1969.

    Brown’s invention laid the foundation for later security systems that make use of its features such as video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. Her invention is still used by small businesses, small offices, single-family homes, and multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and condos. The Browns’ patent was later referenced by thirteen other inventors including some as recently as 2013.

    Brown was the mother of two children, one of whom, Norma Brown, went on to become a nurse and inventor.

    Sources and more:

    Raymond B. Webster, African American firsts in science & technology, (1999); The Inventor of the Home Security System: Marie Van Brittan Brown by Think Protection; Patent: US 3482037 A; “Brown Interview with the New York Times,” New York Times, December 6, 1969. Contributor: Hill, Rebecca