Ed Vaughn on Detroit’s Famous Black Madonna Chancel Mural

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Excerpt of interview by scholar Paul Lee with Edward Vaughn, who explains how he oversaw the creation of Detroit’s world-famous Black Madonna and child chancel mural at Shrine of the Black Madonna #1 of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC), 7625 Linwood at Hogarth, conducted at the church’s Black Theology room, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013.


Known as Mwalimu (Kiswahili for “teacher”), Vaughn happened to be visiting Detroit, where he once owned a nationally-known “black” bookstore on Dexter Avenue ( from his hometown of Dothan, Ala., on the first Sunday of the PAOCC’s Anniversary Month, which this year celebrates the church’s Diamond, or 60th, anniversary:

Mwalimu Vaughn stopped by the Mother Shrine, as PAOCC members call it, to see his old friend and fellow Nashville University classmate Cardinal Karamo Omari, a. k. a., Ronald Hewitt.


In late 1966, the church’s pastor, Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, then known as the Rev. Albert B. Cleage, Jr., who was often called “Rev.” by his parishioners, directed Mwalimu Vaughn, chairman of the Heritage committee of what was then known as Central United Church of Christ (UCC), to replace the church’s chancel mural.

Installed when it was the all- or mostly-“white” Brewster-Pilgrim Congregational church, it portrayed the 1620 landing at Plymouth Rock by Elder William Brewster, who had sailed aboard the “Mayflower” to the “New World.”

Mwalimu Vaughn commissioned artist Glanton V. Dowell to paint an 18-by-nine-foot oil chancel mural of a Black Madonna and child. It was inspired by “Black Madonna,” a poem by Detroiter Kofi Harun Wangara, then known as Harold G. Lawrence, published in “Negro Digest” in June 1962, which could be read online here:

However, Mwalimu Vaughn first had to persuade Jaramogi Agyeman to abandon his idea of a mural of a Black Messiah, or Christ, which he wanted Jon (later Onye) Lockard to paint. Dowdell chose as his model Rose Waldron and was assisted in painting the mural by local activist General G. Baker, Jr.


Jaramogi Agyeman unveiled the mural on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, when he proclaimed the Black Christian Nationalist Movement, or BCN, which sought self-determination in a “black nation within a nation.”

“We really don’t need a sermon this morning,” Jaramogi Agyeman began. “We could just sit here and look at the Black Madonna and marvel that we’ve come so far…; that we can conceive of the possibility of the son of God being born by a black woman.

“And that’s a long way for us ’cause it wasn’t so long ago when that would’ve been an impossible — an impossible — conception because our idea of ourselves was so distorted. We didn’t believe that even God could use us for His purpose because we were so low, so despised, because we despised ourselves. We despised ourselves.

“And to have come to the place where we not only can conceive of the possibility, but to have come to the place where we are convinced, upon the basis of our knowledge, of our historic study, upon the basis of all the facts, that we are not only capable of conceiving of the idea, but we are convinced that Jesus was born to a black Mary; that Jesus, the Messiah, was a black man; [and] that the nation that he came to save was a black nation.”

A portion of his sermon could be heard online here:

The church was rechristened the Shrine of the Black Madonna in January 1968.


Photos of both murals could be seen online on “Finding Eliza,” the blog of Kristin Cleage Williams, the eldest of Jaramogi Agyeman’s two daughters, here:


In the summer of 1967, Mwalimu Vaughn and Cardinal Karamo invited fellow Fisk graduate Nikki Giovanni, then a rising poet in the Black Arts Movement, to attend the Second Annual Black Arts Convention (also Conference), which Mwalimu Vaughn’s black nationalist discussion group, Forum ’66, held at Central UCC from June 29-July 2. Giovanni saw the new mural and later mentioned it in her 1968 poem “The Great Pax Whitie,” which could be read online here:


Before leaving the church to return to Alabama, Mwalimu Vaughn was warmly received in the pastor’s study by PAOCC Presiding Bishop Demosthene Nelson, a. k. a., Jaramogi Menelik Kimathi. “I got half my education in your bookstore!” the presiding bishop told Mwalimu Vaughn.

(Paul Lee Video)

A Nation Within a Nation: Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman Explains ‘Black’ Self-Determination

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Interview with Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, founder of the Shrines of the Black Madonna of the Pan African Orthodox Christian church (PAOCC) and father of the modern “black” theology movement, late December 1967/early January 1968.


A mesmerizing orator, brilliant organizer and innovative thinker, Agyeman, born Albert B. Cleage, Jr., founded his socially active church on March 19, 1953, after he and 300 supporters left Detroit’s moderate St. Mark’s Community Church, United Presbyterian, to form St. Mark’s Independent Community Church, separate from the Presbyterian denomination.

In November 1953, the new church joined the Congregational Association, becoming St. Mark’s Congregional and later Central Congregational. In October/November 1965, it became Central United Church of Christ in line with the new denomination formed by the Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed churches in 1957. It soon became a center of local and national black nationalist activity.

On Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967, Agyeman unveiled a striking 18-by-nine-foot chancel mural of a Black Madonna and child by Glanton Dowdell (00:55) and proclaimed the Black Christian Nationalist Movement (BCN), “recapturing the historic Black Messiah” and “undertaking today to rebuild the disunited Black Nation just as Jesus did 2000 years ago.” Central was rechristened the Shrine of the Black Madonna in January 1968.

At the First Black Christian Nationalist Convention in April 1970, the BCN Movement became the BCN Church, a new “black” denomination, and Cleage was renamed Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (translated as “Liberator of the People,” “Defender,” “Blessed Man”) in 1972. The denomination became the PAOCC and Agyeman its first holy patriarch in 1978. From 1975-99, churches were established at Atlanta; Kalamazoo, MI; Houston; and the Beulah Land Christian Center, near Calhoun Falls, SC, most with cultural centers and bookstores.


From an activist family, Agyeman was on the front-lines of Detroit’s civil-rights and Black Power movements, leading selective buying campaigns against discriminatory businesses, protesting against police brutality, fighting for the improvement of inner-city schools and the hiring of “black” teachers and principals and pioneering in the development of “black” economic cooperatives.

He was a co-founder of the Detroit Council for Human Rights, sponsor of the historic “Walk To Freedom” led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on June 23, 1963, and a member of the Group on Advanced Leadership, which sponsored two of Malcolm X’s most famous speeches in 1963 and 1964. From 1965-68, he led three Black Power groups: the Inner City Organizing Committee, Citywide Citizens Action Committee and Federation for Self-Determination.

Agyeman was also a pioneer in independent “black” political action, co-founding both the all-“black” (except for Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs) Michigan Freedom Now Party, which ran a slate of candidates in 1964, including Agyeman for governor, and the Black Slate, which helped elect dozens of “black” politicians, including Coleman A. Young as Detroit’s first African American mayor in 1973.

He authored two books based on his sermons, “The Black Messiah” (1968) and “Black Christian Nationalism: New Directions for the Black Church” (1972), and was a contributing editor of “The Illustrated News,” a militant paper published by his family (1961-64).

He married, and later divorced, the former Doris Graham, a schoolteacher, and fathered two daughters, Kristin Cleage Williams, an artist, and Pearl Cleage, an essayist, novelist and playwright.


The NBC interview was conducted in the front left pew of the sanctuary of Central, 7625 Linwood Ave., by the respected Chester (Chet) Huntley, who co-anchored with David Brinkley “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” the top-rated evening news program.

The interview was for “Detroit Rebuilds,” a two-part special, broadcast nationally on Jan. 23 and 30, 1968, on the municipal, private and grassroots efforts to rebuild the city’s mostly “black” West Side after the five-day “Rebellion,” as Agyeman and many other “black” Detroiters called it, which erupted on July 23, 1967, the worst urban uprising in U. S. history up to that time.

Huntley’s introduction, not included in the video, was as follows: “Homes, shops and even lives were not the only casualties of last summer’s riot. Traditional, accepted, middle-class Negro leadership was rejected. New, strident voices were heard and the dominant one at the moment is a blue-eyed, fair-skinned Negro minister, the Rev. Albert Cleage.”

Agyeman’s remarks on the proper relationship between government-private sector initiatives and the “black” community (1:12) were in reply to Huntley’s question, also not in the video, “Well, is it that you doubt the genuineness and sincerity of these people, both in government and in the private sector of the city?”

(NBC News Video Courtesy ThoughtEquity.com)

Mourning a Martyr: Viola Liuzzo’s Funeral

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Excerpt from raw television outtakes of the end of the funeral of civil-rights martyr Viola Gregg Liuzzo, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church, Detroit, Mich., March 30, 1965.

Mrs. Liuzzo, a Detroit wife, mother and member of the progressive First Unitarian-Universalist church, who had become active in supporting the civil rights of African Americans, was shot to death by members of the “white” supremacist Ku Klux Klan (KKK), including an undercover informer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while driving a “black” man from Montgomery to Selma, Ala., following the historic voting-rights march to the Alabama capital on March 25, 1965.

Among the 350 mourners were civil-rights, labor and religious leaders from across the country, including the Rev. James E. Wadsworth, Jr. (00:00, 2d from left), pastor, Fellowship Chapel, Detroit; Roy Wilkins (00:00, 3d from left), executive secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Walter P. Reuther (00:00, right), president, United Auto Workers (UAW), and his wife, May (00:01, right); James L. Farmer, Jr. (00:02, right), national director, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); U. S. Rep. Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (D.-Mich.) (00:07, right); John R. Lewis (00:27, right), chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and Dorothy Dewberry (later Aldridge; 00:28, right, bows), coordinator, Detroit Area Friends of SNCC.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and James R. Hoffa, president, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), also attended, but do not appear in this excerpt.

The mourners left the service to the strains of “We Shall Overcome,” the unofficial anthem of the civil-rights movement.

Paul Lee in Concert – First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi

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On Friday, October 22, 2010, Paul Lee was featured in a gala concert on the five manual, one-hundred fifty-five rank pipe organ in the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi. The concert was presented by the Jackson Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The pipe-organ at First Baptist, Jackson, was built by the Quimby Pipe Organ Company and is the ninetheenth largest pipe organ in the world.