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HANDOUT 1: Empowerment Controversy Time Line

Adapted from a time line created by the Reverend Julie Kain, originally published in In Their Own Words, Alice Forsey, ed. (Starr King School for the Ministry, published as part of an oral history project, Conversation with Participants in the Black Empowerment Movement within the Unitarian Universalist Association).

July, 1964 — Harlem Riots, New York

February 21, 1965 — Malcolm X assassinated, New York

February 26, 1965 — Jimmie Lee Jackson shot and killed, Alabama

A young African American man and a deacon of his church, Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed while attempting to defend his family from Alabama state troopers.

March, 1965 — Civil rights marches, Alabama

Marches in Selma and Montgomery led to clashes between civil rights workers and police. Unitarian Universalist minister James Reeb and Unitarian Universalist civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo were murdered by white supremacists.

August, 1965 — Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, Washington, DC

August 1965 — Watts Riots, Los Angeles

July 1967 — Newark Riots, New Jersey

October 1967 — Emergency Conference, Biltmore Hotel, New York City

Following racial unrest and rioting in the United States, the UUA's Committee on Religion and Race and Department of Social Responsibility, headed by Director Homer Jack, convened the "Emergency Conference on Unitarian Universalist Response to the Black Rebellion." Of the approximately 135-140 participants, 37 were African American. Early in the conference, 30 of the African American participants gathered at the invitation of members of Black Unitarian Universalists for Radical Reform (BURR), an organization from the Los Angeles Unitarian Universalist church that supported the Black Power movement. The gathered caucus, which came to be known as the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUC), drew up and presented to the conference a list of "non-negotiable demands" including

  • Establish a Black Affairs Council (BAC) for Black self-determination
  • Fund BAC at 250,000 dollars per year for 4 years (12 percent of the UUA's annual budget)
  • Grant BAC sole authority over the use of the funds
  • BAC members were to be elected by BUUC

The caucus' recommendation was accepted by the Emergency Conference delegates by a 2/3 majority, though the vote had no binding authority with the UUA Board of Trustees. Among the caucus members was Hayward Henry (later Mtangulizi Sanyika), a board member of Boston's Second Church, who would go on to chair the national BUUC effort.

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November 1967 — Board of Trustees Meeting, Boston

At an emotionally charged meeting, representatives from BUUC presented their proposal to the UUA Board of Trustees asking for an up or down vote on each item. The Board, itself divided over the proposal and methods of BUUC, voted down the proposal and passed a resolution to reorganize the Commission on Religion and Race, inviting BUUC participation. In bitter disappointment, BUUC recommended that Unitarian Universalist churches withdraw financial support from the UUA Annual Program Fund until the next General Assembly could meet.

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November 1967 — SOBURR, Los Angeles

At a meeting of approximately 50 delegates of the Pacific Southwest District, Louis Gothard of BURR reported on the Board's actions. The primarily white group present formed the Supporters of BURR (SOBURR) to organize White support of Black empowerment efforts. Los Angeles ministers Stephen Fritchman and Roy Ockert were among the supporters.

February 1968 — National Conference of Black Unitarian Universalists, Chicago

Two hundred and seven delegates represented 600 Black Unitarian Universalists. Among the attendees were Ben Scott from Boston, Richard Traylor (later Mjenzi Traylor) from Philadelphia, Renford Gaines (later Mwalimu Imara), a theological student from Meadville Theological Seminary, and George Johnson from Oakland, who had been hired by the UUA to develop congregational participation in civil rights activities. The conference established the Black Affairs Council (BAC) with six Black and three White members.

March 1968 — UUA Board of Trustees Meeting

The Board, still divided over the best course of action, invited BAC to have affiliate status. Although BUUC and BAC called for support of groups with Black leadership, the Board, saying they could not forfeit their own responsibility in race empowerment, instead formed two UUA groups: the Fund for Racial Justice and the Commission for Action on Race. Hayward Henry charged that the Board's refusal to fund BAC and to allow the BAC to control such funding reflected "a traditional racist and paternalistic approach to black problems."

April 4, 1968 — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Memphis

April 1968 — FULLBAC, Philadelphia

Patterned after SOBURR, a new organization for the Full Recognition and Funding of BAC (FULLBAC) was created. Leadership came from two Philadelphia ministers, David Parke and Rudolph Gelsey. During the meeting at which FULLBAC was organized, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was announced.

May 1968 — BAWA, New York City

Responding to the formation of groups of White allies who supported the pro-empowerment groups, a group of Black and White Unitarian Universalists formed a pro-integration group, Black and White Alternative, which later became Black and White Action (BAWA). Cornelius MacDougald, board chair of the Community Church in NYC and chair of the UUA's Commission on Religion and Race at the time of the Emergency Conference, and Donald Harrington, minister of Community Church, provided leadership.

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May 1968 — General Assembly, Cleveland

The General Assembly (GA) resolution to meet BUUC's demands for BAC funding of one million dollars over four years passed by vote of 836 to 327. Victor Carpenter later wrote that this showing of support for BAC's agenda "gave the nation its first example of a denomination's making a significant 'reparational' response to the conditions of racism in America."

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June 1968 & May 1969 — UUA Board of Trustees Meetings

Following the commitment of funding for BAC, the UUA administration and Trustees discovered that all of the UUA's unrestricted endowment funds had already been spent. The denomination did not have adequate funding to continue its current operations. At the May meeting, the administration recommended to the Trustees that BAC funding not be reduced, but that it instead require reaffirmation each year, and that an additional 50,000 dollars be used to fund BAWA.

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July 1969 — General Assembly, Boston

The issue of funding for BAC and BAWA was highly controversial at the General Assembly. Matters came to a head over a proposal to change the agenda and move the funding issue from the end of the agenda to the beginning. The contentious debate led first to a forced possession of the microphone by members BUUC/BAC, FULLBAC and Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), and later to a walkout by BUUC members. Jack Mendelsohn, BAC vice-chair and minister of Boston's Arlington Street Church, addressed the Assembly saying, "Our Black delegates of BAC have now left the room. They have left this Assembly, and they have left our movement, because life and time are short...the Assembly is returning to business as usual and to the position of Black people at the back of the bus." Mendelsohn invited all who wanted to discuss the issues to leave the GA and meet at Arlington Street, just blocks away. More than 400 people participated in "The Walkout" (the GA had 1379 voting delegates) calling themselves "The Moral Caucus." Dana Greeley, outgoing UUA President, convinced them to return the following day. In a close vote, BAC funding of 250,000 dollars was reaffirmed, and BAWA received no funding. Robert West was elected the next president of the UUA.

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December 1969 — BAC Bond Program

Under the leadership of Richard Traylor, Ben Scott, and Hayward Henry, BAC traveling workshops began. Churches were asked to convert half their investment portfolio to BAC bonds for Black Humanistic economic development.

January 1970 — UUA Board of Trustees Meeting

Under severe economic pressure, the Board voted to pay 200,000 dollars per year for five years rather than 250,000 dollars for four, extending the time frame for paying the promised million dollars to BAC. BAC moved to disaffiliate from the UUA, making the organization free to seek independent funding.

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June 1970 — General Assembly, Seattle

BUUC/BAC officially boycotted GA, but workshops and seminars on the BAC bond program to fund economic development were presented. Over the course of a few months, the bond program raised 800,000 dollars. At the Assembly, a motion to restore BAC funding was defeated.

March 1972 — UUA Board of Trustees Meeting

Financial support for BAC and BAWA was obtained through a Veatch Fund grant. 180,000 dollars was allocated for BAC and 45,000 dollars for BAWA. BAC was voted Associate organization status.

February 1973 — BUUC Sixth Annual Meeting, Philadelphia

Due to major disagreements over the future of BAC and BUUC, the organization split. One faction voted to reorganize as the Black Humanist Fellowship (BHF) in order to forge closer ties with other Black empowerment movements and sever ties with the UUA. Two organizations claiming to be BAC emerged. Litigation followed.

1979 — BAC Associate Status Ends

Although BAC's status as a UUA Associate formally ended in 1979, it is estimated that following the controversy of the late 60s and early 70s, over 1,000 Black Unitarian Universalists left the denomination.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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