Black Nonbelievers Speak Out

2 Feb

African Americans for Humanism (AAH) has launched an ad campaign, highlighting the rise in religious skepticism among African Americans. Coinciding with Black History Month, the campaign features prominent African American humanists from history along with contemporary activists and organizers.

AAH is a program of the Council for Secular Humanism that supports nonreligious African Americans.

Ads began appearing January 30 and January 31 in New York City; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; and Durham, North Carolina. On February 6, the campaign will be launched in Dallas. Advertisements will be placed on roadside billboards and in public transit sites. The Stiefel Freethought Foundation provided substantial creative and financial support for the campaign.

African Americans may be the most religious minority in the United States, but many feel that the churches don’t speak for them. AAH hopes that the campaign will bring attention to the presence of and increase in religious skepticism within the black community, encourage those who have doubts about religion to share their concerns and join other freethinkers in their local communities, and educate many about the history of black freethought.

All of the ads display the same message: “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many.” On the ads, images of writer-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poet-activist Langston Hughes, and social reformer-publisher Frederick Douglass are paired with contemporary freethinkers. Representing their respective hometowns are activists leading the way for African American nonbelievers, including Mark D. Hatcher of the Secular Students at Howard University, Mandisa L. Thomas of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. (Atlanta), Kimberly Veal of Black Nonbelievers of Chicago, Jamila Bey of African Americans for Humanism–Washington, DC, Veronique Matthews of the Triangle Freethought Society, Leighann Lord of the Center for Inquiry–Harlem, Alix Jules of the Dallas–Ft. Worth Coalition of Reason, and Sikivu Hutchinson of Black Skeptics Los Angeles.

“African Americans who question religion often feel rejected by religious family and friends, and by the greater black community,” said Debbie Goddard, director of AAH. “But there is a rich heritage of religious skepticism and humanism in black history. By featuring the historical faces as well as the modern in our ad campaign, we show people that questioning religion is not new and that there are many of us here.”

Between 1990 and 2008, the number of Americans without any religious affiliation nearly doubled, from 8 percent to 15 percent, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Among African Americans the increase was also nearly double, from 6 percent to 11 percent.

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