On Saturday, April 28, 2018, Dr. Serene Jones, the President of Union Theological Seminary, announced the death of James H. Cone, the father of black liberation theology. He was 79.

Cone launched the field of black liberation theology in 1969 with his first book Black Theology and Black Power. This was followed by twelve books and over 150 essays and articles in which he upended theology as we had come to know it in his insistence that God takes sides with the poor and dispossessed. Black reality in the United States became the point of departure for talk about God’s identification with “the least of these.” Cone’s most recent book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” earned the Grawemeyer award in religion and on April 18, he was elected to the 2018 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Cone was the Bill & Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he taught for nearly 50 years. He was a frequent lecturer at Candler, and in an August term some years ago he and I co-taught a class on black liberation theology. Students were moved by his prophetic teaching and commitment to the liberation project. His legacy will continue to shape generations of students.

I had the privilege to be a member of the first cohort of students who completed the PhD in systematic theology under his direction. He was a close friend and colleague who provided inspiration for my career. He has returned to God from whom he came. To his children, grandchildren and colleagues at Union Theological Seminary, we extend our condolences.

Top photo: Erskine (left) and Cone, taken during their 1990s Candler A-term course on black liberation theology.