The Social Gospel in Black and White

American Racial Reform, 1885-1912

By Ralph E. Luker

464 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 illus. , notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4720-6
    Published: March 1998
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6310-7
    Published: November 2000

Studies in Religion

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

1992 Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America

In a major revision of accepted wisdom, this book, originally published by UNC Press in 1991, demonstrates that American social Christianity played an important role in racial reform during the period between Emancipation and the civil rights movement.

As organizations created by the heirs of antislavery sentiment

foundered in the mid-1890s, Ralph Luker argues, a new generation of black and white reformers--many of them representatives of American social Christianity--explored a variety of solutions to the problem of racial

conflict. Some of them helped to organize the Federal Council of Churches in 1909, while others returned to abolitionist and home missionary strategies in organizing the NAACP in 1910 and the National Urban League in 1911. A half century later, such organizations formed the institutional core of America's civil rights movement. Luker also shows that the black prophets of social Christianity who espoused theological personalism created an influential tradition that eventually produced Martin Luther King Jr.

About the Author

Ralph E. Luker, adjunct professor of history at Morehouse College, is author of the Historical Dictionary of the Civil Rights Movement and editor of the memoirs of Mary White Ovington.
For more information about Ralph E. Luker, visit the Author Page.


"[Luker] has given the proper prescription to cure the astigmatism of the historians looking at the social gospel and racial reform, and provided a gold mine of references for more extensive digging."--Christian Century

"Luker makes a good case for broadening the definition of the Social Gospel to include the white and African-American reformers who struggled for solutions to racial strife and injustice. . . . Superb."--American Historical Review

"Massive, thoroughly documented, clearly written, [and] judicious."--Church History

"Historians of American racial reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have treated this movement largely in secular terms. Through prodigious research in manuscripts and dusty tracts, Ralph Luker has enriched and corrected that literature by a detailed account of the role of social gospel leaders and footsoldiers in the work of black social amelioration, education, and social protest. He presents the social gospel spokesmen in all their diversity, black and white, conservative and liberal, enthusiastic and agonizing. After Luker's work, the black-white struggle over social justice will never be the same, particularly in its intellectual and attitudinal dimensions."--Louis R. Harlan, University of Maryland at College Park

"Broadly conceived and meticulously researched, this is the most thorough study yet done of religion and racial reform in the Social Gospel era. Luker has made a major contribution to a reinterpretation of American religious history that makes race continuously (and not just intermittently) a central theme in the story."--David W. Wills, Amherst College