Cover image for The color of Christ : the Son of God & the saga of race in America
The color of Christ : the Son of God & the saga of race in America
Blum, Edward J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2012]

Physical Description:
340 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Explores the dynamic nature of Christ worship in the U.S., addressing how his image has been visually remade to champion the causes of white supremacists and civil rights leaders alike, and why the idea of a white Christ has endured.
Prologue -- Introduction: The holy face of race -- Part I: Born across the sea. When Christ crossed the Atlantic ; Revolutionary visions in colonial confines ; From light to white in the early republic -- Part II: Crucified and resurrected. Body battles in antebellum America ; Christ in the camps ; Nordic and nativist in an age of imperialism -- Part III: Ascended and still ascending. The great commission in the Great Depression ; Civil rights and the coloring of Christ ; A deity in the digital age -- Epilogue: Jesus jokes.
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Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR515 .B59 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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How is it that in America the image of Jesus Christ has been used both to justify the atrocities of white supremacy and to inspire the righteousness of civil rights crusades? In The Color of Christ , Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey weave a tapestry of American dreams and visions--from witch hunts to web pages, Harlem to Hollywood, slave cabins to South Park, Mormon revelations to Indian reservations--to show how Americans remade the Son of God visually time and again into a sacred symbol of their greatest aspirations, deepest terrors, and mightiest strivings for racial power and justice.

The Color of Christ uncovers how, in a country founded by Puritans who destroyed depictions of Jesus, Americans came to believe in the whiteness of Christ. Some envisioned a white Christ who would sanctify the exploitation of Native Americans and African Americans and bless imperial expansion. Many others gazed at a messiah, not necessarily white, who was willing and able to confront white supremacy. The color of Christ still symbolizes America's most combustible divisions, revealing the power and malleability of race and religion from colonial times to the presidency of Barack Obama.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* How did Jesus come to be portrayed as white? And why is he an inspiration for both white supremacists and slaves? Blum and Harvey trace the tangled history of religion and race in America, revealing how racial politics have affected religious practices and how religion has been used and misused in the practice of racial politics. Despite efforts by Puritans to escape depictions of Christ, Christianity in America evolved to rely on an image glorifying Europeans. Beyond the set image, slaves identified with a fellow sufferer, while masters identified with an image that reinforced notions of white superiority. New printing technology, industrialization, immigration, the rise of imperialism all aided in the wide distribution of bibles with pictures of a white Jesus, reinforcing the notion of white superiority over darker-skinned people. Blum and Harvey explore how the image of Christ has been constantly remade to suit the social politics of individual nations, mostly blond-haired and blue-eyed but at times and places decidedly Middle Eastern, even Native American, black, and Hispanic, as believers have struggled to depict a savior in line with their deepest yearnings. Photographs and other images of Christ enhance this thoroughly fascinating book.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this powerful and groundbreaking book, historians Blum (Reforging the White Republic) and Harvey (Freedom's Coming) examine how images of Jesus reflect the intersection of race and religion in America. Blending historical analysis, lucid prose, and captivating primary sources, Blum and Harvey trace the remaking of Jesus from Puritan America to antebellum slave cabins, from Joseph Smith's revelations to Obama's presidency. The authors compellingly argue that Christ's body matters, that it signifies power, reflects national fears and evolving conceptions of whiteness, and perpetuates racial hierarchies by continuously reifying the idea that whiteness is sacred. Blum and Harvey deconstruct the axioms that racial groups simply depict God in their own image, that the white Jesus of America is a mere replication of European art, and that Jesus has been depicted as white since America's colonization. The authors devote significant time to exploring how marginalized groups, especially African-Americans and Native Americans, have reacted to and reimagined representations of Jesus. They masterfully probe how a sacred icon can be a tool at once of racial oppression and liberation. A must-read for those interested in American religious history, this book will forever change the way you look at images of Jesus. (Sept. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Consider the visage of Jesus Christ. No simple task, as Blum (history, San Diego State Univ.; Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism) and Harvey (history, Univ. of Colorado; Freedom's Coming: Religious Cultures and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era) demonstrate in their compelling study of the image of Jesus through American history, from the evangelism of early European colonists to the Obama presidency. The authors begin and end with one moment: the 1963 Birmingham Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four girls were killed and the (white) face of Jesus was blown out of a stained glass window (later replaced by an image of a black Jesus). The Bible provides no physical description of Jesus, leaving believers and opinion makers to visualize him as they will. And they will, generally, visualize him as a tall, handsome, long-haired, bearded white man. This book explores the sociopolitical reasons for this, through many intriguing voices taken from scores of primary and secondary sources. VERDICT Dense, scholarly, and evenhanded, well paired with Stephen Prothero's American Jesus (which it references), this work will captivate readers of American religious and racial history.-Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Blum (history, San Diego State Univ.) and Harvey (history, Univ. of Colorado) trace American Christianity's changing pictorial depictions of Jesus, and how those representations reinforced or challenged white power and privilege. The book's time line stretches all the way from the resistance to pictorial representations of Jesus in early America to 19th-century efforts to make Jesus look "European," based on what was largely known to be a false description of Jesus. The history continues with efforts by ethnic liberation theologians to depict a "black" Jesus or a "Native American" Jesus. The book demonstrates the complex connections between religion, culture, and politics, and how religion has sometimes served to reinforce secular political platforms such as white supremacy or nativism. The numerous illustrations represent one of the most helpful parts of the book, since they make the authors' points vivid and easy to follow. This is a key work for students of American Christianity, but also a worthwhile read for undergraduates and general readers interested in the intersection of race, Christianity, and religion. It is an important acquisition for religion collections of all types. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above. A. W. Klink Duke University

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Introduction: The Holy Face of Racep. 7
Part I Born Across the Sea
1 When Christ Crossed the Atlanticp. 27
2 Revolutionary Visions in Colonial Confinesp. 53
3 From Light to White in the Early Republicp. 76
Part II Crucified and Resurrected
4 Body Battles in Antebellum Americap. 105
5 Christ in the Campsp. 120
6 Nordic and Nativist in an Age of Imperialismp. 141
Part III Ascended and Still Ascending
7 The Great Commission in the Great Depressionp. 173
8 Civil Rights and the Coloring of Christp. 205
9 A Deity in the Digital Agep. 234
Epilogue: Jesus Jokesp. 266
Acknowledgmentsp. 279
Notesp. 283
Indexp. 327