African American Judaism
African American Judaism
Washington, D.C. Community, 9185 Central Ave., Capitol Heights, MD 20743
The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem (formerly known as the Original Hebrew Israelite Nation, and also sometimes called the Kingdom of Yah) emerged in Chicago in 1967 around Ben Ammi Carter (b. 1939), a black man who had studied Judaism with a rabbi, and Shaleah Ben-Israel. To the black Jewish ideas (which were espoused by several groups in Chicago at this time) Carter and Ben-Israel added the concept of black Zionism and held out the vision of a return to the holy land for their members. From their headquarters at the A-Beta Cultural Center on Chicago’s south side, they began to gather followers. The somewhat anonymous group came into prominence in the late 1960s as a result of their attempts to migrate to Africa and then to Israel. The group moved first to Liberia, seen as analogous to the Hebrew children’s wandering in the desert for 40 years to throw off the effects of slavery. Soon after their arrival, they approached the Israeli ambassador about a further move to Israel. They were unable to negotiate the move to Israel for members in Liberia. In 1968 Carter and 38 members from Chicago flew directly to Israel. Given temporary sanction and work permits, the group from Liberia joined them. By 1971, when strict immigration restrictions were imposed upon members of the group, more than 300 had migrated. Other members of the group continued to arrive, however, using tourist visas that were destroyed upon moving into the colony (which had been established at Dimona). By 2008 between 2,000 and 2,500 had settled in Israel.
The black Israelites feel they are descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel and thus Jews by birth. They celebrate the Jewish rituals and keep the Sabbath. However, they are distinguished from traditional Jews by their practice of polygamy (a maximum of seven wives is allowed) and their abandonment of the synagogue structure.
The group is currently headed by Carter, the anointed spiritual leader, assisted by Prince Asiel Ben-Israel, the international ambassador. Under the princes are ministers responsible for providing education, distribution of food, clothing and shelter, economic assistance, transportation, sports, recreation and entertainment, life preservation, and sanitation. The group’s publishing arm, Communicators Press, produces inspirational books and audiotapes.
In Israel, members of the group live what they describe as active and fruitful lives, founded on the laws, commandments, and prophecies of the Holy One of Israel. In addition to keeping the Sabbath and holy days as directed in the Old Testament, they eat a vegan diet, wear natural fabrics, circumcise males eight days after birth, and follow laws of purification for women.
In 2008 the organization reported more than 2,500 members residing in three communities in southern Israel: Dimona, Arad, and Mitzpe Ramon. In the United States there are an additional 2,500 living in communities in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; Chicago; Atlanta, Georgia; St. Louis, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Tallahassee, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
In the wake of continuous immigration problems with the state of Israel during the 1970s, the group gained new prominence in 1980 when members in the United States were charged with the systematic theft of money, credit cards, and blank airline tickets, all of which were being used to support the group and assist members in their movement to Israel.
Carter, Ben Ammi. Everlasting Life: From Thought to Reality. Washington, DC: Communicators Press, 1994. 190 pp.
———. God, the Black Man, and Truth. Washington, DC: Communicators Press. 1982.
Fish, H. Bashford, “Trouble among the Children of the Prophets.” The Washington Post Magazine, February 7, 1982.
Gerber, Israel J. The Heritage Seekers: American Blacks in Search of Jewish Identity. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1977.
Whitfield, Thomas. From Night to Sunlight. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1980.
Yehuda, Shaleak Ben. Black Hebrew Israelites from America to the Promised Land: The Great International Conspiracy against the Children of the Prophets. New York: Vantage Press, 1975.
Temple Beth El, 3927 Bridge Rd., Suffolk, VA 23435
Elder William S. Crowdy (1847–1908), a black cook on the Sante Fe Railroad, claimed to have a vision from God calling him to lead his people to the true religion. He left his job and founded the Church of God and Saints of Christ in 1896 at Lawrence, Kansas. In 1900 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the first annual assembly was held. Crowdy died in 1908, and Joseph N. Crowdy (1875–1917) and William H. Plummer (1868–1931) succeeded him as bishops. Joseph N. Crowdy died in 1917, the same year that the headquarters was moved to Belleville, Virginia, where the church had purchased a large farm. In 1931 Calvin S. Skinner (1847–1932), the last leader appointed by the founder, became bishop, but he lived only three months thereafter. He passed the leadership to Howard Z. Plummer (1899–1940), who held it for many years.
The doctrine of the Church of God is a complex mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and black nationalism. Members are accepted into the church by repentance, baptism by immersion, confession of faith in Jesus Christ, receiving communion of unleavened bread and water, having their feet washed by the elder, and agreeing to live by the Ten Commandments. They must also have been taught how to pray according to Matthew 6:9–13, and they must have been breathed upon with a holy kiss. They believe that black people are the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. They believe in keeping the Ten Commandments and adhering literally to the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments as positive guides to salvation. The church observes the Jewish Sabbath and the use of corresponding Hebrew names. The church is a strong advocate of temperance.
The church is headed by its bishop and prophet, currently Rabbi Jehu August Crowdy Jr. (b. 1970), the great-grandson of the founder, who is divinely called to his office. He is believed to be in direct communion with God, to utter prophecies, and to perform miracles. The prophet presides over the executive board of twelve ordained elders. The church is divided into district, annual, and general assemblies. There are four orders of the ministry: bishops, missionaries, ordained ministers, and nonordained ministers. Deacons care for the temporal affairs of the church. Each local church bears the denominational name and is numbered according to its appearance in the state. The church at Belleville is communalistic, but other churches are not. The Daughters of Jerusalem and Sisters of Mercy is a women’s organization whose duty is to look for straying members, to help the sick and needy, and to care for visitors from other local churches. A 52-unit senior housing community was built in 1989.
In 2008 the church reported 40 tabernacles in the United States, one in Jamaica, and more than 70 in Africa.
Church of God and Saints of Christ—Temple Beth El. www.cogasoc.org
Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups. Fairview, OK: Bible Sabbath Association, 1986.
Fauset, Arthur Huff. Black Gods of the Metropolis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944.
Current address not obtained for this edition.
The Church of God (Black Jews) was founded in the early twentieth century by Prophet F. S. Cherry, who claimed to have had a vision calling him to his office as prophet. He was sent to America and began the church in Philadelphia. A self-educated man, Prophet Cherry became conversant in both Hebrew and Yiddish. He became famous for his homiletic abilities, colloquialisms, and biting slang.
The Church of God is open only to blacks, who are identified with the Jews of the Bible. White Jews are viewed as frauds and interlopers. The church does not use the term synagogue, the place of worship of the white Jews (Rev. 3:9). The church teaches that Jesus was a black man. The first men were also black, the first white man being Gehazi, who received his whiteness as a curse (11 Kings 5: 27). The white man continued to mix with the blacks, and the yellow race resulted. Esau was the first red man (Gen. 25:25). God is, of course, black. Black people sprang from Jacob.
The New Year begins with Passover in April. Saturday is the true Sabbath. Speaking in tongues is considered nonsense. Eating pork, divorce, taking photographs, and observing Christian holidays are forbidden. The end of the period that started with creation is approaching, and the Black Jews were to return in 2000 c.e. to institute the millennium.
PO Box 235, New York, NY 10027
The Commandment Keepers Ehtiopian Hebrew Congregation of the Living God emerged among West Indian blacks who migrated to Harlem, New York. The group began with the Beth B’nai Abraham Congregation founded in 1924 by Arnold Josiah Ford (1877–1935), an early black nationalist and leader in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founded by Marcus Garvey (1887–1940). Ford had repudiated Christianity, adopted Judaism, and learned Hebrew. During the years after the congregation began, Ford met Arthur Wentworth Matthew (1892–1973). Matthew was born in Lagos, West Africa, in 1892. His family moved to St. Kitts in the British West Indies and then, in 1911, to New York. Matthew became a minister in the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, a black Pentecostal church that had endorsed the UNIA. Then in 1919, with eight other men, he organized his own group, the Commandment Keepers: Holy Church of the Living God, over which he became bishop. In Harlem, he had met white Jews for the first time and in the 1920s came to know Ford. Possibly from Ford, Matthew began to learn Orthodox Judaism and Hebrew and began to acquire ritual materials.
Both also learned of the Falashas, the black Jews of Ethiopia, and began to identify with them. In 1930, Ford’s congregation ran into financial trouble. Ford turned over the membership to Matthew’s care and left for Ethiopia where he spent the rest of his life. The identification with Ethiopia merely increased through the years. In 1935, when Haile Selassie (1892–1975) was crowned emperor, Matthew declared himself leader of the Falashas in America and claimed credentials from Selassie.
The Commandment Keepers believe that the black men are really the Ethiopian Falashas and the biblical Hebrews who had been stripped of the knowledge of their name and religion during the slavery era. They believe it is impossible for a black man to conceive of himself as a Negro and retain anything but a slave mentality. With other black Jews, adherents believe the biblical patriarchs to have been black. Christianity is rejected as the religion of the Gentiles or whites.
An attempt has been made to align the Commandment Keepers with Orthodox Jewish practice. Hebrew is taught and revered as a sacred language. The Jewish holidays are kept, and the Sabbath services are held on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings and afternoons. Kosher food laws are kept. An Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College trains leaders in Jewish history, the Mishnah, Josephus, the Talmud, and legalism. Elements of Christianity are retained such as foot washing, healing, and the gospel hymns.
Matthew also taught kabbalistic science, a practice derived from conjuring the folk magic of southern blacks. By conjuring, Matthew believed that he could heal and create changes in situations. The conjuring is worked through four angels. In order to get results, one must call upon the right angel.
Matthew was succeeded by Rabbi Chaim White, who died in 1997; Rabbi Yhoshua Yohanatan succeeded Rabbi White until his retirement in 2000. The current spiritual leader is Rabbi Zecharia Lewi. In April 2007 the congregation closed its synagogue on 123rd Street in New York City and, as of 2008, is attempting to strategically position itself to carry on the mission and legacy set by its founder.
Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. commandmentkeeperscong.org
Brotz, Howard M. The Black Jews of Harlem: Negro Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Negro Leadership. New York: Schocken Books, 1970.
Ehrman, Albert. “The Commandment Keepers: A Negro Jewish Cult in America Today.” Judaism 8, no. 3 (Summer 1959): 266–270.
Current address not obtained for this edition.
The House of Judah is a small Black Israelite group founded in 1965 by Prophet William A. Lewis. Alabama-born Lewis was converted to his black Jewish beliefs (which are similar to those of the Church of God and Saints of Christ) from a street preacher in Chicago in the 1960s. Throughout the decade he gathered a small following out of a storefront on the south side and in 1971 moved the group to a twenty-two-acre tract near Grand Junction, Michigan. The group lived quietly and little noticed until 1983 when a young boy in the group was beaten to death. The incident focused attention on the group for its advocacy of corporal punishment. The mother of the boy was sentenced to prison for manslaughter. By 1985 the group had resettled in Alabama.
The House of Judah teaches that the Old Testament Jews were black, being derived from Jacob and his son Judah, who were black (Jeremiah 14:2). Both Solomon and Jesus were black. Jerusalem, not Africa, is the black man’s land. The white Jew is the devil (Rev. 2:9); he occupies the black man’s land but will soon be driven out. The House of Judah awaits a deliverer, whom God will send to take the black man from the United States to Jerusalem. He will be a second Moses to lead his people to the promised land. The group lives communally.
In 1985 there were approximately 80 members living on the farm in rural Alabama. There is only one center.
De Smet, Kate. “Return to the House of Judah.” Michigan, the Magazine of the Detroit News (July 21, 1985).
1941 Madison Ave. (125th St.), New York, NY 10027
The Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ Inc., formerly known as the Israeli Church of Universal Practical Knowledge, founded in New York City in the early 1990s is based in the identification of the biblical 12 tribes of Israel with the black and native people of North, Central, and South America. According to the church, black Americans are of the tribe of Judah. The remaining tribes include the indigenous people of the various areas of the Americas: Benjamin (Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas), Levi (Haiti), Simeon (Dominican Republic), Zebulon (Guatemala to Panama), Ephraim (Puerto Rico), Manasseh (Cuba), Gad (North America), Reuben-Seminole (Florida), Napthali (Argentina and Chile), Asher (Columbia to Uruguay), and Issachar (Mexico).
According to the church, nine of the 12 tribes left Assyria in the eighth century b.c.e. and sailed to the Americas. Three tribes—Judah, Benjamin, and Levi—were present in the holy land during the time of Christ. They were dispersed in 70 c.e. when Vespasian (9–79 c.e.) laid siege to Jerusalem, Israel. Some settled in West Africa. Here, Africans and Arabs sold them into slavery and eventually to the white men who brought them to America. This means that American blacks are Israelites, rather than Africans. Because Africans and Arabs sold the members of the tribes of Israel into slavery, American blacks were reluctant to affiliate with Africans and those from Islam.
In America, the church asserts, all of the Israelites have suffered at the hands of European Americans. White people are Edomites, the descendants of the biblical Esau (the son of Isaac and Rebecca). The Edomites are the enemy of God’s people, Israel, and their end is destruction. Thus God’s people should not integrate with the Edomites.
It is the goal of the Israelite Church to reunite the people of God now scattered across the Americas. According to the church, 1914 marked the beginning of the end of the Gentile age. Up until this time, the message of the Bible was sealed, but is now being revealed to the people of God. The Israelite Church uses only the King James Version of the Bible.
The Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ Inc. broadcasts a television program in 15 states and radio programs over stations in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
In 2008 the church reported 27 congregations in 11 states.
Chaa-Rask. What You Need to Know about Islam and the Negroes. New York: Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge, 1992.
The Holy Conception Unit: Homepage. www.theholyconceptionunit.org/portal/ Images of Israel in History. New York: Masha/Ahraya Iconographs, 1994.
c/o P.E.E.S.S. Foundation, PO Box 520, Kirkland, QC, Canada H9H 0A6
The Nation of Yahweh, also known as the Hebrew Israelites or the Followers of Yahweh, is a movement founded by Yahweh ben (son of) Yahweh. Yahweh ben Yahweh (1935–2007) was born as Hulon Mitchell Jr., considered a slave name, and no longer used. He was the son of a Pentecostal minister who at one point joined the Nation of Islam, in which he became the leader of a mosque. Yahweh ben Yahweh began to call together the Followers of Yahweh in 1979.
Yahweh ben Yahweh taught that there is one God, whose name is Yahweh. God is black with woolly hair (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 1:13–15; Deuteronomy 7:21), and has sent his son, Yahweh ben Yahweh, to be the savior and deliverer of his people, the so-called black people of America. Those who believe in Yahweh ben Yahweh and his name are immortal. Blacks are considered the true lost tribe of Judah. They have been chosen by Yahweh, but have yet to be put into their destined office of rulership. Members of the Nation of Yahweh, upon joining, renounce their slave name and take the surname Israel. Many of them wear white robes as commanded in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9:8). They believe that all people who oppose God are devils, regardless of race or color. A devil is one who is immoral and follows immoral teachings of wickedness and evilness. Many persons are capable of being and actually are devils.
While the Nation of Yahweh has a special place for the chosen blacks of America, and sees whites as especially used by Satan in exercising wicked ruler-ship, in the end salvation is not a matter of color. Any person of any race or color can be saved by faith in Yahweh ben Yahweh.
Along with holding its particular religious beliefs, the Nation of Yahweh sees itself as establishing a united moral power to benefit the total community of America. It supports voter registration, education, self-help jobs, business opportunities, scholarships for children, health education, better housing, strong family ties, peace, love, and harmony among people regardless of race, creed, or color. Members are taught to practice charity and benevolence, to protect chastity, to respect the ties of blood and friendship, and revere the laws of Yahweh.
The Nation of Yahweh was headed by Yahweh ben Yahweh until his death in 2007. Under his leadership, the nation expanded, especially in the Miami area. By 1988 it owned, through its corporate entity, the Temple of Love, more than 42 businesses that were used to support the organization and its members.
Though the 1990s, the Nation of Yahweh was disrupted by accusations that acts of violence and murder had been committed by leaders between 1981 and 1986, against both former members and nonmembers. Concern about the group was heightened in 1986 when two residents of an apartment house were shot while members of the group were attempting an eviction. Then in 1988, a member of the group confessed to 4 murders and implicated the group’s leadership in 12 more. Arrested in 1990, Yahweh ben Yahweh and several of his leaders were convicted in federal court of racketeering in 1992 and received lengthy prison terms. Yahweh ben Yahweh served 11 years and was released on probation in 2001. His movements were restricted and he was prevented from making contact with members of the continuing organization until a few months prior to his death.
In the meantime, the organization moved its headquarters from Miami to Quebec, Canada. The Nation of Yahweh currently is organized legally as the Abraham Foundation. Its publishing branch, the P.E.E.S.S. (“Politically, Economically, Educationally, Socially, Spiritually”) Foundation, has offices in suburban Montreal and in Seguin, Texas. The collective leadership that emerged after Yahweh ben Yahweh’s conviction has attempted to tone down the heightened racial rhetoric that the group became known for in the 1980s.
Not reported. In 1988, there were congregations in 37 North American cities and scattered followers in a number of other locations. The teachings had also spread to 16 countries.
Nation of Yahweh. www.yahwehbenyahweh.com/.
Mock, Bretin. “Rebirth of a Nation.” Intelligence Report (Fall 2007). Posted at www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=811.
PO Box 879, Gainesville, FL 32601
The Overcoming Saints of God is a predominantly black Pentecostal church founded in 1959 by Anna Thompson Mobley (b. 1938). The original church, and still the lead congregation, is the Lethal Cathedral in Archer, Florida. Over the years other churches were founded along the Atlantic Coast as far north as Massachusetts, and missions were opened in Africa, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, and the Bahamas. The doctrine is similar to that of the Church of God and Saints of Christ. A youth convention is held annually during the third week in October.
In 1995 there were 10 churches and close to 1,000 members.
DuPree, Sherry Sherrod. African American Holiness Pentecostal Movement: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1996.
Central Region, 7625 Linwood, Detroit, MI 48238
Southwest Region, 5317 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Houston, TX 77021
The Pan African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC) dates to 1953 when 300 members of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Detroit, Michigan, walked out and formed the Central Congregational Church. In 1957 they moved into facilities at 7625 Linwood in Detroit and over the next decade became intensely involved in community issues, especially those impinging upon the black community. In 1967 the church’s pastor, Albert B. Cleage Jr. (1911–2000), preached what has become a famous sermon, calling for a new black theology and a black church to articulate it. An 18-foot painting of a black Madonna was unveiled and the Black Christian Nationalist Movement was launched. The church building became known as the Shrine of the Black Madonna. In 1970 a book store and cultural center were opened. Cleage changed his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman; following his death in 2000, Jaramogi Menelik Kimathi, also known as Card. Demosthene Nelson, became the holy patriarch and presiding bishop. The PAOCC reports that it is “committed to transform the spiritual emptiness, economic powerlessness, and social disorganization that plagues the black community.”
The Black Nationalist Creed, printed below, spells out a position that identifies the black man and the Hebrew nation:
I Believe that human society stands under the judgment of one God, revealed to all, and known by many names. His creative power is visible in the mysteries of the universe, in the revolutionary Holy Spirit which will not long permit men to endure injustice nor to wear the shackles of bondage, in the rage of the powerless when they struggle to be free, and in the violence and conflict which even now threaten to level the hills and the mountains.
I Believe that Jesus, the Black Messiah, was a revolutionary leader, sent by God to rebuild the Black Nation Israel and to liberate Black People from powerlessness and from the oppression, brutality, and exploitation of the white gentile world.
I Believe that the revolutionary spirit of God, embodied in the Black Messiah, is born anew in each generation and that Black Christian Nationalists constitute the living remnant of God’s Chosen People in this day, and are charged by him with responsibility for the Liberation of Black People.
I Believe that both my survival and my salvation depend upon my willingness to reject individualism, and so I commit my life to the Liberation Struggle of Black people and accept the values, ethics, morals, and program of the Black Nation defined by that struggle and taught by the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church.
During the 1970s the organization expanded significantly. Agyeman conducted seminary training and ordained over 100 ministers, who were given the title mwalimu, Swahili for teacher. Agyeman’s own name means “liberator, blessed man, savior of the nation.” Other congregations and centers have been established in Detroit; Atlanta, Georgia; and Calhoun Falls, South Carolina.
The PAOCC’s social action minsitry participates in political forums, community outreach initiatives, and focus groups. A “feed my sheep” program distributes food and clothing to the homeless and destitute, while a health care ministry tends to people’s health and physical needs. Teenagers ages 14 to 18 meet weekly in the Black Youth in Action ministry, which assists young people in attaining a balanced lifestyle by teaching etiquette, culture exploration, and team unity. A Shrine bookstore and cultural center are adjacent to the church at the location in Houston, Texas.
Not reported. In 2002 there were 10 institutions supporting the PAOCC.
Shrine of the Black Madonna Pan African Orthodox Christian Church. www.blessingsoffaith.org
Boyd, Marsha Foster. Self-Help in the Shrine of the Black Madonna #9 in Atlanta, Georgia: A Study of a Congregation and Its Leadership. Berkeley, CA: Graduate Theological Union, 1995.
Cleage, Albert B., Jr. Black Christian Nationalism: New Directions for the Black Church. New York: William Morrow, 1972.
———. The Black Messiah. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968.
Shrines of the Black Madonna of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church: Thirtieth Anniversary. Detroit, MI: Mays Printing, 1983.
Ward, Hiley H. Prophet of the Black Nation. Philadelphia, PA: Pilgrim Press, 1969.
Current address not obtained for this edition.
The Rastafarian Movement, a Jamaican black nationalist movement, grew out of a long history of fascination with Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular among the masses in Jamaica. The movement can be traced directly to the efforts of Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, who, among other endeavors, promoted a steamship company that would provide transportation for blacks going back to Africa. In 1927 Garvey predicted the crowning of a black king in Africa as a sign that the redemption of black people from white oppression was near. The 1935 coronation of Haile Selassie as emperor of Ethiopia was seen as a fulfillment of Garvey’s words.
Haile Selassie was born Ras Tafari Makonnen out of a lineage claimed to derive from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. He proclaimed his title as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, His Imperial Majesty the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God. His name Haile Selassie means “Power of the Holy Trinity.” Reading about the coronation, four ministers in Jamaica—Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds, and, most prominently, Leonard Howell—saw the new emperor as not only the fulfillment of the Garveyite expectation, but also the completion of biblical prophecies such as those in Revelation 5:2–5 and 19:16 that refer to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the King of Kings. The four, independently of each other, began to proclaim Haile Selassie the Messiah of the black people. Their first successes came in the slums of West Kingston, where they discovered each other and a movement began.
Howell began to proselytize around the island. He raised money by selling pictures of Haile Selassie and telling the buyers that they were passports back to Africa. He was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail for fraud. Upon his release he moved into the hill country of St. Catherine’s parish and founded a commune, the Pinnacle, which, in spite of government attacks and several moves, became the center of the movement for the next two decades. At the Pinnacle, the smoking of ganga (marijuana) and the wearing of long hair curled to resemble a lion’s mane (dread locks) became the marks of identification of the group.
As the Rastafarians matured, they adopted the perspectives of Black Judaism and identified the Hebrews of the Old Testament as black people. Their belief system was distinctly racial and they taught that the whites were inferior to the blacks. More extreme leaders saw whites as the enemies of blacks and believed that, in the near future, blacks would return to Africa and assume their rightful place in world leadership. Haile Selassie is believed to be the embodiment of God and, though no longer visible, he nevertheless still lives. Some Rastafarians believe Selassie is still secretly alive, though most see him as a disembodied spirit.
Relations with white culture have been tense, lived at the point of “dread,” a term to describe the confrontation of a people struggling to regain a denied racial selfhood. Most Rastafarians are pacifists, though much support for the movement developed out of intense antiwhite feelings. Violence has been a part of the movement since the destruction of the Pinnacle, though it has been confined to individuals and loosely organized groups. One group, the Nyabingi Rastas, stand apart from most by their espousal of violence.
Rastafarians came to the United States in large numbers as part of the general migration of Jamaicans in the 1960s and 1970s. They have brought with them an image of violence, and frequent news reports have detailed murders committed by individuals identified as Rastafarians. Rastafarian spokespersons have complained that many young Jamaican-Americans have adopted the outward appearance of Rastafarians (dread locks and ganga smoking) without adopting Rastafarian beliefs and lifestyle.
A major aspect of Rastafarian life is the unique music developed as its expression. Reggae, a form of rock music, became popular far beyond Rastafarian circles, and exponents such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh became international stars. Reggae has immensely helped in the legitimization of Rastafarian life and ideals.
In Jamaica the Rastafarian Movement is divided into a number of organizations and factions, many of which have been brought into the Jamaican community in America. Surveys of American Rastafarians have yet to define the organization in the United States though individual Rastafarians may be found in black communities across America, most noticeably Brooklyn, New York; Miami, Florida; and Chicago, Illinois.
There are an estimated 3,000–5,000 Rastafarians in the United States, though the figures are somewhat distorted by the large number of people who have adopted the outward appearance of Rastafarian life.
Arise • Jahugliman.
Barrett, Leonard. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1977.
Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots & Ideology. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.
Mulvaney, Rebekah Michele. Rastafari and Reggae: A Dictionary and Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990.
Murrell, Nathaniel Samuel, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlane, eds. Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
Owens, Joseph. Dread. Kingston: Sangster, 1976.
Williams, K. M. The Rastafarians. London: Ward Lock Educational, 1981.