Emilie M. Townes, Stacey M. ﬂoyd-Thomas, Alison P. Gise Johnson, and Angela D. Sims, editors
Westminster John Knox Press, 218 pages | Published November 8, 2022
Under no circumstances did I think a nonfiction work of womanist theology and ethics could cause me to tear up, envious of those who had the privilege to work alongside Katie Cannon; Walking Through the Valley did just that. Cannon – the first Black woman ordained in the PC(USA) – was an inquisitive mind, morally driven to ask the hard questions of the racist South in Jim Crow-era America. Faith was her driving force and the Black church her solace.
Cannon was a progenitor of womanist ethics, a stream of feminism centered on the lived experiences and humanity of Black women (traditional feminism has historically centered White women). Poet Nikky Finney introduces Cannon as unapologetically Black in life, legacy and death, setting the tone for the rest of a collection that kept me enthralled from beginning to end.
I was prepared for this book to focus on Black pain and trauma but Walking Through the Valley is better described as an exploratory venture through the fight for the Blackest redemption. The authors focus on liberation, redemption and transformation rather than the trauma. Melanie C. Jones (Director of the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership) writes of a womanist wellness built on Cannon’s love for ancestral healing and elders’ wisdom. Jones writes that “care of the self is a necessary act of rebellion and resistance against the vicious threats and evil forces inﬂicted to stiﬂe Black women’s survival and liberation.”
Currently, we often describe self-care as a means of healthy living, not as a powerful act of survival and liberation. Yale’s Eboni Marshall Turman’s chapter on the power of memory, remembering and the effect this has on the body is a standout; Turman celebrates the wisdom of Black woman and gives value to what she calls the “everydayness of black woman.”
Like Katie Cannon, this collection is unapologetically Black-centric, yet it is not only for Black readers. Blackness is both its strength and weakness; given its focus on the Black experience, it will not be of interest to everyone. Yet Walking Through the Valley makes it clear: just because a work was written for a specific demographic does not mean others cannot learn from the lived experiences and realities of a different racial or ethnic group.
While Walking Through the Valley is accessible to the average reader, it does deal with polarizing topics that need to be approached with a solid understanding of the mode and history of Black Womanist theology. For this reason, it is probably best used in an academic setting. But whether in a higher-level theological course or a seminary, Walking Through the Valley should not be relegated to the elective reading list — its lessons speak to us all.
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