Duke University Professor, Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman, Talks About the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement and the Direction of the Black Church

Eboni Marshall Turman
Eboni Marshall Turman

The Rev. Eboni Marshall Turman became director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School in the aftermath of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teen killed in Florida while he was walking home. 

“The new millennial surge in anti-black violence was well underway,” Turman said. That was in 2012, when in many ways the black community was getting its bearings and mobilizing, she said. This summer, as she readies to start her third year as a Duke Divinity leader, is the summer nine African-Americans were gunned down while praying at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds on Friday. “We are drowning in anti-black violence,” she said.

“The original context of my being here at Duke Divinity as director of the Office of Black Church Studies has just been exacerbated by the continued and escalating violence against African-American people of color,” she said. “So my job has gotten bigger.”

Turman, who is also an assistant research professor of theological ethics at Duke, splits her time between Durham and New York City, where her husband is based and where she was assistant minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church for a decade. She is an ordained minister in the National Baptist Convention USA and has also taught at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury and Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Duke Divinity School has one of the youngest student bodies among seminaries, so that means a lot of millennials born in the 1980s and later, which includes Turman, 34. Youth and young adults have been in many ways victims of anti-black attacks, she said, and as she started her job she thought critically about effective responses and responses that are faithful.

Historically, the African-American church was not positioned positively during the Civil Rights Movement, Turman said.

“The church, by and large, was not 100 percent behind [Rev. Martin Luther] King or at the forefront collectively of the Civil Rights Movement…The church has always been everywhere and nowhere in matters of social justice,” Turman said.

“There have always been churches at the forefront. … The black church as a tradition was born in resistance to racism.” However, she said, that dwindled as the church was institutionalized. Some were at the front, Turman said, while others were “compensatory, we say,” and wanted a gradual change of social conditions. White churches are historically indicted by the legacies of black enslavement, she said.

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Source: Herald Sun | Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

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