Meet These African-American Women Breaking Boundaries In Theological Education

By Victor Ochieng

The field of theology is by far dominated by men. They’re leading in educational institutions and churches, serving as deans, pastors, bishops, and prophets among other ecclesiastical roles.

Interestingly, some women have been making inroads into the field, despite the representation of African-American women being disproportionately small. That said, we can’t afford not to mention the Black women who’ve been making history in the field. This year alone, several Black women have earned many firsts in theological education. Why is this worth mentioning? Historically, Black women haven’t been considered authorities in the field, with just a countable few serving as evangelists, pastors, preachers, systematic theology and Biblical Hermeneutics trainers.

The women we’re talking about here are those who, besides their most current achievements, have already been trailblazers in theology. In some of their achievements, they’re firsts – first dean, first to be awarded full professorship, first departmental chair and more.

These noteworthy women are following in the footsteps of other history makers like Dr. Emilie M. Townes, who in 2012 rose to become the dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School. That put her among the very first few Black female deans of a high profile theological institution and the second at the University, reveals reports.

That very year, Barbara Holmes was appointed the president of United Theological Seminary, going down in the institution’s history as its first Black president. Prior to this appointment, Holmes served Memphis Theological Seminary as the president of academic affairs from 2005 to 2010.

In 2013, Dr. Teresa Fry Brown also earned her first when she was appointed Bandy Professor of Preaching. Yes, this saw her become the first ever African-American woman to hold that position, the country’s most prestigious chair in the field of homiletics.

Even though these feats are worth celebrating, Douglas points out that they come with great pressure and enormous responsibilities.

“When you are in that role of the first, people look at you with more scrutiny. There is pressure to get it right,” she told NCBBLK. “You have to do 150% in order to be accepted. Others will be looking in on you and so there is that pressure to represent not simply yourself.”

Douglas currently serves as the Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore and she’s also been appointed the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York. What does this achievement mean? She becomes the first dean of EDS at the Union and the first ever Black person to lead an Episcopal theological institution.

“We are representing a people, a legacy and I feel that,” she added.

Dr. Yolanda Pierce of the #BlackWomanMagic was also recently appointed dean of the School of Divinity at Howard University, going down in the history books as the first African-American woman to lead the institution.

“African-American women are the center of gravity in Black religious spaces, even if we aren’t the ones in leadership,” she told NBCBLK. “Black women have managed to survive and thrive in the most oppressive of circumstances.”

These are just a few, as there are several other notable ones, including Dr. Keri Day, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religion at Princeton Theological Seminary; Dr. Margaret Aymer, Professor of New Testament, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Dr. Stephanie Crumpton, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago; Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean, Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary; and Dr. Kimberly D Russaw, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Claflin University.