Katie, Cornel and Coltrane

john lewis mural of john coltrane now gone

I unfortunately missed a recent alumni celebration at Harvard Divinity School marking its 200 year anniversary, where I had especially hoped to catch a panel featuring Dr. Katie Cannon on the Women’s Studies Revolution at HDS. Googling this morning I found a video of her address and loved these words:

…from my first day arriving at Harvard Divinity School in the fall of 1983 until this very day, I have been researching, writing and teaching about ethics and rhetoric embedded in Womanist ways of knowing, wherein I debunk, unmask, and disentangle widespread, pervasive death-dealing activities in order to envision liberating strategies in our work of resisting unjust authorities.


Then I clicked over to a talk later in the celebration by Cornel West, where he closed with a soaring account of  a Philadelphia preacher’s gift to John Coltrane. Fast as Dr. West talks, I tried to transcribe the story below (but you can watch him tell it himself here):

…reminds me in some ways of the black preacher in Philadelphia, who knocked on the door of the Coltrane family when John Coltrane came up from North Carolina. And the young brother was blowing his horn, had lost his grandfather, his grandmother, and his father all within a matter of months, he was living all by himself. His mother and Cousin Mary had gone to Philadelphia and all he did was blow his horn trying to bring back his parents. When he finally got to Philadelphia he kept on blowing and kept on blowing. All day, all night, and the folks in the projects on the chocolate side of Philadelphia said we got to get rid of this negro, he’s making too much noise. And they voted to vote the Coltrane family out. And the day before they’re gonna move out, they got a knock on the door. And there was a black preacher, he was a baptist preacher, John Coltrane was AME Zion–nice ecumenical connection–but he knocked on that door and he said, “Son, I don’t know what your name is, but these are the keys to my church. You can come to my church and blow any time you want, all day or all night. And Coltrane would say as he played a Love Supreme in his own mind and soul, I’m thinking about that concrete love. I don’t exist without that black preacher who gave me that key so I can practice in that church cause I was being booted out with my mother working as a domestic maid. That’s the kind of soul warriorship that we need in the age of trump so that we can generate the kinds of coming together, with vision and with witness, and we’ll see whether we can do it.john c philadelphia landmark

This sign above still stands but the mural up above by John Lewis fell victim to “development” a few years back. This is why we can’t wait, whether we teach, preach, paint, blow or deliver liberatory keys to the newly arrived migrant tenor prophet in our midst–in the face of “pervasive death-dealing activities” we can love, listen, illumine, vision, protect and harbor now.

One Response to “Katie, Cornel and Coltrane”

  1. Come Back Josslyn, we miss you.

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