The Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) is pleased to announce progress on an inter-institutional effort to publicly share records, writings and interviews by the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, the founding voice of womanist/feminist/mujerista theology.
As a part of this work, records belonging to the Center for Womanist Leadership at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, were recently transferred to PHS for digitization.
The ultimate aim of this collaboration is to represent in a single online location personal records that Cannon intended to distribute among PHS, Union Presbyterian Seminary and Union Theological Seminary in New York.
PHS, the national archives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), began preliminary work on this effort in 2017 when it digitized a 1987 oral history with Cannon. One of the terms of that interview was that it could be published only with Cannon’s permission.
David Staniunas, PHS records archivist and leader of the society’s African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative, wrote to Cannon at Union Presbyterian Seminary to check in on her records and ask for permission to publicly share the oral history.
Cannon replied with what Staniunas called “grace and cosmic perspective.”
“I have no recall what I said 30 years ago,” Cannon wrote back by way of granting permission. “But whatever I shared was true of my reality in that space and at that particular time. … The saying is that every 20 years every cell in our bodies is renewed, born again. So, with one score, plus 10 years since recording the interview, I am a totally different person in my vocational endeavors, journeying, morning by morning from 1987 to 2017.”
“It's not every day that a records creator says … ’I can't prohibit you from doing anything to the old me, because all my cells are entirely new,’” Staniunas said.
Although Cannon passed away before Staniunas could conduct a follow-up oral history — she died in August 2018, shortly after being honored by the PC(USA) Committee On Theological Education during the 223rd General Assembly — Staniunas interviewed her mother, Corine Cannon, in Atlanta in 2019, and later met her sister Linda and brothers John and Jerry in Charlotte, where the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon is senior pastor at C.N. Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church.
PHS is in the process of imaging 1,600 pages of Cannon's Union writings and over the course of 2021 will add gigabytes of her public appearances, lectures and PowerPoints to Pearl, the society’s digital archives. Staniunas said that financial support for that work has been provided by donors to the African American Leaders and Congregations collecting initiative.
Staniunas also credited Bridgett, Linda, John, Jerry and Corine Cannon; Melanie Jones and Paula Parker of the Center for Womanist Leadership; and Ryan Douthat of the archives at Union Presbyterian Seminary for making this collaboration possible.
— This article is adapted from a PHS blog post by David Staniunas.