Theologian James H. Cone | Courtesy of UofL

The University of Louisville and the Louisville Seminary have awarded theologian James H. Cone the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his 2012 book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone is the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

According to the news release, more than 5,000 black men and women were lynched in America between 1880 and 1940. Cone’s book looks at the act of lynching and the act of crucifixion as being driven by the same factors.

“The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching,” wrote Cone. “Both are symbols of the death of the innocent, mob hysteria, humiliation, and terror. They both also reveal a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning and demonstrate that God can transform ugliness into beauty, into God’s liberating presence.”

Naming it one of the top religion books of 2011, Huffington Post editors wrote, “One of the great theologians of the late 20th century, Cone forces us to look hard at suffering, oppression and, ultimately, redemption.”

Cone is regarded as the founder of black liberation theology. In 2008, Cone explained the movement to radio host Terry Gross as having its roots in 1960s Civil Rights activism and drawing inspiration from both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He said it is “mainly a theology that sees God as concerned with the poor and the weak.”

Cone is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and has been conferred 13 honorary degrees. “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” is his 12th book.

UofL will announce each of its five Grawemeyer Award winners over the course of this week. The awards honor recipients who embody the passions of H. Charles Grawemeyer, a Louisville entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. Grawemeyer established the awards in 1984 to celebrate, inspire and nurture achievements in music composition, education, religion, psychology and ideas improving world order.

The 2018 winners will present free lectures about their award-winning ideas when they visit Louisville in April to accept their $100,000 prizes.