Our Founder & First Holy Patriarch
Rev. Albert B. Cleage (Jaramogi Abebe AgyEman)
Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman , the first of seven children, was born Albert Buford Cleage, Jr., on June 13, 1911 to Albert Sr., and Pearl Reed Cleage in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents, who were trailblazers in their own right, moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where his father (a physician), was the first African American to practice medicine in that city. The growing family relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where his father became the first black to be appointed by the city government. It was, however, young Albert’s mother who nurtured his natural curiosity, cultivated his gift of communication, and encouraged his need to be analytical:
As a theologian, Rev. Cleage gained national and international prominence. In the early 1950s, he coined the phrase “Black theology,” making him the founder of a new field of religious studies. He provided his thoughts on the subject in The Black Messiah, a book of sermons published in 1968. A national bestseller, it was eventually translated into fourteen languages. His theological views and opinions were further developed and published in his 1972 work, Black Christian Nationalism: New Directions for the Black Church. These works are still required reading in seminaries and schools of religion throughout the world. Subsequently, he wrote many essays and articles that appeared in a wide variety of publications, which stripped the mystical distortions of Christianity and made it relevant to the lives of black people.
In 1957, Rev. Cleage waged a battle to save the 13th Congressional District from being redistricted, which would have denied area African Americans their first black representative. In 1964, Rev. Cleage, along with a formidable group of supporters that included James Boggs, his wife, Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, attorney Milton Henry, and his brother Richard Henry, joined forces with the Harlem, New York-based Freedom Now Party (FNP). Rev. Cleage ran for governor on the Michigan FNP ticket, considered the first all-black political party in U.S. history. The Michigan campaign, which ran candidates for city, county, and state offices, was the most successful FNP effort in the nation. In 1965, Rev. Cleage ran for the Detroit Common [now City] Council and, two years later, he ran for the U. S. Congress. Though he did not win any of these races, these pioneering political efforts bore fruit a decade later with the formation of the powerful Black Slate, Inc.
Rev. Cleage was inextricably connected to the needs of his congregation and community. Together they attacked injustice, racism, and inequality in local businesses, city schools, and state politics. He co-founded the Freedom Now Party and ran for governor of Michigan, becoming the first black man to do so since the Reconstruction era. He shared platforms with Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and provided Shrine #1 as a forum for many who spoke out against the oppression of black people.
In his lifetime, Rev. Cleage would see the expansion of the Shrine of the Black Madonna™ on multiple levels. The church expanded to different states and developed a core group of members in cities such as: Flint, MI, Kalamazoo, MI, Houston, TX, Atlanta, GA, New York, NY, & Philadelphia, PA. Last but not least was the most recent expansion into South Carolina. In 1999, the Shrine™ expanded to Calhoun Falls, South Carolina and established Shrine #20 with the purchase of Beulah Land Farms.
The struggle of Rev. Cleage later to be known as our beloved founder and first Holy Patriarch, the Honorable Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman was not simply a social one it was also a theological and religious one. Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman suggested that Jesus’ mission was more complex than a journey to the cross in which his human sacrifice would allow people to experience a chimerical kingdom in after death, he explained that his life was a personal example which when emulated could lead people to the experience of God in their present reality. Jaramogi founded a Black Christian Nationalist Movement, which called for black churches to understand the truth of Jesus' teachings and their African heritage. The Pan African Orthodox Christian Church became answer to the question of how God works in the world, a community of faith where you can experience the blessings of Covenant faith with God and his people.
In February 2000, our founder and 1st Holy Patriarch, Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman made his transition on Beulah Land Farm.