The Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection | Presbyterian Historical Society

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The Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection

April 24, 2023
Katie G. Cannon, 1970s, against illustration by Cannon titled CoraCorine, 2001.

In 1987, the first Black woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church, Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, used the term Womanist to explore an interpretation of the Bible that was concerned with Black women’s liberation. Her book that followed one year later, Black Womanist Ethics, helped launch the field of womanist ethics.

The Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) is thrilled to announce that this year, 35 years after the publication of her groundbreaking work, the entirety of Rev. Dr. Cannon’s personal papers has been digitized and made freely accessible through Pearl Digital Collections. 

Katie Geneva Cannon was born in 1953 in Kannapolis, North Carolina to Esau and Corine Cannon, elders at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Kannapolis. Her call to education and ministry was shaped by her experience growing up in the segregated South and nourished by her time at Barber-Scotia College and Johnson C. Smith Seminary. After graduating from the latter with a Master of Divinity, Cannon was ordained by the Catawba Presbytery—the first all-Black governing body in the Presbyterian Church—in 1974.

Left: Katie G. Cannon, image from The Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA, 1983. Right: Handwritten sermon by Dr. Cannon, "When You Think You've Had Enough," 1974.

Cannon preached at Ascension Presbyterian Church in Harlem while she attended Union Theological Seminary (UTS). At UTS, she shattered another glass ceiling when she became the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from the institution in 1983. Shortly after, Cannon’s career as an educator, ethicist, and theologian flourished.

Cannon held teaching positions at Temple University, Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary. Her colleagues admired her passion and rigorous scholarship. “Katie Cannon is on fire with love,” one colleague shared. “Few people so embody the Christ-like qualities of pastoral concern, love of justice, and respect for the dignity of individuals.”

Perhaps her greatest impact as an educator was made at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia where she held the position of Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Social Ethics until her death in 2018.

Cannon's Episcopal Divinity School faculty ID card. Background illustration by Cannon titled Ordination Torch, 1998.

In 2021, the Presbyterian Historical Society partnered with the Center for Womanist Leadership at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond and The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (Columbia University Libraries) to unite the records Cannon distributed across the three institutions. Over a two-year period, PHS staff scanned the collections and made them available through Pearl Digital Collections, the Society's online archive. 

The result—the Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection—contains over 450 of Cannon’s sermons, lectures, and writings, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world for free.

On the evening of October 12, 2023, from 5pm-7pm ET, the Presbyterian Historical Society will host an event to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Cannon and celebrate the completion of the Katie Geneva Cannon Digital Collection. The evening will be an opportunity for those in the PC(USA) and beyond to gather and pay homage to a woman who, in her own words, taught “to empower, to equip, to set people free.” You can register here for the event.