A connection between civil rights activism through the black church and womanist theology is implied throughout womanist literature, but rarely discussed at length. One exception is Mary K. Schueneman, who writes about Christian mission work performed by black women during the civil rights era in her article A Leavening Force. She critiques the idea that the mission work of black women during civil rights and the political activism by black women in the civil rights movement are separate phenomena. Her article is an attempt to close the gap in literature about black women’s religious history by framing mission work as “a site for cultivating leadership and engaging segregation and racism,” which gives context to the civil rights work of Black Church women. Similarly, this literature review attempts to bridge the gap between a rich history of political activism rooted in the Black Church to the theological imaginings of womanism realized in 1985.
Three students at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Katie Cannon, Delores Williams and Jacquelyn Grant, were responsible for bringing womanism to theological scholarship at the American Academy of Religion conference of that year. The literature that resulted from those initial presentations and conversations would form the first wave of womanist theological scholarship: most significantly Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of
the Black Community by Katie G. Cannon, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-talk by Delores Williams, and Jacquelyn Grant’s White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. These three texts form the traditional, first- generation canon of womanist theology. All are focused on securing a place at the table for black women within the Black Church and in the black community. Katie’s Canon directly engages the history of black women’s contributions to theology and to the history of black people in the country. She speaks at once through a respected and longstanding canon of theological thought and of black women as the “other,” laying outside of the traditional canon but within “Katie’s Canon” and the newfound lens of womanism. Cannon makes it clear that recognizing history and struggles of black women is crucial for a womanist understanding.
Sisters in the Wilderness is Delores Williams’ testimony of black women’s place in Christianity and theology. Williams utilizes the story of the biblical Hagar to both give context for women of color in biblical history, and to use her story as a metaphor for the oppression of women of color that has been perpetuated throughout black women’s presence in America. Hagar’s story, in her eyes, is one that resonates as women of color pushing for survival, endurance, and preserving faith. Hagar the African slave navigating the wilderness after being forced from Sarah and Abraham’s home, pregnant and mistreated at Sarah’s hand. Williams finds connections in notions of surrogacy, but rejected the long-held notion of divine suffering, and that the suffering of black women was somehow Christ-like or Christian. Instead, she claims that the way out of suffering for black women is a recognition and visibility of their unique oppression. 
Jacquelyn Grant’s approach in White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response is also a historical account, but of a much more recent phenomenon. Where Williams and Canon can be seen as engaging more directly with black liberation theology and building upon claims of black liberation theologists, Grant offers a substantial critique of feminist theology and exegesis that has ignored and silenced the unique positionality of women of color in its scope. A feminist biblical interpretation that highlights the question of a male savior fails, in Grant’s eyes, to capture the entirety of black women’s concerns and experiences when encountering Christ—that is to say, feminist Christology has been inherently linked with white theology that black women have found unrepresentative at best, and outright oppressive at worst. Far from dismissing feminist theology, Grant calls for a “coalition” with feminist theologians, but also for the separate space of womanist theology to explore the historical traumas and experiences of black women.
The efforts of Black Church women throughout history, particularly during the Civil Rights- Black Power movement, were fundamental for the way womanist theology operates and situates itself in religious scholarship today. Kelly Brown-Douglas, prominent second generation womanist scholar and author of Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, frequently writes about the women and events that influenced her trajectory into womanist theology. One such assertion comes in her essay Twenty Years a Womanist: An Affirming Challenge written for Deeper Shades of Purple: Religion, Race, and Ethnicity edited by scholar of womanist ethics Stacey Floyd-Thomas. Within, she speaks of her childhood tendency to draw wisdom from “my mama and all of those other black women not necessarily in the academy— those everyday women who sit in the pews of black churches on Sunday morning looking for the sustenance to carry on during the week,” and asking them about things related to the black community and Civil Rights like “this man Martin Luther King, Jr., who was on the news all the time. I asked about those four little girls in Birmingham who adults whispered were killed at church. I asked about the riots that were going on all around. But, my mother said those were grown-up things and I needed to go play with the other children. I remember the struggle well.”
This relationship between events and people of the Civil Rights Movement and the womanish desire for understanding is highlighted in Brown-Douglas’ words. The heart of womanism beats in the daily lived experiences of black women and the wisdom and power of black women throughout history. For many, this means the active political lives of Black Church women during the Civil Rights Movement contribute to their understanding of what it is to be a black woman, a black feminist, and a womanist.
Vast amounts of the support, leadership, and strength of black women activists during the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s movements of the 1960s-1970s has been overshadowed and erased in favor of black men’s and white women’s contributions and leadership. In spite of these transgressions and oppressions, the historical memory of the traditionally capable black women who changed the face of American race relations runs strong in womanist theological imaginings.
 Schueneman, Mary K. "A Leavening Force: African American Women and Christian Mission in the
Civil Rights Era." Church History 81, no. 04 (2012): 873-902. doi:10.1017/S00096407120
 Williams, Delores S. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-talk. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993.
 Brown-Douglas, Kelly. "Twenty Years a Womanist: An Affirming Challenge." In Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society, by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
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