Crowdsourcing Foundational Freethinkers of Color

Here’s a sad fact: my shelf of pre-1930s freethinkers is overwhelmingly white, male, and Western (WMW). They’re excellent thinkers, of course, but variety is the spice of life. Not to mention, I know that not all freethinkers were WMW. The problem is this: there have been too many periods in history when WMW opinions were widely appreciated, so anyone not fitting that description was essentially shunted off to the side, ignored by all but a fringe.

I’m tired of them being ignored. I certainly don’t want to be part of the problem. And I don’t want to miss important freethinkers because I’m relying on randomly-Googled lists rather than utilizing my greatest resource: you.

So crowdsource me. Tell me about your favorite freethinkers of color. Let me know about female freethinkers I’ve missed. If you know of female freethinkers of color, that would be especially awesome: even the lists that are dedicated to people of color have very few women pre-1960s. I don’t want the ones who were there to be ignored.

Do you know of LGBTQ freethinkers from the past? I’ll take ‘em. Non-Western freethinkers? Bring them to me. Pre-Enlightenment, pre-Renaissance, from ancient days? List them. If you find a person writing atheist screeds on clay tablets, I’ll be thrilled to bits.

There are only a few criteria to keep in mind:

  1. I’m looking for freethinkers who were active prior to 1940.
  2. I want out and proud freethinkers – people who were speaking and writing on freethought, or who otherwise made their status as freethinkers clear. They don’t have to be part of any freethought movement, just people who were forthright about their freethought.
  3. Please link to any resources about them you know of – writings, recordings, biographies, etc. If there’s nothing for me to work with, it’s hard to do a proper write-up.

Now, if someone falls outside the spectrum, but you really want me to know about them, tell away. Just because I focus on the history of the freethought movement doesn’t mean I’m not interested in finding out about recent and exciting people. If there aren’t any resources online, but they exist in the offline world, that’s okay – if I have to beg, borrow and/or steal* photocopies of old books and periodicals because no one’s bothered to digitize those works, that can be done as well. It just might take longer.

If you know of super-outstanding (or even just pretty good) lists of freethinkers who fall outside the WMW spectrum, link me the links.

Let’s make Friday Freethought as diverse as possible.

Butterfly McQueen, actress and atheist. Image courtesy African Americans for Humanism.
Butterfly McQueen, actress and atheist. Image courtesy African Americans for Humanism.

*Maybe not steal – pesky moral compass and all.

Crowdsourcing Foundational Freethinkers of Color
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7 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Foundational Freethinkers of Color

  1. 1

    You might want to look into the religious opinions of Zora Neale Hurston and Lucy Parsons. To be honest with you, I have not read any of their work. (Maybe some Parsons, years ago.) Thus, I do not know how much they emphasized these views.

    Have you searched the Black Skeptic’s blog? They may have mentioned this.

    Also, when you refer to “white” and “Western” prior to 1940, would Eastern European Jews of that time be included? I am not descended from either of these groups, and I don’t know the ins and outs of the question. But maybe it would be worth thinking about, and asking about. If you want to include them in your search parameters, you might want to look into Ernestine Rose and Emma Goldman.

    Finally, is there any kind of directory of current atheist, agnostic, and freethinker groups around the world? They probably have more information about their historical antecedents, and are just an internet away.

  2. 2

    I’ve seen Mary Wollstonecraft’s name come up often. She was not one for following the conventions of her day, and is perhaps best known for her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which had the thesis that the apparent inferiority of women arose because society refused to educate women or allow them any sort of political or intellectual equality.

    You may also look into Jose P. Rizal. He was a freethinker who opposed the Catholic Church’s power and influence, an ophthamologist by training, an artist in several media, a polyglot, a prolific writer and a strong voice for peaceful revolution against Spanish rule rather than violent revolt. His advocacy led to him being put to death by the government; his execution in 1896 is credited as the spark which ignited the Philippine Revolution.

  3. 6

    India is a surprisingly good place to look (Atheism in Hinduism). The Cārvāka / Carvaka existed for much of India’s recorded history, though that school died out around 1200 CE.

    Among other things, they stated:

    If he who departs from the body goes to another world,
    why does he not come back again,
    restless for love of his kinfolk?

    China may also be a good place to look.

    Chi Lu asked about serving the spirits. Confucius said: “If we don’t know how to serve human beings, how can we serve the spirits?” Lu said: “Well, what about death?” Confucius said: “If we don’t understand life, how can we understand death?”

    (Analects 11:11) from Ramanuja – ConfuciusGC.pdf.

  4. 7

    There is also a teensy weensy bit of skepticism in the oldest Hindu religious book, the Rig Veda, a big collection of hymns. From Rig Veda: Rig-Veda, Book 10: HYMN CXXIX. Creation.:

    Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
    The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

    He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
    Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

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