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Joseph V. Nash

By Dorothy Savage



Joseph A. Nash was not a traditional Christian educator in the usual sense in which the term is used! He does not fit "the mold". It may just be that, because he "walked to a different drummer," he was able to break the pattern of thinking that prevailed through much of the first two-thirds of the 20th Century - whenever "the establishment" (as he called academia ) taught about, wrote on behalf of, or prepared leadership for, those in the field of Christian Education.

As is true of so much of what we call "America", Joe was a rich coming-together of opportunities, experiences, giftedness, circumstances and down-to-earth practical intuition. He did not have a college degree, nor did he have seminary training. No one called him "Doctor", nor was he a "Reverend." That was not the path that his journey took. It might be said that this likely why he saw things differently from the professionals. Perhaps it is why he was able to influence so many non-professional local church volunteer educators who were simply "doing their best". Perhaps he was destined by his circumstances, raised up, as it were, to know the way that "the simple folk" know, to be able to speak to them in the language that was familiar to them, and to touch their souls the way God does - through the beauty of creation, and the power of their music and their dance.

Those who knew Joe Nash knew that he didn't even dress like those in the world of academia and or the church bureaucracy. When one saw Joe ambling along the corridors of power, or standing at an exhibit at a church educators' conference, or key-noting at a Denominational gathering, one saw a Black man with a charming, somewhat humble, smile. He would be dressed, most likely, in an African dashiki, with a middle-eastern fez-like hat, and perhaps elfin-style shoes - all comprised of a rainbow of reds, blues, and greens. This was how he "gathered his presentation", be it of himself, or of educational approaches - from whatever was useful, whatever served the purpose, and, of course, whatever was artistic!

This was Joseph V. Nash, Program staff of the National Council of Churches, and founder of The Ecumenical Black and Multicultural Christian Education Resource Center. Because he was an African-American man, he brought the sensitivities of a culture that had not been privileged. Instead of having access to schooling, African Americans learned through music, through powerfully expressed witnessing, with colorful language; through movement and dance. Because he was born in the early 20th Century, amidst the cultural richness of New York City's ethnic diversity, he learned to be curious about, and intrigued with, the richness of diverse cultures, and their importance in determining who people are, and how they learn. He attended public elementary and high school in the rich diversity of New York City's Upper West Side. Because of his very active Episcopal childhood, he learned to value the richness of the ancient churchly rituals, liturgies, music and pageantry. At the same time, the West Indian Methodist affiliation of his parents' Harlem Church provided him with the complementary richness of a Methodism steeped in African and Caribbean culture, with its "Don't worry / Be happy" outlook. He spoke of being moved by Black evangelical preaching. He witnessed emotional spontaneity in the spontaneous dancing of the congregants as they broke out into the aisles. All of this shaped his soul, and led to the key role that he would later play in helping Denominational educators to launch important multi-cultural Christian Education programs. It shaped how he would prepare demonstrations of his culturally rich resources. It pervaded his approach to planning conferences and the teacher-training workshops that he led all over the country.

Joe's highest level of formal schooling was in a post high school program for "secretarial science". But before he could consider applying for further schooling, he was drafted into the army in World War II. The army used his secretarial skills, and he served as office staff in England, Scotland and France. Because of his continuing love of dance and theatre, he decided to become a professional dancer after the war, touring with concert groups and musicals in the USA, Canada, and Europe, as well as on the new medium of television. All of this led him to pose the key question that haunted his life and his approach to education: He has said that he asked himself, "What was it that inspired and shaped so many of these marvelous artists that I meet? What was it in their culture? What was the role of their faith and religious experience in shaping their souls?"

These were the questions that he brought to his gradual understanding of how we must shape the religious education of people. It was an understanding that was broader than the prevailing approach of the day, that of the schooling model, of "knowing".

Joe's secretarial training led him, from professional "Black danseur" to secretary in a church-related bureaucracy named the National Council of Churches' Division of Christian Education. (Now that was indeed a "dramatic leap"!) After days, weeks, months, (years even!) of typing up lesson plans, and the speeches of key-note speakers, and the reflections of small discussion groups, and the typing up of the plans that grew out of those discussions, and then the model curricula that were conceived and diagrammed as a result, Joe was able to exemplify in his life that creativity is 90% routine, with 10% grace-filled inspiration! He served a number of years as secretary to the Ecumenical Cooperative Curriculum Project as well as to the Uniform Lessons (Biblically-based) Sunday School Lessons Program. In these meetings, most of whose sessions were a week-long, he sat "at the feet of" luminaries such as Donald Butler of Princeton, Lawrence Little of the University of Pittsburgh, Iris and Kendig Cully of Lexington Theological Seminary, of Campbell Wyckoff, Marvin Taylor and Bettie Curry, (to name a few.) Here, they explored with one another varieties of educational and curriculum theories. They were educationally oriented toward social change theories, ecumenical theology, Christian education as transformative of society.

Joe found that he had inherited a massive informal education about how people "learn" faith; how in all of their diversity they celebrate it; and how they share it. This he valued. This he lifted up, whenever speaking (as he did with such respect) of the local church volunteer teacher. In his interview with Dr. Will Kennedy, Joe said,

"You know, they used to say Christian education was fine until the professionals got a hold of it. Once they began to mess it up with a lot of theology, they just ruined it!" At another point, he said, "You have to say to classroom teachers, especially the volunteers, 'Listen, you take the material that is provided, and you add to it what you know is going on in the lives of your students, and what is happening around them'. All of this is part of the curriculum. The material that's printed is a guide."

At another point, Joe wrote,

"Church-school teachers need to be freed up enough to incorporate their own ideas into the mixture. It's like using a recipe for soup. That's how I think that we need to prepare them. We need to show them how they can make changes in what they are given, to spice it up, as it were. They often feel very insecure. We need to help them to have confidence in their own sense of things."

Joe's contributions to curricular thinking about the importance of one's culture and of the arts in the development of mature faith cannot be over-emphasized. He saw it first in African-American communities of faith, and then expanded to see it in all other cultures. As his insights were recognized, Joe's assignments increased, and he was given responsibility for searching out supplementary, culturally supportive resources, first for Black settings, then for the various ethnic and minorities.

Being an intelligent African American, he was able to recognize, even before the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960's, that much of the "mainstream" of religious education in the American Protestant church was rooted in the culture of those from whom we had received it. It was white. It was European. There was a bias toward "knowing the faith". Learning was literacy-dependent. He saw that we receive religious instruction as something to be "learned", not "caught".

"We were finally allowed to learn to read in order to read The Book, but not how to read the traditions and windows and symbolic rituals. We learn the faith, in a school, in classrooms. We are given teachers, not witnesses or role models. We even call it education, not formation, or growth in faith, or growth in faithfulness."

In the written transcript of his interview with Dr. Will Kennedy, Joe says,

"Culture is at the root of all art, and teaching the faith is an art. In Christian education, people learn as a result of being raised in a particular cultural milieu. They learn because in their immediate environment, there are clues to the processes of socialization, to what works, and is valued. I don't know why the professional educators have overlooked this for so long. Words are powerful, but never as powerful as when combined with art."

By his very artful presentations, Joe modeled for others the centrality he gave to the power of art. In his many years as an educator, Joe's approach to education was steeped in that part of him that was "artist". He wrote,

"I found myself structuring what I was to say and do as if it were an artistic presentation. I remember thinking, 'How can I do this in a variety of "movements"'? I called one of my workshop seminars 'The Theatre of Cultural Learning'. I structured programs based on 'the rhythm' of learning. We can all use these creative references in our work, be they sermons or written pieces. We can use references to hymns and dramas, and myths. It frequently has a deeper connection for people than academic language has, drawing as it does on long-established memory and emotions, not just on thought. Quite frankly, I wish that teachers would always feel free to do that."

Culture and its role in faith development continued to be a central theme throughout Joe's professional career in Christian Education. A central goal was to free the term "culture" from the narrow hold it had in the popular mind.

In the first half of the 20th century, (he said) and before that, "culture" was something that belonged to the "elite". They "had" culture, others didn't. If you went to museums, that was "being cultured". If you liked opera,you were truly "cultured". It is "cultured" to speak correctly, with proper pronunciation and grammar, and to dress in clothing that was culturally approved. (Of course, the model for this way of being "cultured" was that of the white privileged!) Other cultural styles, accents, and speech patterns were "not cultured". As Joe has said, "In time, these became the focus of comedy and degrading humor". Note Italian- and Irish-accented jokes, Black-faced minstrels, Red-neck jokes, etc."

Joe expressed concern over the way in which the term "American" was used. Watering down the significance of differences, the American ideal was to become a "melting pot", devoid of the richness of our special roots. Children of immigrants were encouraged to "become" truly American, looking down on their family accent, cultural particularities, ethnic foods, etc. To become "truly" American one was to try to forget, to deny or to be ashamed of one's ethnicity or immigrant "ways".

So in his role in the national, ecumenical Christian education world, Joe gently interacted with, and thereby influenced, many national Denominational Church educators, and later, regional staff and local church volunteers, to think through the many places where the varieties of practices and traditions from all over the world were to be critiqued and/ or incorporated when planning church education materials. He helped the church to see cultural diversity as "a gift" to be used, not a societal problem to be overcome.

One of Joe Nash's principle contributions was in helping the churches to incorporate cultural educational principles into Christian Education. He pushed the idea that cultural perspectives needed to be a part of every aspect of the development, through broadening their goal setting, their methodology, their materials and teacher-training. As he himself has said, he intuited that the consciousness-raising of the Black Power movement, and the value that it held for Black Christians, enabled people to reclaim and celebrate their culture…and how that culture had come to shape their faith. He foresaw that the witness of "reclaiming roots" would lead to all ethnic groups to want to learn about the religious component of their cultural roots. And, indeed, it did. In time, Joe's work expanded, becoming the Ecumenical Black and Multi-Ethnic Christian Education Resource Center. It was a significant contribution, inspiring many denominational efforts.

But it was when he moved, and helped denominational staffs to move, from an ethnic-specific, and racial-specific concern to that of the multi-cultural, that he truly cut ground in the field. He had to fight for it. Many persons of color and of various ethnicities felt that it was "abandoning the cause". But he had an intuition, a realization that it is as we move from a narrow identification of "who we are as people of God", to a knowledge of "others" as also the People of God. We can move even further, to appreciation, allowing our own faith to be effected by others and their ways of seeing and celebrating."

Joe wrote that even after his retirement from the National Council of Churches, and the field of Christian education, he still thought as an educator.

"When I decided to retire, and to return more fully to educating about early Black dance in America, I took all of my background of working with professional religious educators, curriculum developers, theologians, education specialists along with me. I thought, How can I utilize all that I have learned. Since my retirement from the NCC, I am deeply involved with the Harlem Dance Festival. My activities involve speaking about Black dance. My presentations are based on helping people to see what the motivating factors were that led people to move into the field of the arts. It is so interesting studying the lives of these artists, how people are motivated by their religious faith. It is so interesting to come to recognize how much people are motivated to learn about their roots and cultural heritage, and then to realize the extent to which there is a 'religious space' to everything that emanates out of a given culture."

In the 20th Century, the path toward "The Other" for many people was the Christian-ecumenical path, learning to work with and appreciate persons of other Protestant traditions and denominations. In time, especially after the Second Vatican Council, there came to be an inclusion of Roman Catholics in the outreach, all as brothers and sisters "in the Lord". Gradually, at this millennial turning, one hears more and more of an embracing, of all of those who are of the Abrahamic Faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Increasingly, people are lifting up and valuing that we spring from a common religious "tree". There is a growing conviction among many that we share so much. We hear and read that perhaps we can come to understand one another, for our own enrichment, and even, perhaps, for the work of building up, together, God's "Shalom / Salaam" world, a world of peace with justice.

So, also, it can be posited, that as immigrations continue, as peoples and nations become closer, as the globe becomes "smaller", as cultural values intermingle, and technologies impact communication, and we move toward an interdependent economy, people are finding value in becoming part of an even broader outreach to "The Other" - to those of Eastern faiths, and of indigenous faiths, - thus opening into the interreligious domain where people of religious conviction, however diverse their traditions and specific beliefs, will increasingly come together to work at some of our most critical human problems, and to affirm common values and beliefs about the sacredness of creation, and universal principles of ethics, human rights and love. Joe's witness stands as a dancing beacon to that possibility!

Interview with Dr. William Bean Kennedy

Union Theological Seminary, NY

[Recognizing the unique and non-traditional contribution of Joe Nash to multicultural Christian education in the USA, William B. Kennedy, distinguished Professor of Education at Union Theological Seminary chose to interview Joe Nash. Knowing that Joe's development and approach were not traditional, were not in the academic arena, his intention was to capture, for the record, some of the pathways of Joe's life that shaped his faith, and those societal and institutional factors that influenced his awareness of the importance of the non-academic, of the cultural, (music, dance, liturgical rituals) in faith formation. The following are excerpts from that interview, held in New York City in 1993.]

Q: Joe, tell us how you got into the field of religious education and what has been the "life journey" that has led to the role you have played in "opening up" the cultural dimensions of religious education, especially, though not exclusively, in the Black community.

Well…I grew up in a highly diverse community of people on the Upper West Side of New York City. Although my parents were Methodist, and attended a Methodist Church up in Harlem, there was a little Protestant Episcopal church near us on West 99th Street called St. Jude's Chapel, and as a youngster, my parents enrolled us in this church, rather than drag us all the way uptown.

St. Jude's was the center of my life as a youngster. Here I experienced arts-steeped religious activities, serving as an acolyte in that wonderful ancient liturgy. I loved donning the special robes. I loved singing the old chants and hymns in the children's choir. I even taught Sunday school at the age of nine! When the teacher didn't show up, they just said, "Joe, take over the class." I was introduced to Bible studies, and to many persons of deep conviction, who would talk about their life experiences in relation to their faith. I participated in our outdoor processions and in the pageants, and because I had the ability to memorize long passages, I was always up there, performing! That was the foundation: a dramatic introduction to the Bible, to a community of deep faith, to liturgical music, and to art as a dimension of faith.

Then came World War II. I went into the army and was stationed in Texas and Kentucky. From there I was sent to Scotland, England and France. During my time in Europe, I would visit the cathedrals and the old medieval churches. There was such history associated with them. I studied their stained-glass windows and would often talk to the organist about his role in planning the music for the liturgy. You have no idea what a thrill it was for me to visit these historical sites, in Salisbury, Liverpool, and Notre Dame in Paris!

Q: All of this was during the war?

During the war, yes! My duties as a soldier were primarily secretarial, and I made the most of my furloughs to visit these places because I assumed that there would not be that much opportunity to revisit these locales. Visiting churches continues to be an interest of mine. It appeals to the artist in me, I guess.

When I came out of the service, I was faced with the question of what direction to take in my life. After what I had seen, I returned to New York City changed. I'd seen beauty that I had no idea existed before. I'd seen amazing wonders of nature - lakes, mountains, hills and valleys. I knew it was time to expand, to move beyond my childhood "territory". Not an easy thing to do, because coming as I did from a large family, I of course still felt close connections with them and with the community.

As a teenager, I had been involved in a federal project called the "National Youth Administration" where I had met and become very close friends with Pearl Primus. As a result of working there, she had become a celebrity on the concert stage. I had had some training as a dancer, and Pearl suggested that I audition as a dancer in a new musical called "Showboat" which was opening at the Ziegfield Theatre. And that began a new phase of my "life journey". I entered the theatre. I toured the US and Canada and Europe, performed on television, taught, and I'll tell you, I met some of the most creative performers of the day! It was wonderful. They impacted me all of my adult life, and to such an extent, that I decided to document the histories of these wonderful persons, so many of them African-American. That began my arts collection, which became such a factor in my later role in religious education and the arts. I would browse through bookstores and dusty shelves and things, and I would collect. Wherever I came across old memorabilia, posters, magazines, people's biographies, etc., I'd collect them. Little did I dream that in years to come, curriculum developers in many Christian denominations would develop multi-racial, multi-cultural materials based on some of these things, these pieces of art and biography.

Remember, at this time in America, mostly all Christian education was rooted in white-culture, and white approaches to learning. Consequently, when "The Sixties" arrived, and the Civil Rights movement began, a new element was entering the field of Christian reflection. Theologians were beginning to reflect theologically about Black power and Black Liberation. The Black Awareness movement entered mainline Churches. Black Denominational caucuses came into existence. It served notice on denominations that there was a change forth-coming that would play an important role in influencing future approaches to education, curriculum development and resources, leadership development, even Denominational staffing. The whole system would have to be altered as a result of this.

Q: But how did you get from a dance career and theatre to Christian education?

Well, I had done secretarial work in the army, and it became clear to me that I would not be able to continue making a career in theatre-dance, starting later as I did. I applied and was hired as a secretary in the National Council of Churches, whose offices were in New York City. One of the areas I was assigned to work in was that of curriculum development.

There was a broadly-based ecumenical program that I worked on called the Uniform Lessons, where many national denominational curriculum staff would come together for a full week each year, choose a flow of biblical texts, and develop outlines for lessons. Those outlines were then used back in their denominational publishing houses to develop into curriculum for adults, youth and children. These Sunday school, bible-study materials were called "The Uniform Series" The original idea was rooted in an ecumenical dream: "Wouldn't it be good if Christians of many denominations were studying the same scripture in their Sunday school every week!" That effort is still going, and is over 130 years old!

I was also secretary for a very significant (at the time) cooperative project of several years' duration. It was called the Cooperative Curriculum Project, and led to a manual for curriculum development that shaped Denominational curricula for many years.

So I was learning, not in the traditional way, by attending university, but by my work experiences. I was reading, listening and learning. I sat, not at the feet of professors, but listening to discussions among some of the most creative Christian education scholars of the time. I'd then be writing up (endlessly, it seemed!) all of their work, their comprehensive approach to the content of religious education and how to build curricula based on those principles and that content.

One day, at a publishers' convention, at a "demonstration" of a new on-site printing machine, I had a sudden impulse to have a large sign printed up that read Black Resources Center, and took it back to my office. This sign provoked such discussion! It was the very first time the word "Black" had ever been made public in the Council. People would stop by and say, "Is this a new department in the National Council of Churches? What does this mean?" A Black Christian Educator in the field of Urban Education, working in our Division of Christian Education at that time, was Olivia Pearl Stokes, and this just rang bells in her mind. I became her program assistant. She said, "Joe, about this Black Resources Center, we are going to have to really develop this!" I immediately began to bring resources from my apartment and from all the cubby holes in the office. All of the art work and memorabilia I had been collecting.

Then we had a Black Christian Education Conference in Detroit. I remember deciding to gather up all of my materials and take them out to this conference for the exhibit - with my sign! People came to ask about the materials and I would just respond about how to get them and how you should try to evaluate them, how to relate them to the learning situation, etc. I had had no formal training, or any real guidance. People just kept coming up to the exhibit asking for recommendations, wanting help.

One day, Rosa Parks came up and spoke to me. I said to her, "You realize, you are responsible for all of this!" That was a thrill, meeting her.!

Q: So the civil rights movement was partly responsible for your impact?

Oh yes! Gradually, consciousness grew, diversity of staffing increased. Several African- American Denominational staff began to see a value, even a need, for what they came to call the Ecumenical Black Christian Education Resource Center. They came up with a plan, through an inter-denominational coalition called JED (Joint Educational Development), to sponsor and to provide additional funding for it. By putting up the resources to make the center a reality, what had been merely a free-floating idea, what had really been something just in the mind of Joe Nash, became a reality.

And this led to many things - consultations with all kinds of people who came to the office, many workshops out in the field, being a speaker at numerous conferences and taking the exhibit to others.

Once I had created the Resources Center, we had to bring the materials in direct contact with the users or potential users which meant, not just professional educators, but "the laity" in the local church. I had to plan a variety of ways to introduce these materials into the local setting. Sometimes, people who were in local churches would hear about my center, and they would ask me to visit their local church. Now, actually, NCC staff were not supposed to go to local churches , which was the territory of the denominations, but 1 would bypass this rule and just go right in! What was the value of having these materials sitting in an office if teachers in the churches did not have access to them? 'They cannot come here so I have to go to them'. So my weekends were always filled with going to local churches. Emily Gibbes, the first African American Executive of our Division, would warn me about overloading my schedule and doing too many programs back-to-back, but the work had to be done because there was a deep need for people to know the relationship of their culture to what they taught, and how they taught. The same question remains central for local church teachers today: What can I use and how can I use it when I am in front of the students in my classroom. That's the key question because they're not professionally trained. They're not theologically-oriented. They often know very little about their own cultural heritage. So you have to offer a variety of approaches to them and you need to use their language, to start with where they are, not where you are.

I made a very big issue of the importance of including the various arts in their teaching. I felt that people who come from a cultural heritage where the arts have been vital in their history have got to begin to use these in educational settings. 1 said this is not new. This is a very old approach. Before most people could read how did they do it? They used color, pictures, music, movement and dance, drama, poetry. They used stories, legends and myths for teaching deeper truths. We should remember that there are many more ways to learn than by reading and listening to people. I could talk to these people because I had not had all of that higher education myself!

Q: So what came next for you, Joe?

Well, a day came when I said to myself, "Joe, the Black agenda is being addressed. What is the next step? And the idea came to me: We've got to begin to broaden, to acknowledge in our midst these other non-white cultures. They are soon going to be requesting the same kind of attention, the same emphasis. Why not have a Multi-Ethnic Center! So, we got the official o.k. to change to the "Black and Multi-ethnic Christian Education Resource Center". I was able to collect articles, curriculum supplements, culturally sensitive, religiously inspired art, etc. I began to talk to curriculum teams from other backgrounds. And it proved to be timely. And that became our new emphasis and outreach. But gradually, I came to see an even deeper issue…not only was there need for distinct, separate ethnic materials and approaches, there was a deeper more integrated need, i.e., to understand the multi-cultural dimension of our churches and of society. All people needed to understand all of humanity, with all of our diversities, interacting and influencing how we are and who we are. It was a most difficult concept to deal with for people. For some people still, their hair stands up when you use the word "multicultural." But it was such an important idea. So we broadened our focus and approach, becoming now The National Council of Churches' Multi-cultural Christian Education Resource Center. It was a long way from Joe Nash's impromptu "Black Resources" sign!

The question before the churches, (and the larger society, really,) was “How can you prepare people for life, and for interaction with other people if they have only impressions and stereotypes of one another, or if people don't understand the culture, values, and history of others, and what makes them who they are? Religious people have to think of all of us as being God's creatures, to stop thinking of the world as 'us' and 'them'!"

Q: How did you come to this insight, Joe?

I believe that what made it possible for me to see this was the rich diversity of my early childhood - here on New York City's Upper West Side, in its public schools. I was always in a multicultural, multiethnic group and they were implanting into me a deep interest in all people! And of course, the Bible is filled with the challenge to the people of God as they encountered people of other cultures.

In order to make an impact upon the thinking of the educators, I planned the very first National Ecumenical Conference on Multiculturalism in Church Education. It took place at The Krisheim Conference Center, in Philadelphia. I remember thinking, "Now what theme can help people to understand what we're talking about?" I remember reading about the Vision Quest practice of the Plains Indians and so, on my advisory committee was a Nez Perce American named Cecil Corbett, from Arizona. I said, "Cecil, do you think you could develop a presentation based upon 'the Vision Quest'?"

This was presented at the beginning of the conference. Then, when they formed into planning groups, they were to find some parallel to the uniqueness of the "vision quest" in their own culture. It worked! It helped people to understand that there are similarities and differences and each of our cultures has a special uniqueness that helps to make us who we are. It was a wonderful way to open the program because people began to discuss things out of their heritages that had been forgotten or overlooked. They began to see how these things could be incorporated into broader church settings, which often were diverse in membership but single (and white) in culture and approach.

People came from Canada, and from all over the U.S.A. because they had heard of "multiculturalism", but not applied to Christian education. I identified many noteworthy programs in public schools, where secular educators were doing fine things. Now we needed to structure a variety of ways to help church leaders come to grips with this new dimension, this broader approach, as they planned church education and curricula.

Of course, broadening the focus of the Center was not all smooth sailing. Many said "Joe, we're losing the black focus here. We went along with you when you wanted to expand to include multi-ethnic. But now you want to move to multicultural and to drop the word Black!" They would not let me drop the word Black. So we were officially the Black and Multicultural Christian Education Resources Center…a mouthful! Gradually, however, it became known simply as the Multicultural Resources Center. In all of my reports, I always stressed the multicultural angle and vision. I was always making suggestions to the "members of the establishment" that they should be trying to introduce this type of broader multi-cultural dimension into their local churches. See, the mistake that I had discovered was that originally the approach was "Black studies for Black churches". This was an error. Black studies needed to go into all churches. The college students, when they took over offices on campuses made the same mistake: Black studies for Black students. It was a beginning, perhaps, but too limited. What happened? As you know, in many university settings, black's learned about blacks. But too many whites felt, "I do not need to know that to be educated", and they still had only their stereotypes.

Q: Joe, do you realize how significant that concept has been as people have struggled with and moved out from their early understanding of what we are called to be, and what we are to know?

Well, I'm sure I was not the first voice. Nor was I the only voice. But because of the combination of the times I was born into, the "path" of my own life in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, with such rich experiences of the arts and of cultures; through all of my wonderful experiences and relationships in the National Council of Churches; then living through the Black Liberation Movement, and the growing awareness of the importance of culture and of the arts in nurturing faith, well, perhaps I was able to help open up some doors.


Joe Nash did not write or publish much in the field of Christian education. The materials that are available about him and his work relate to his contributions in the area of dance. The following publications, sound recordings, and video-recordings provide insight to his work and passions.

Print Medium

  • Long, R. A., and Nash, J. V. (1989). The Black tradition in American dance . New York: Rizzoli. Written by Long, with photographs and annotations by Joe Nash.
  • Nash, J. V. (1992). The development of Black modern dance in America. In G. E. Myers, The Black tradition in American modern dance . Durham, NC: American Dance Festival.
  • Nash, J. V. (1997). Pioneers in Negro concert dance. In G. E. Myers, Dance women, living legends. The Black tradition in American modern dance . New York: An Arts Center (Aaron Davis Hall).

Sound Recordings

  • Nash, J. V., & Perron, W. (1999). Interview with Joe Nash (Cassette Recording).
    Cassette One: Mr. Nash discusses growing up; his interest in the arts in general and dance in particular; studying with Katherine Dunham and members of her company including Syvilla Fort; other dancers; the critical climate of the period; auditioning for Helen Tamiris' Show Boar; studying various techniques under the auspices of the American Theater Wing; working with Pearl Primus; taking class with Doris Humphrey; the first examples of racial integration in dance; his decision to stop dancing; his subsequent work documenting the history of black dance; studying with Charles Weidman; Eleo Pomare and the tradition of modern dance as social protest; the particular challenges faced by black artists doing this type of work.
    Cassette Two: Mr. Nash discusses his ongoing interest in vernacular dance; research that he would like to do; racism in dance; his choreography. Transcript also available. Recorded November 9 and 11, 1999, at The Interchurch Center in New York City.
  • Nash, J. V. (Contributor). (1983). Dance Black America, April 21-24, 1983 (Part 2, April 21). Symposium: Dance as liberation, protest, celebration and affirmation. Brooklyn Academy of Music, State University of New York. Recorded at the "Dance Black America" Festival.

Video Recordings

  • Nash, J. V. (Contributor). (1981). Third world dance: Historical perspectives (Video Recording). New York: ARC Videodance.
  • Nash, J. V., & Shook, K. (1981). Third world dance: Beyond the white stream (Video Recording). New York: ARC Videodance. (Historical perspectives on black dancers in the United States).
  • Nash, J. V. (Participant). (1986). Eye on dance 200th program anniversary special: Selected highlights from 1981-1986 (Video Recording). New York: ARC Videodance.
  • Nash, J. V. (Project/Content Director). (2001). The Black tradition in American dance (Lecture slide series). Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Dept. of Dance. Note: May have the "Joe Nash Black Dance Collection"

Author Information

Dorothy Savage

Dorothy Savage (Dot) was a staff colleague of Joe Nash, and then Director of Educational and Leadership Ministries in the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches. She also served as the Executive Secretary of The Religious Education Association in the mid-1980's. Retired now, she is working on a part-time basis with Religions for Peace, USA, (RFPUSA), a broadly-based inter-religious initiative enabling a broad range of religious organizations to work together and to witness on behalf of religious concern for foreign policy issues that impact peace with justice, in the US, as well as globally. RFPUSA is a subsidiary of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP).