Albert J. Raboteau, who transformed black religious studies, dies at 78

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When Albert was still a baby, his mother, Mabel (Ishem) Raboteau, a teacher and domestic worker, moved with him and his two sisters to Ann Arbor, Michigan, both to escape the horrors of the Jim Crow Deep era. South and to find new opportunities in the North.

His family being Roman Catholic, Albert attended parish schools, both in Michigan and Pasadena, California, where his family moved in 1958. By that time, his mother had married Royal L. Woods, a former Mississippi priest who left the clergy after racism within the church.

Mr. Woods taught Albert Latin and Greek, and despite his own fallout with the Catholic Church, he influenced Albert’s childhood interest in becoming a monk, as did Albert’s avid reading of progressive Catholic writers like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

Although Dr. Raboteau never joined the priesthood, his interest in religion shaped his academic and professional career. He attended Loyola University, now Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit institution in Los Angeles, and then obtained a master’s degree in literature from the University of California at Berkeley in 1966.

His time in Berkeley coincided with the tumult of the counterculture and antiwar movements, as well as the flourishing of black political consciousness on college campuses. At Marquette University, where he earned a master’s degree in divinity, he helped lead a protest that closed the school for two weeks, calling on Marquette to bring in more black students and professors.

After graduating from Marquette, Dr. Raboteau taught theology at Xavier University in New Orleans. But the courts crushed him, forcing him to face questions about his own beliefs that he wasn’t ready to answer.


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