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Rev. Dr. Kirk A. Johnson


Race, Theology, and Health

By Rev. Dr. Kirk A. Johnson


From 1915 to 1951, the National Negro Health Week/Movement (NNHW/NNHM) encouraged blacks to advocate for and address minority populations’ health issues with the aptitude of health education and advocacy. The movement was founded by educator and founder of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington. Initially, Washington’s initiative was called ‘‘Health Improvement Week,’’ an annual week of health awareness in early April, but the National Negro Business League (founded by Washington), with the financial sponsorship of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, gave Washington the necessary financial support to make it a national initiative.


The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) promoted NNHW into a national black health initiative. In 1921, the USPHS started to publish the National Negro Health Week Bulletin and had the US Surgeon General Dr. Hugh Smith Cumming convene at the first NNHW annual conference in Washington, DC. In 1932, the National Negro Health Week became the National Negro Health Movement (NNHM) by the establishment of the Office of Negro Health Work through the USPHS. The NNHM was supported by local health departments, civic groups, schools, media, and businesses. However, the grassroots advocacy of NNHW was the black church.


Sunday was the most important day for NNHW. The black church is an important institution in the black community because of its influence on change and transformation. On ‘‘Mobilization Sunday,’’ black preachers exhorted health education sermons at worship services and church meetings. NNHW organizers urged the usage of good speakers and music to keep the black community engaged and knowledgeable on health issues. Also, Sunday was ‘‘Reports and Follow-up Day’’ when the black community gathered at houses of worship for large civic meetings.


NNHW’s schedule was as follows: Monday ‘‘Home Hygiene Day,’’ Tuesday ‘‘Community Sanitation Day,’’ Wednesday ‘‘Special Campaign Day’’ which focused on specific local health needs, Thursday ‘‘Adult Health Day,’’ Friday ‘‘School Health Day,’’ and Saturday ‘‘General Cleanup Day,’’ which was ‘‘the large-scale cleanup activities and inspection of community health campaign results.’’ Weekly activities ended on Sunday.


The black church was the major conduit between the NNHW and the black community, and the NNHW wanted to promote the church as its key partner. In 1933, an NNHW News editorial declared, ‘‘The church can render a most helpful service in the Health Week Anniversary by making occasional announcements and by starting the health week proper with a good message to the church assemblies all day.’’ NNHM’s communal success in dominantly black American communities set the precedent for congregational health ministries today.



  1. Nelson, A. (2011). Body and soul: The Black Panther Party and the fight against medical discrimination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Quinn, S. C., & Thomas, S. B. (2001). The national Negro health week, 1915 to 1951: A descriptive account. Minority Health Today, 2(3), 44–49.


Community Calendar

WJHCS Trustees Recent Accomplishments and Honors:


Honoree: Leighton Newlin

Date: January 5, 2022

Elected: Princeton Councilmember


Honoree: Rev. Gregory Smith

Award: Ordination and Installation as Pastor

Date: November 20, 2021

Awarded By: Second Calvary Baptist Church, Hopewell, NJ



Honoree: Shirley Satterfield

Award: Community Engagement Award

Date: November 17, 2021

Awarded By: Princeton University and Pace Center for Civic Engagement


Honoree: Shirley A. Satterfield

Award: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award

Date: January 16, 2021

Awarded By: New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)

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