AA is a Cult, part 68

Alcoholics Anonymous was established in the 1930s, and based on the teachings of (defrocked) Lutheran minister Frank Buchman. The Oxford Group was a new name for the cult he started in 1921 (First Century Christians), inspired by his 1908 religious conversion. Buchman himself was antisemitic, and personally attempted to woo Heinrich Himmler to join his pro fascist, pro Nazi Party cult. It is not, therefore, surprising that I cannot find any evidence of the Oxford Group ever having a black member. 

When the Oxford Group was rebranded yet again to Moral Re-Armament (MRA) a young black man William Storey joined and became an early member of their clean-cut peppy preppy song and dance troupe, Up With People. MRA made him their token, and wrote a new fictional backstory for him to tell: they decided it would make a better story if they’d rescued him from being in a gang.  He eventually left the group, and fifteen years into his marriage disclosed this cult past to his wife. She created the critical Up With People documentary “Smile Til It Hurts”. 

Alcoholics Anonymous likewise began as an all white Christian fraternity. There are several black firsts in AA – the first all black meeting, the first recognized all black meeting, and the first black people to attend white meetings. These are all stories of racial discrimination and exclusion, of petty cruelty and slights. These are ugly stories about ugly white people, and the black alcoholics who endured indignity in their quest for sobriety. 

The first all black AA group was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in January, 1945, with five members. This first group wrote to AA headquarters in New York, asking not to have the name or nature of the group disclosed in AA meeting lists or other literature. They feared reprisals from white racists in AA. AA Inc. promptly forgot the group existed, later celebrating a Washington D.C. chapter as the “first” black AA group. 

That second “first” black AA group was founded two months later (March 1945) in Chicago, the Evans Avenue group which is still active today. It was started by Earl Redmond, a black alcoholic, with early leadership assistance from Bill Williams (not to be confused with Bill Wilson), a black alcoholic from Texas. Redmond and Williams traveled across the bread basket region from Chicago to Gary to South Bend, starting new black AA groups, at the time often called “Negro” or “colored” chapters. 

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