The Amen Corner, the first dramatic play by the now much-celebrated African-American novelist, essayist, and playwright James Baldwin, was written during the 1950s, first performed on the professional stage in 1965, and first published in 1968.
The Amen Corner takes place in two settings: a ‘‘corner’’ church in Harlem and the apartment dwelling of Margaret Anderson, the church pastor, and of her son, David, and sister Odessa. After giving a fiery Sunday morning sermon, Margaret is confronted by the unexpected arrival of her long estranged husband, Luke, who collapses from illness shortly thereafter. Their son, David, along with several elders of the congregation, learn from Luke that, while Margaret had led everyone to believe that he had abandoned her with their son years ago, it was in fact Margaret who had left Luke in pursuit of a purely religious life. This information precipitates confrontations between Margaret and her son, her congregation, and her estranged husband, regarding what they see as the hypocritical nature of her religious convictions, which she uses to justify the breakup of her family. After an important conversation with his dying father, David informs Margaret that he is leaving home to pursue his calling as a jazz musician. On his deathbed, Luke declares to Margaret that he has always loved her, and that she should not have left him. Finally, Margaret’s congregation decides to oust her, based on their perception that she unjustly ruined her own family in the name of religion. Only after losing her son, her husband, and her congregation, does Margaret finally realize that she should not have used religion as an excuse to escape the struggles of life and love, but that ‘‘To love the Lord is to love all His children—all of them, everyone!—and suffer with them and rejoice with them and never count the cost!’’
The Amen Corner addresses themes of the role of the church in the African-American family, the complex relationship between religion and earthly love, and the effect of a poverty born of racial prejudice on the African-American community.