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Max Yergan, Marxism and Mission during the Interwar Era

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From 1922 through 1936 Max Yergan, an African-American graduate of historically Black Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina represented the North American YMCA in South Africa through the auspices of the Student Christian Association. A student secretary since his sophomore year in 1911, with Indian and East African experience in World War One, Yergan's star rose sufficiently to permit him entry into the racially challenging South Africa field after a protracted campaign waged on his behalf by such interfaith luminaries as Gold Coast proto nationalist J.E.K. Aggrey and the formidable Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. Arriving on the eve of the Great Rand Mine Strike of 1922, Yergan's South African years were punctuated by political concerns.Entering the country as an Evangelical Pan-Africanist influenced by the social gospel thrust of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American Protestantism that reached the YMCA and other faith-friendly but nondenominational organizations, Yergan became favorably disposed to Marxist and Marxist-Leninist doctrine in the course of his South African posting. Against the backdrop of the labor agitation of the post World War One era and the expansion and transformation of the South African Communist Party that occurred during the mid to late nineteen twenties, Yergan's response to what he termed "the appeal of Communism" made him an avatar of a liberation theology fusing Marxist revolution and Christianity. This paper details some of the trajectory of that momentous and profound personal evolution.


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