A Review of Saved for a Purpose: A Journey from Private Virtues to Public Values, By James A. Joseph. (Duke University Press, 235 pages)
The author, James A. Joseph defines his book, Saved for a Purpose: A Journey from Private Virtues to Public Values as an ethical autobiography.
James Joseph, an African American, was born in 1935 in the Deep South in the small rural segregated community, Plaisance, Louisiana, a farming region, home to several generations of the Joseph family. He describes it as an "ethnically mixed area in southwestern Louisiana....All of us, despite our differences in color, reflected in some ways the fusion of Cajuns and the Creoles with equally varied cultures of American Indians, Spaniards, French, German, Scots, Irish, English, Caribbean Islanders" - known by the locals as "cultural gumbo".
The author's depictions of the strategies the black community had to employ in order to survive in the white-dominated segregated environment are enlightening. "We grew up knowing that we faced the daily threat of death for simply being black, but we disliked even more the ongoing disrespect for our humanity....but we refused to be consumed by fear or hate. Our primary passion was the drive to succeed, to transcend and someday transform the barriers around us".
We learn that Joseph was strongly influenced by his religious upbringing, his parents, his father, Reverend Adam Joseph, founder of Starlight Baptist Church and his mother, Julia Joseph, who both instilled in Jim and his brother the importance of education and service. He explains, "But while I had my own sense of ethics and was absolute and more broad in scope, I must credit my father for developing within me a sense that I was not here alone, that I did not exist for myself alone that I was an integral part of something bigger and more mysterious than myself."
Southern University in Baton Rouge was the "black alternative" to Louisiana State University which was off-limits to Negro students. Joseph did his undergraduate at Southern. The real turning point in his education and outlook occurred during his subsequent years as a seminary student at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He recalls, "The period of Yale for me was an age of belief. I was trying to anchor my faith in something that answered rather than simply raised, critical questions about Sunday school stories." His time at Yale Divinity further developed his skills as social and civil rights activist....