Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes is an ordained Baptist minister who serves as assistant pastor for special projects at Cambridge’s Union Baptist Church. 

Cheryl was born in Boston in 1947 to Murray and Eve-lyn Townsend. The family soon moved to Putnam Avenue in Cambridge, and Cheryl attended Cambridge High & Latin School until 1962, when the Townsends moved to Middle-borough.

She earned BA, MA, and PhD degrees in sociology at Northeastern University. In 1981 and 1982 she was a research assistant at Harvard’s Women’s Studies in Religion program and from 1978 to 1987 an assistant sociology professor at Boston University.

She accepted her present position at Colby in 1987.

Much of Dr. Gilkes’s scholarship is focused on African American religious history and the roles of Black church women. In her 2001 essay collection, “If it wasn’t for the women …”: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community, she posits women of color as generators of social change and the foundation and stay of their churches.

Her own work is deeply influenced by the work of W.E.B. Du Bois.

In the afterword to a new edition of The Souls of Black Folk, she writes,

“In addition to the psychological and literary power of Du Bois’s analysis, there is a socio-historical dimension to be explored that asserts the distinctive value of the Black experience for human progress generally.”

She told an interviewer in 2016 that,

“Du Bois’s message needs to be heard now as much as ever. … ‘We are human, too, and we need to be included in your consideration of this nation and how it came to be’” (Gerry Boyle, “What’s the Word? W.E.B. Du Bois,” Colby Magazine. Fall 2016).