Who are the Black Copts?

There are some similarities between the Black Coptic Church and the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Black Coptic Church as founded by Prophet Cicero is not the Coptic Church of Egypt and, therefore, the church seeks to create its own identity in naming itself ―The Coptic Church after the order of Melchizedek.

To be sure, Prophet Cicero was aware of the existence of the Coptic Church of Egypt. In his booklet, Black I am that I am God, Prophet Cicero mentions, among other things, ancient Egypt and its influence upon early Christianity. Thus, the naming of this community as the Coptic Church was intentional and part and parcel of the church‘s liberative theological program. The naming of this community as Coptic expressed the idea of a church that seeks to resurrect the ancient heritage of black persons through the construction of a link between North American blacks and the oldest black Christian community. The church highlights the degree of disconnectedness that happened as a result of the slave trade, kidnapped Africans‘ sojourn in North America, and the lasting legacy of the North American institution of slavery. Therefore, the naming of this community as Coptic expresses the attempt of Prophet Cicero to reconnect African- Americans to an ancient heritage of ancient Egypt, in which black life, black culture, and black religion flourished and were celebrated. The naming of this community, then, as Coptic creates a cultural, psychological, and religious link between the descendants of North American slaves as authentic descendants of ancient Egyptian kings and queens, and blacks in North America.

In the North American context, where the Black Coptic Church found its origin, the notion of connectedness plays a crucial role in the church‘s history and foundation.

During the slave trade, we were not allowed to take our God with us, and therefore, ―we had lost our connection to our God, and so Prophet Cicero connected us back to the image of God so that we would not allow ourselves to be cut off from the root again. By naming us as Copts, Prophet Cicero took the tree back to its roots. Egypt is the beginning of civilization. So, by naming the organization as Coptic, Prophet Cicero connected us to the origin of God’s creation.‖

It is suggested that Prophet Cicero found in Egypt a civilization in which black men and women governed themselves independently, created science, math, and religion, which eventually converted to Christianity because they saw a connection between the principles of Jesus and their ancient ideas. As black Copts, we claim that same heritage.

Prophet Cicero’s decision to identify this organization as Coptic represented a paradigm shift in the history of black religion in North America. To be sure, however, the paradigmatic shift in which Prophet Cicero operated was a paradigm shift that was burgeoning in the Urban North during the 1930s.

Consequently, in Chicago, Illinois, during the 1930s, one saw the emergence of several black religious institutions that sought to make a correlation between one’s religious identity and the longing for black emancipation.

Prophet Cicero’s organization, coincidentally, was one of several religious organizations in 1930s Chicago, which included the nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, and the Black Jews, whose religious program was part and parcel of its program of identity formation.

In naming his organization as Coptic, Prophet Cicero made a decisive break with the established black churches, and created a relationship between the adherents of the Black Coptic Church and the Coptic Church of Egypt, which traces its ancestry to the ancient Egyptian dynasties that were led by black kings in queens.

Upon leaving Atlanta in 1928, Prophet Cicero relocated his ministry to Chicago, Illinois, where he established the first Black Coptic Church, called the Universal Prayer House and Training School, located at 4724 S. Cottage Grove Avenue. As founder of the Black Coptic Church, Prophet Cicero was primarily responsible for laying the foundation of the church‘s Theology, its structure, its organization, and its early mission as a black church in North America.

It is suggested that Prophet Cicero named himself ―prophet ―because it was different than what black people had been used to. They were used to their church leaders being called teachers, missionaries, mothers, etc. However, Prophet Cicero knew he was a prophet because of the revelation that God had given him to give to men and women. No one could do that except a prophet.

At the Universal Prayer House and Training School, Prophet Cicero organized the Black Coptic Church as a black monarchy, which would consist of queens and prophets. The organization of the Black Coptic Church is directly reflective of the church‘s liberation Theology, which, since its inception, concerned itself with the ways in which the world viewed African-Americans, and the negative perceptions which African-American had internalized.

Prophet Cicero‘s desire was to transform the black church experience so that it would not simply be a place of religiosity, but also an organization in which the identity of blacks would be reshaped and fashioned in a manner which instills a sense of dignity and pride in being black.

Therefore, Prophet Cicero introduced a new ecclesiastical structure in which adherents would be known by royal titles to reflect an ancient royal culture. This invention is one of the foundations for a liberative ecclesiology.

In middle 1930s North American society, black Americans were viewed as absolutely less than human. In public, private and religious spheres, outside of black church traditions, black Americans were relegated to the margins of society. In realms of education, government, social progress, in the workplace, and in mainline white church Theology and practice, black Americans were seen as sub-par, lacking intelligence, and in most cases were simply referred to as ―niggers,―Negroes, or ―colored people. However, in the Black Coptic Church, the same people who were the janitors, the factory workers, the domestic workers, and the nobodies throughout the week, were known as queens, prophets, and monarchs on Sunday mornings.

The organization of the Black Coptic Church is directly reflective of the church‘s that this transformation of identity which took place in the church-house resonated into the daily lives of the churchgoers. In this regard, although adherents of the Black Coptic Church were socially marginalized by the dominant society, their entry into the Black Coptic Church and their subsequent taking on of a royal title fostered a sense of agency among the churchgoers, such that ―they were psychologically able to transcend all that the world had said about them.

The genius, then, of Prophet Cicero in naming his organization as Coptic, brought an ancient African culture to North America, which eradicated the false identity that had been given to blacks in North America, and established a new identity that linked blacks in America to a royal ancestry.

 Class School of Wisdom

While leading the Universal Prayer House and Training School, Prophet Cicero taught the converts in the tradition of the new faith. The Universal Prayer House and Training School was organized in the following way: a teacher, who was one of several queens in the church, taught new converts in the ―School of Wisdom (Bible class, new members‘ class) for a term of no less than one year.

In the School of Wisdom, new converts learned the church’s history, its Theology, its structure, and its rules and regulations. After such time, new converts were baptized according to a Trinitarian formula, and finally were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which took place on the pinnacle of the church’s liturgical calendar, known as the Day of Pentecost.

Prophet Cicero led the Universal Prayer House and Training School until his death on February 11, 1961.

Although Prophet Cicero had not directly installed a leader to assume the leadership of the organization upon his death, his final words before his passing were, ― ‘If you have any questions, see Peter’.

Prophet Peter Banks was one of the prophets in the church who worked alongside Prophet Cicero. However, although these were the final instructions of Prophet Cicero, ―after his passing, there was a battle in the church concerning who would assume the leadership.

His sister-in-law, Queen Rebekah Armstrong (d. 2005), had first introduced Prophet Peter Banks to the Black Coptic Church. Queen Rebekah recounts that, during the life of Prophet Cicero Patterson, he informed her that he was looking for a man whom he could train to lead the church upon his passing. Queen Rebekah thought of her brother-in-law, whose birth name was Eddie Banks. In her own words, Queen Rebekah maintained, ―Prophet Cicero told me to find him a man. I told Eddie Banks that prophet Cicero wanted to see him, so he came and met the prophet. Prophet Cicero [then] taught Eddie Banks in his office and laid hands on him many times.

Eddie Banks was already an ordained minister in the spiritualist Tradition, and therefore already had possessed a foundation in the church and biblical knowledge.

Upon joining, Eddie Banks exhibited zeal and a desire to learn more about the Black Coptic tradition. Soon after joining the Universal Prayer and Training School, Prophet Cicero changed Eddie‘s named to Peter. This was done in order to ―remove the slave name, and bestow upon Eddie a ―biblical name that had meaning.

As a result of his dedication, humility, and love for the people of God, ―Prophet Cicero handed down the Black Coptic teachings to Prophet Peter in the same way that Moses handed down the law to Joshua.

Queen Rebekah suggests that Prophet Cicero‘s role was to lead the people out of oppression, and it was Prophet Peter‘s role to lead them into the Promised Land. Not everyone, however, accepted Prophet Peter as the legitimate successor of Prophet Cicero.

Queen Capernaum Banks, wife of Prophet Peter, because of apparent disrespect shown toward her husband, who was leading the church, eventually left the Universal Prayer House and Training School, and established her own prayer group in her home.

Approximately one year after the death of Prophet Cicero, the community remained in chaos. Many congregants left the church and established their own churches. The Universal Prayer House and Training School was seemingly dismantled. Unsuccessful at garnering the support of the congregants, Prophet Peter resigned as leader of the Universal Prayer House and Training School, joined with his wife, and together they established the True Temple of Solomon Coptic Church in Chicago, in August, 1965.

Shortly thereafter, the Universal Prayer House and Training School slowly faded away as members dispersed and formed their own communities. Prophet Peter and his wife, Queen Capernaum, founded the True Temple of Solomon Coptic Church, which, until the death of Prophet Peter would serve as the flagship and headquarters of the Black Coptic Church.

[McKinnis, Leonard, “I Am Black and Beautiful: An Examination of the Black Coptic Church as the Manifestation of Liberation Theology” (2010). Dissertations. Paper 33.]