front cover of Black Bishop
Black Bishop
Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church
Michael J. Beary
University of Illinois Press, 2001

America’s first Black bishop and his struggle to rebuild the African American presence inside the Episcopal Church

In 1918, the Right Reverend Edward T. Demby took up the reins as Suffragan (assistant) Bishop for Colored Work in Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest, an area encompassing Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and New Mexico. Set within the context of a series of experiments in black leadership conducted by the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas in the early decades of the twentieth century, Demby's tenure in a segregated ministry illuminates the larger American experience of segregation disguised as a social good.

Intent on demonstrating the industry and self-reliance of black Episcopalians to the church at large, Demby set about securing black priests for the diocese, baptizing and confirming communicants, and building schools and other institutions of community service. A gifted leader and a committed Episcopalian, Demby recognized that black service institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and orphanages, would be the means to draw African Americans back to the Episcopal Church, which they had abandoned in droves after emancipation as the church of their former masters.

For more than twenty years, hamstrung by white apathy, lack of funds, jurisdictional ambiguity, and the Great Depression, Demby doggedly tried to establish the credibility of a ministry that was as ill-conceived as it was well intended. Michael J. Beary skillfully narrates the shifting alliances within the Episcopal Church and shows how race was but one aspect of a more elemental struggle for power. He demonstrates how Demby's steadiness of purpose and non-confrontational manner gathered allies on both sides of the color line and how, ultimately, his judgment and the weight of his experience carried the church past its segregationist experiment.

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Freedom's Witness
The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner
Jean Lee Cole
West Virginia University Press, 2013
In a series of columns published in the African American newspaper The Christian Recorder, the young, charismatic preacher Henry McNeal Turner described his experience of the Civil War, first from the perspective of a civilian observer in Washington, D.C., and later, as one of the Union army’s first black chaplains.
 
In the halls of Congress, Turner witnessed the debates surrounding emancipation and black enlistment. As army chaplain, Turner dodged “grape” and cannon, comforted the sick and wounded, and settled disputes between white southerners and their former slaves. He was dismayed by the destruction left by Sherman’s army in the Carolinas, but buoyed by the bravery displayed by black soldiers in battle. After the war ended, he helped establish churches and schools for the freedmen, who previously had been prohibited from attending either.
 
Throughout his columns, Turner evinces his firm belief in the absolute equality of blacks with whites, and insists on civil rights for all black citizens. In vivid, detailed prose, laced with a combination of trenchant commentary and self-deprecating humor, Turner established himself as more than an observer: he became a distinctive and authoritative voice for the black community, and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal church. After Reconstruction failed, Turner became disillusioned with the American dream and became a vocal advocate of black emigration to Africa, prefiguring black nationalists such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Here, however, we see Turner’s youthful exuberance and optimism, and his open-eyed wonder at the momentous changes taking place in American society.
 
Well-known in his day, Turner has been relegated to the fringes of African American history, in large part because neither his views nor the forms in which he expressed them were recognized by either the black or white elite. With an introduction by Jean Lee Cole and a foreword by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner restores this important figure to the historical and literary record.

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The Gospel of John Marrant
Conjuring Christianity in the Black Atlantic
Alphonso F. Saville IV
Duke University Press, 2024
Reverend John Marrant (1755–91) was North America’s first Black ordained minister and one of America’s earliest Black authors and preachers. In The Gospel of John Marrant, Alphonso F. Saville IV examines how Protestantism and West African indigenous religious practices deeply informed his life and ministry. Saville follows Marrant from his time evangelizing the Cherokee in Georgia to meeting with Black Freemasons in Boston to engaging with diasporic communities along the eastern seaboard and in England. Using the Black folk magic tradition of conjure as a lens for understanding Marrant’s religious imagination, Saville outlines the importance of Africana religious and cultural themes, symbols, and cosmologies in the biblical interpretation and ritual culture in early Black North American Christian communities. Marrant’s life and work, Saville contends, reveal the diverse religious cultures that contributed to the formation of African American Christianity and its evolution into a prominent institution during the colonial and early history of the United States. In so doing, he demonstrates the need to recenter both religion and Africa in the study of African American cultural and intellectual history.
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front cover of Memoirs of the Life, Religious Experience, Ministerial Travels, and Labours of Mrs. Elaw
Memoirs of the Life, Religious Experience, Ministerial Travels, and Labours of Mrs. Elaw
Zilpha Elaw
West Virginia University Press, 2021
The remarkable autobiography of a Black woman evangelist.

As a young Black orphan indentured to a Quaker family in Bristol, Pennsylvania, Zilpha Elaw (c. 1793–1873) decided to join the upstart Methodists in 1808. She preached her first sermon a decade later, ignoring her husband and the many church leaders, clergy, and laity who tried to silence her. Elaw’s memoir chronicles the first twenty years of her forty-year itinerant ministry during massive Protestant revivalism in the United States and England.

Elaw preached from Maine to Virginia, attracting multiracial and multidenominational audiences that included powerful men, wealthy White women, poor families, and enslaved communities. She moved from Bristol to Burlington, New Jersey, then to Nantucket, Massachusetts, and finally, in 1840, to London’s East End. In England, Elaw’s celebrity expanded, and at least twice she drew crowds so large they caused human stampedes and multiple injuries.

Blockett’s introduction and extensive annotations draw on newly unearthed information about the entirety of Elaw’s evangelism to provide context for this remarkable story of an antebellum Black woman’s personal and professional mobility.
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No Quittin' Sense
By the Reverend C. C. White and Ada Morehead Holland
University of Texas Press, 1994

This story, set in the Piney Woods country of East Texas, spans most of a century, from shortly after the close of the Civil War to the 1960's. It is the story of Charley White, who was born in the middle of those woods—in a decaying windowless log cabin a few years after his mother and father were freed from slavery. His childhood, lived in almost unbelievable poverty, was followed by financial stability achieved in middle age through years of struggle. And then, in order to obey God's will, he abandoned this secure life, and for forty years he waged a one-man war on poverty and intolerance.

Winner of the Carr P. Collins Award (best nonfiction book) of the Texas Institute of Letters, No Quittin' Sense presents the story of Rev. C. C. "Charley" White, whose life has inspired thousands of readers since the book was first published in 1969.

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front cover of A Noble and Independent Course
A Noble and Independent Course
The Life of the Reverend Edward Mitchell
Forrester A. Lee and James S. Pringle
Dartmouth College Press, 2018
In 1828 Edward Mitchell was the first student of African descent to graduate from Dartmouth College, more than thirty-five years before any other Ivy League school admitted a black student. This book tells Mitchell’s life story with the help of a recently rediscovered trove of his college essays, notes on his religious conversion, and hand-copied versions of his sermons. Born and raised in the French slave colony of Martinique, Mitchell immigrated to the United States and came of age in Philadelphia, where he broke bread with the city’s African American clerics and civic leaders. The Dartmouth trustees initially denied Mitchell admission but yielded to unified student protest. After his graduation, Mitchell continued his northward journey to serve as a Baptist preacher and evangelist in the pulpits of northern New England. His religious odyssey concluded in Lower Canada, where he was remembered as “the most profound theologian ever settled.” During his travels throughout the Atlantic world in an age of revolution and religious revival, Mitchell encountered the dominant social, economic, and political realities of his time. Although long celebrated as the inspiration for Dartmouth’s legacy of educating men and women of African ancestry, Mitchell’s life story remained unknown for almost two centuries. This book, which embodies history as recovery, is a testament to the authors’ desire to know the man behind the story.
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Press, Platform, Pulpit
Black Feminist Publics in the Era of Reform
Teresa Zackodnik
University of Tennessee Press, 2011

     Press, Platform, Pulpit examines how early black feminism goes public by sheding new light on some of the major figures of early black feminism as well as bringing forward some lesser-known individuals who helped shape various  reform movements. With a perspective unlike many other studies of black feminism, Teresa Zackodnik considers these activists as central, rather than marginal, to the politics of their day, and argues that black feminism reached critical mass well before the club movement’s national federation at the turn into the twentieth century . Throughout, she shifts the way in which  major figures of early black feminism have been understood.   

      The first three chapters trace the varied speaking styles and appeals of black women in the church, abolition, and women’s rights, highlighting audience and location as mediating factors in the public address and politics of figures such as Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Amanda Berry Smith, Ellen Craft, Sarah Parker Remond and Sojourner Truth. The next chapter focuses on Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching tours as working within “New Abolition” and influenced by black feminists before her. The final chapter examines feminist black nationalism as it developed in the periodical press by considering Maria Stewart’s social and feminist gospel; Mary Shadd Cary’s linking of abolition, emigration, and woman suffrage; and late-nineteenth-century black feminist journalism addressing black women’s migration and labor.  Early black feminists working in reforms such as abolition and women’s rights opened new public arenas, such as the press, to the voices of black women. The book concludes by focusing on the 1891 National Council of Women, Frances Harper, and Anna Julia Cooper, which together mark a generational shift in black feminism, and by exploring the possibilities of taking black feminism public through forging coalitions among women of color.
    Press, Platform, Pulpit goes far in deepening our understanding of early black feminism, its position in reform, and the varied publics it created for its politics. It not only moves historically from black feminist work in the church early in the nineteenth century to black feminism in the press at its close, but also explores the connections between black feminist politics across the century and specific reforms.

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front cover of Sketches of Slave Life and From and From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit
Sketches of Slave Life and From and From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit
Peter Randolph
West Virginia University Press, 2016

This book is the first anthology of the autobiographical writings of Peter Randolph, a prominent nineteenth-century former slave who became a black abolitionist, pastor, and community leader.

Randolph’s story is unique because he was freed and relocated from Virginia to Boston, along with his entire plantation cohort. A lawsuit launched by Randolph against his former master’s estate left legal documents that corroborate his autobiographies.

Randolph's writings give us a window into a different experience of slavery and freedom than other narratives currently available and will be of interest to students and scholars of African American literature, history, and religious studies, as well as those with an interest in Virginia history and mid-Atlantic slavery. 

 
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front cover of Your Spirits Walk Beside Us
Your Spirits Walk Beside Us
The Politics of Black Religion
Barbara Dianne Savage
Harvard University Press, 2012

Even before the emergence of the civil rights movement with black churches at its center, African American religion and progressive politics were assumed to be inextricably intertwined. In her revelatory book, Barbara Savage counters this assumption with the story of a highly diversified religious community whose debates over engagement in the struggle for racial equality were as vigorous as they were persistent. Rather than inevitable allies, black churches and political activists have been uneasy and contentious partners.

From the 1920s on, some of the best African American minds—W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, Benjamin Mays, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles S. Johnson, and others—argued tirelessly about the churches’ responsibility in the quest for racial justice. Could they be a liberal force, or would they be a constraint on progress? There was no single, unified black church but rather many churches marked by enormous intellectual, theological, and political differences and independence. Yet, confronted by racial discrimination and poverty, churches were called upon again and again to come together as savior institutions for black communities.

The tension between faith and political activism in black churches testifies to the difficult and unpredictable project of coupling religion and politics in the twentieth century. By retrieving the people, the polemics, and the power of the spiritual that animated African American political life, Savage has dramatically demonstrated the challenge to all religious institutions seeking political change in our time.

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