Preacher Woman Sings the Blues: The Autobiographies of Nineteenth-Century African American Evangelists

Preacher Woman Sings the Blues: The Autobiographies of Nineteenth-Century African American Evangelists

Preacher Woman Sings the Blues: The Autobiographies of Nineteenth-Century African American Evangelists

Preacher Woman Sings the Blues: The Autobiographies of Nineteenth-Century African American Evangelists

Synopsis

In this thorough and detailed study, Richard Douglass-Chin examines collectively for the first time the autobiographies of nineteenth-century African American women evangelists, along with their eighteenth-century forerunner "Belinda." By studying how black women evangelists employed dialogue created by socioeconomic conditions, the author shows how their writings form the groundwork for a contemporary womanist literature rooted in spirituality. Arguing that the writings have their own unique figurations and forms that develop and alter over time, Douglass-Chin claims that the changing black female spiritual narrative traces an important line in the ongoing traditions of black women's writing, a line that has only now begun to be reclaimed and validated. Through references to the writings of black male autobiographers Frederick Douglass, Richard Allen, Daniel Payne, and John Jea as well as the works of white female autobiographers Harriet Livermore and Phoebe Palmer, Douglass-Chin is able to make valuable comparisons.

Preacher Woman Sings the Blues begins with the study of black evangelists Belinda, Jarena Lee, and Zilpha Elaw, continuing with Rebecca Cox Jackson, Sojourner Truth, Julia Foote, Amanda Smith, Elizabeth, and Virginia Broughton. The author's discussion of Zora Neale Hurston focuses on how Hurston operates as a connection between early black women evangelist writers and black women writing in America today. He ends with the works of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Toni Cade Bambara.

By examining the early traditions prefiguring contemporary African American women's texts and the impact that race and gender have on them, Douglass-Chin shows how the nineteenth-century black women's works are still of utmost importance to many African American women writers today. Preacher Woman Sings the Blues makes a valuable contribution to literary criticism and theoretical analysis and will be welcomed by scholars and students alike.

Excerpt

In a trancelike vision, during which Jesus himself gives her a “letter . . . from God” authorizing her to preach, Julia Foote (1823— 1900) receives her spiritual baptism:

[God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] ... looked me over from head to foot, but said nothing.... [Christ] then lead me . . . till we came to a place where there was a great quantity of water.... Christ ... stripped me of my clothing.... Christ then appeared to wash me, the water feeling quite warm. During this operation, all the others stood on the bank, looking on in profound silence. When the washing was ended, the sweetest music I had ever heard greeted my ears. We walked to the shore, where an angel stood with a clean, white robe, which the Father at once put on me. in an instant I appeared to be changed into an angel. the whole company looked at me with delight, and began to make a noise which I called shouting. We all marched back with music. When we reached the tree to which the angel first led me, it hung full of fruit.... the Holy Ghost plucked some and gave me, and the rest helped themselves. We sat down and ate of the fruit.... When we had finished, we all arose and gave another shout. Then God the Father said to me: “You are now prepared, and must go where I have commanded you.” I replied, “If I go, they will not believe me.” Christ then appeared to write something with a golden pen and golden ink, upon golden paper. Then he rolled it up, and said to me: “Put this in your bosom, and, wherever you go, show it, and they will know that I have sent you to proclaim salvation to all.” He then put it into my bosom, and they all went with me to a bright, shining gate, singing and shouting. (F, 203) . . .

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