Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

them is reposed equal trust, and from them is expected an equal attention to their duties.

Let us all be united, my Brethren, in rearing this edifice--steady to our several departments--and so on shall be raised a wide spreading dome that shall stand the admiration and praise of succeeding generations, and on its front shall be eternally engraven

MUTUAL INTEREST, MUTUAL BENEFIT, AND MUTUAL RELIEF.■


11 A SERMON PREACHED ON THE FUNERAL OCCASION OF MARY HENERY

George White

George White ( 1764-1836) was born in slavery in Accomack, Virginia, and had been sold twice by the age of six. After he was released from bondage by a dying slaveholder in the early 1780s, White spent several years in a futile search for his mother, then journeyed north to New York City. White converted to abolitionist Methodism but bridled at the church's segregationist practices and, with other black Methodists, left to build a separate church. In 1804, he felt the call to preach and served as an itinerant exhorter for black camp meetings in New Jersey and on Long Island, though he was repeatedly denied a license to preach by the white Methodist elders. He was finally approved in 1807 and appointed a deacon (the highest office then open to a black Methodist) in 1815. In 1820, he joined Richard Allen's breakaway Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Black preachers delivered tens of thousands of funeral sermons in the early republic, but very few have survived. In his autobiographical narrative, one of the first published by an African American, White includes the following text of a sermon delivered at the funeral of Mary Henery. White returned from a preaching tour of Long Island in 1809 to discover that Henery, an enslaved twenty-year-old whom White had converted at a New York camp meeting, was deathly ill and calling for him. "With loud shouts of joy and praise to God, White sat at Henery's bedside until

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