A black and white sermon: John Jasper’s capitalization on white exploitation in late nineteenth-century Virginia

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Groups within southern society seized on John Jasper’s sermon arguing that the sun moved around the earth in order to reinforce ideas of African American inferiority. Jasper, however, took advantage of these efforts at exploitation. By embodying the stereotype whites sought to promote, Jasper became very popular with white visitors, and tourists to Richmond frequently requested renditions of the sermon. Through preaching his sun sermon on 253 occasions, Jasper was not only able to secure the financial and social independence of his church, but also provided inspiration to African Americans through highlighting that southern white supremacy could be overcome.

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For 4 million slaves, emancipation was a liberation and resurrection story of biblical proportion, both the clearest example of God's intervention in human history and a sign of the end of days. In this book, Matthew Harper demonstrates how black southerners' theology, in particular their understanding of the end times, influenced nearly every major economic and political decision they made in the aftermath of emancipation. From considering what demands to make in early Reconstruction to deciding whether or not to migrate west, African American Protestants consistently inserted themselves into biblical narratives as a way of seeing the importance of their own struggle in God's greater plan for humanity. Phrases like "jubilee," "Zion," "valley of dry bones," and the "New Jerusalem" in black-authored political documents invoked different stories from the Bible to argue for different political strategies. This study offers new ways of understanding the intersections between black political and religious thought of this era. Until now, scholarship on black religion has not highlighted how pervasive or contested these beliefs were. This narrative, however, tracks how these ideas governed particular political moments as African Americans sought to define and defend their freedom in the forty years following emancipation. © 2016 The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the character of the South, and even its persistence as a distinct region, was an open question. During Reconstruction, the North assumed significant power to redefine the South, imagining a region rebuilt and modeled on northern society. The white South actively resisted these efforts, battling the legal strictures of Reconstruction on the ground. Meanwhile, white southern storytellers worked to recast the South’s image, romanticizing the Lost Cause and heralding the birth of a New South. In Stories of the South, K. Stephen Prince argues that this cultural production was as important as political competition and economic striving in turning the South and the nation away from the egalitarian promises of Reconstruction and toward Jim Crow. Examining novels, minstrel songs, travel brochures, illustrations, oratory, and other cultural artifacts produced in the half century following the Civil War, Prince demonstrates the centrality of popular culture to the reconstruction of southern identity, shedding new light on the complicity of the North in the retreat from the possibility of racial democracy. © 2014 The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.
This chapter examines the role played by proslavery religion in the antebellum white South. American Protestantism faced an intractable crisis over slavery prior to the Civil War, and the country's three largest antebellum religious denominations—Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians—suffered schisms into northern and southern branches over the slavery question. The South's white Protestants grounded their argument in a conservative reading of the Bible that demonstrated unequivocally that their Triune God of Grace sanctioned the right of white masters to own black slaves. This chapter considers how proslavery theology emerged as a critical ideological building block in the making of southern sectionalism and, ultimately, the Confederacy. It explores the religious dispute over the slavery question within the antebellum and Civil War context, along with white southern Protestants' proslavery arguments after emancipation. It shows that the proslavery rhetoric in religion was never about the slavery question alone: it was about how Christians claimed to read the Holy Scripture.
This dissertation chronicles how black churches and religious institutions influenced freed people's strategies for political engagement after emancipation in Virginia. The study delves deeper than the depiction of churches and associations as political training grounds or vehicles for social cohesion by offering a more nuanced view of how the conventions, churches, schools and seminaries, shaped ideas about voting, interracial cooperation, gender roles and patronage politics. The study uses church and convention minutes, school records, personal papers, newspapers and government documents to picture the political, social and religious transformations that anchor this study. Beginning with the formation of regional and state church associations and culminating with the Readjuster movement, a political movement that effected Virginia's Reconstruction between 1879 and 1883, the study argues that black religious institutions were both powerful and vulnerable institutions. First advancing black political participation and faciliating interracial cooperation, black religious institutions later undermined these developments and in the process shaped specific gender roles for black men and women.
From 1925 to 1941, approximately one hundred African American clergymen teamed up with leading record labels such as Columbia, Paramount, Victor-RCA to record and sell their sermons on wax. While white clerics of the era, such as Aimee Semple McPherson and Charles Fuller, became religious entrepreneurs and celebrities through their pioneering use of radio, black clergy were largely marginalized from radio. Instead, they relied on other means to get their message out, teaming up with corporate titans of the phonograph industry to package and distribute their old-time gospel messages across the country. Their nationally marketed folk sermons received an enthusiastic welcome by consumers, at times even outselling top billing jazz and blues artists such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. These phonograph preachers significantly shaped the development of black religion during the interwar period, playing a crucial role in establishing the contemporary religious practices of commodification, broadcasting, and celebrity. Yet, the fame and reach of these nationwide media ministries came at a price, as phonograph preachers became subject to the principles of corporate America. In Preaching on Wax, Lerone A. Martin offers the first full-length account of the oft-overlooked religious history of the phonograph industry. He explains why a critical mass of African American ministers teamed up with the major phonograph labels of the day, how and why black consumers eagerly purchased their religious records, and how this phonograph religion significantly contributed to the shaping of modern African American Christianity.
The Talking Book casts the Bible as the central character in a vivid portrait of black America, tracing the origins of African-American culture from slavery's secluded forest prayer meetings to the bright lights and bold style of today's hip-hop artists. The Bible has profoundly influenced African Americans throughout history. From a variety of perspectives this wide-ranging book is the first to explore the Bible's role in the triumph of the black experience. Using the Bible as a foundation, African Americans shared religious beliefs, created their own music, and shaped the ultimate key to their freedom-literacy. Allen Callahan highlights the intersection of biblical images with African-American music, politics, religion, art, and literature. The author tells a moving story of a biblically informed African-American culture, identifying four major biblical images-Exile, Exodus, Ethiopia, and Emmanuel. He brings these themes to life in a unique African-American history that grows from the harsh experience of slavery into a rich culture that endures as one of the most important forces of twenty-first-century America.
Although many white southerners chose to memorialize the Lost Cause in the aftermath of the Civil War, boosters, entrepreneurs, and architects in southern cities believed that economic development, rather than nostalgia, would foster reconciliation between North and South. In Designing Dixie, Reiko Hillyer shows how these boosters crafted distinctive local pasts designed to promote their economic futures and to attract northern tourists and investors. Neither romanticizing the Old South nor appealing to Lost Cause ideology, promoters of New South industrialization used urban design to construct particular relationships to each city's southern, slaveholding, and Confederate pasts. Drawing on the approaches of cultural history, landscape studies, and the history of memory, Hillyer shows how the southern tourist destinations of St. Augustine, Richmond, and Atlanta deployed historical imagery to attract northern investment. St. Augustine's Spanish Renaissance Revival resorts muted the town's Confederate past and linked northern investment in the city to the tradition of imperial expansion. Richmond boasted its colonial and Revolutionary heritage, depicting its industrial development as an outgrowth of national destiny. Atlanta's use of northern architectural language displaced the southern identity of the city and substituted a narrative of long-standing allegiance to a modern industrial order. With its emphases on alternative southern pasts, architectural design, tourism, and political economy, Designing Dixie significantly revises our understandings of both southern historical memory and post-Civil War sectional reconciliation. © 2015 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. All rights reserved.
John Jasper (1812–1901), a major if misunderstood figure in post-Civil War African American culture, exemplifies a preaching tradition that used biblical ideas of covenant and apocalypse to orient the faithful in the furnace of the post-Reconstruction South. Jasper’s sermons, usually titled “The Sun Do Move” and “The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain Without Hands,” are among the works that make him, in Ralph Ellison’s words, one of the “eloquent and heroic Negroes” whose “spirit still moves us through the contributions they made to the flexibility, music and idealism of the American language” (“Remembering” 668). Recent scholarship has taken Jasper as being significant because of the disregard for natural law signaled in the “Sun” sermon’s conventional title, which implies “God’s ability to alter the natural order,” and so belies Southern assumptions that “slavery and race domination are inherent” in that order (Roberts 139). Scholars note too that “[a]lthough the sermon is titled ‘The Sun Do Move,’ Jasper’s real purpose is to demonstrate the truthfulness and reliability of the power of God” (LaRue 33). Despite their insights, these views reflect over-reliance on the best-known but truncated and misleading version of this sermon, remain unaware of its emphasis on the God of Exodus, and fail to relate it to others, such as “The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain.” Fuller reconstruction and contextualization place the two works centrally in the biblical covenant and apocalyptic traditions, with their assumption that God providentially directs history toward salvation of the covenant people. Not incidentally, this reconsideration also helps undermine the cliché that religious faith encourages acceptance of injustice. Jasper was born July 4, 1812, in Fluvanna County, Virginia, and remained a slave until emancipation. Converted in 1839, he began preaching the next year and built a reputation over many years largely on the funeral circuit (Randolph 10).1 Following the Civil War, he was a minister in Petersburg, Virginia, helped organize Baptist churches in Weldon, North Carolina, and Richmond, and eventually founded Richmond’s Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church (Randolph 28–33), remaining pastor until his death. Jasper is today known almost entirely for the “Sun” sermon, though in his lifetime and immediately after he was famed for others as well (see, e.g., Brawley 84–85). He is first known to have preached the sermon in early 1878 and he repeated it hundreds of times, often before white audiences. The title is not Jasper’s, and is used here only for convenience.2 The sermon has come down to us as a biblically based argument for a geocentric, flat-earth view of the universe, and yet is arguably about Exodus, covenant, and apocalypse as much as it is about the sun. The sermon’s seemingly central concern with the sun is indeed partly an artifact of its being known, even today, almost exclusively in a shortened version excluding other material. This version was published (1908) seven years after Jasper’s death by a white Baptist minister and admirer, William E. Hatcher, and this reconstructed excerpt represents the appropriation and celebration of only a part of the sermon’s content. An earlier and more reliable biography of Jasper (1884), by Edwin Archer Randolph, the first African American law graduate of Yale, gives a better idea of the sermon’s focus but is today almost unknown.3 Further, since Jasper composed orally, accounts of his sermons are based on newspaper reports, including both summaries and purported dialect transcriptions.4 Both the sermon and its author long held different meanings in African American and white traditions. Among whites of his day, Jasper was a figure of some renown. Though his was an African American congregation, white guests frequently attended and were received with unfailing courtesy (Hatcher 124–26), and a syndicate sent Jasper on tour to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in mid-1878 (Randolph 36; Hatcher 129–31). These acts point to some genuine, if limited common ground between the races. Yet even avowed admirers present Jasper with palpable, if unconscious condescension. To Hatcher, he is a “most original and picturesque representative of his race,” and a “wonderful prince of his tribe” (125, 22), and...
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