How the Legacy of Black Preaching Shaped Martin Luther King’s Voice for Justice

This article is republished from Conversation Under Creative Commons Licence. Read the The original articlePosted on January 17, 2020 and updated on January 23, 2020.

The name of Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama Male king In both his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,

“[King] “He gathered Americans from every corner of this land to stand together in a Washington mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial…to talk about his dream.”

Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such engaging oral presentations. They made him a global figure.

King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of the present and active divine intervention that calls for preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression, and neglect abound. In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – a hopeful voice that begins with prayer and is concerned with human tragedy.

So what led to the rise of the black preacher and the formation of King’s prophetic voice?

in my book,”The Journey and Promise of African American PreachingI discuss the historical formation of the black preacher. My work is on African American prophetic preaching Offers that King’s unmistakable calls for justice were an outgrowth of earlier prophetic preaching that flourished as a result of racism in the United States.

From slavery to the Great Migration

First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural, and political challenges that led to the birth of the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the blessing of society and outside of the church.

In the slave community, black preachers She played an important role in society: they acted as predictors explaining the importance of events; as shepherds calling for unity and solidarity; As messianic figures, they arouse the first feelings of resentment against the oppressors.

Religious Renaissance or Cool alert From the eighteenth century it was brought to America A brand focused on the Bible of Christianity Evangelicalism – which dominated the religious scene in the early nineteenth century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.

This new movement made Christianity more accessible, more lively, without overwhelming educational requirements. Africans converted to Christianity They came in large numbers during revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions imposed on them, black preachers emerged as preachers and teachers, despite their status as slaves.

Africans looked at this renaissance as a way to restore some remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They integrated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.

The rise of the black political cleric

Despite the development of black preachers and the great social and religious progress of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction The process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War posed many challenges to white slaveholders who resented the political advances of the newly freed Africans.

As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black pastors preached to their congregations. Some have become bi-vocational. It was not unusual to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as teachers and administrators during the work week.

Others held important political positions. In all, 16 African Americans served in the US Congress during Reconstruction. For example, the South Carolina House of Representatives. Richard Harvey Kanewho attended Wilberforce University, America’s first privately black university, served in the Forty-third and Forty-fifth Congresses and was pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.

Others, such as a former slave, a Methodist minister and teacher Hiram Rhodes celebrates And Henry McNeil TurnerShared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain to the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.

To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this age, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to direct worship but also to be guides. The main informant of the community in the public square.

Cradle of the spiritual heritage of the king

Many other events also converged, affecting Black Lives Matter and which would later influence King’s prophetic vision: President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the United States entry into World War I in 1917; When the boll weevil destroyed crops in 1916, it spread widely agricultural depression; Then there it was The emergence of Jim Crow laws which aimed to legally enforce apartheid until 1965.

Such massive events, with a ripple effect, have led to the largest inland movement of people on American soil, The great “black” migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern immigrants left the South daily. More than 1.5 million people were transported to northern communities between 1916 and 1940.

The turning point of the Great Migration created contradictory expectations regarding the mission and identity of the African American church. Infrastructure of Northern Black Churches They were not ready to deal With the painful effects of migration. Their suddenness and scale overwhelmed pre-existing processes.

The immense suffering brought by the Great Migration and the racial hatred from which they fled led many clerics to think more deeply about the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to be believed That the Christian gospel and discrimination are compatible.

However, black preachers have rarely modified their preaching strategies. Instead of establishing black self-improvement centers focused on job training, home economics classes, and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came to the North continued to preach. These sermons extolled the virtues of humility, goodwill and patience, as was the case in the south.

The development of the prophetic tradition

Three radical clerics – one of them a woman – initiated the conversion. These three pastors were particularly innovative in the way they approached the mission of evangelism.

Baptist Rev Adam C. Powell Sr.the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) pastor Florence S. Randolph and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reverdy C Ransom He spoke of human tragedy, inside and outside the black church. They brought a distinctive form of prophetic preaching that united spiritual transformation with social reform and countered the dehumanization of blacks.

Bishop Ransom’s displeasure arose while he was preaching at Bethel AME – an elite church – who had no desire to welcome the masses of poor and unemployed who had come north. He left and started the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which Worship and social services combined.

Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought to her prophetic vision her duties as a preacher, evangelist, organizer, suffragette, and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In this role, he led the congregation to establish a community home and nursing home to meet the political, religious, and social needs of blacks.

Formation of the king’s vision

The preaching tradition forged by the early clergy had a profound influence on King’s moral and ethical vision. They hooked up Seeing Jesus as it came in the Bible Bringing good tidings to the poor, restoring sight to the blind, proclaiming freedom to captives, with the mandate of the Hebrew prophet to speak truth to force.

Similar to the way they responded to the complex challenges brought by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King provided a prophetic interpretation of the brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty of the 1950s and 1960s.

Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately called for his martyrdom. But through the tradition of prophetic preaching that was already well-established in his time, the king brought people of every tribe, class, and creed closer towards shaping “Beloved God Society” An anchor of love and hope for humanity.

This is an updated version of the widget First published On January 15, 2017.

written by Kenyatta R. Gilbertprofessor of preaching, Howard University School of Theology.

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