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A Pursued Justice
Black Preaching from the Great Migration to Civil Rights
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Subjects: All Cultural Studies, All History, Preaching
The narrative of Civil Rights often begins with the prophetic figure of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. City squares became a church, the body politic a congregation, and sermons a jeremiad of social change—or so the story goes. In A Pursued Justice, Kenyatta Gilbert instead traces the roots of King’s call for justice to African American prophetic preaching that arose in an earlier moment of American history.
In the wake of a failed Reconstruction period, widespread agricultural depression, and the rise of Jim Crow laws, and triggered by America’s entry into World War I, a flood of southern Blacks moved from the South to the urban centers of the North. This Great Migration transformed northern Black churches and produced a new mode of preaching—prophetic Black preaching—which sought to address this brand new context.
Black clerics such as Baptist pastor Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., A.M.E. Bishop Reverdy Cassius Ransom, and A.M.E. Zion pastor Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph rose up within these congregations. From their pulpits, these pastors "spoke truth to power" for hope across racial, ethnic, and class lines both within their congregations and between the Black community and the wider culture.
A Pursued Justice profiles these three ecclesiastically inventive clerics of the first half of the twentieth century whose strident voices gave birth to a distinctive form of prophetic preaching. Their radical sermonic response to injustice and suffering, both in and out of the Black church, not only captured the imaginations of participants in the largest internal mass migration in American history but also inspired the homiletical vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequent generations of preachers of revolutionary hope and holy disobedience.
Introduction: The Migration of Hope
1. The Exodus: History and Voices of the Great Migration
2. The Promised Land: Social Crisis and the Importance of Black Preaching
3. Preaching as Exodus: Prophetic Imagination, Praxis, and Aesthetics
4. Exodus Preaching: Gospel and Migration
5. Exodus as Civil Rights: King and Beyond
Conclusion: Petitionary Truth Telling
Appendix A. Chapter 4 Sermons
Appendix B. Chapter 5 Sermons
"With this revealing account of sermonic oratory by women and men in African American Protestantism, Gilbert has advanced understanding of social justice preaching and the sundry challenges against which it has emerged."
"Kenyatta R. Gilbert offers readers a definitive analysis of the prophetic wisdom, witness, and worth of Black Preaching during the mass exodus of African Americans who moved off of sharecropping plantations and out of the South, beginning in 1910. In A Pursued Justice, Dr. Gilbert makes a forceful argument, backed up by insightful homiletical discourse, about the sacred rhetoric that sustained Black Christians who left the familiar and signed up for a ‘justice ticket’ in search of jobs and freedom."
—Katie G. Cannon, Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics, Union Presbyterian Seminary
"For far too long, the genius of Black preaching has been relegated to the delivery and performance of sermons alone. Gilbert skillfully shows us that prophetic preaching is not just what a preacher says but also what a preacher does in struggling communities to concretize and incarnate the social indictments of prophetic rhetoric."
—Gary V. Simpson, Senior Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY
“…this is an informative and at times inspirational book which in places is adorned with some of the rhetorical beauty which Gilbert attributes to others.”
—Stuart Blythe, Baptistic Theologies
"In both form and content, A Pursued Justice is a breakthrough work of practical theology and rhetorical analysis. If audience reception follows quality of content, it deservedly will enjoy multiple rounds of printing and critical acclaim."
—Rev. Andrew Wilkes, Sojourners
“With historical and biblical analytic precision, Gilbert sounds a clarion call for a return to prophetic Black preaching. While the primary audience for A Pursued Justice is the Black pulpit, its applicability to the pew and beyond is undeniable.”
—J. B. Blue, Homiletic
Kenyatta R. Gilbert is Associate Professor of Homiletics at Howard University School of Divinity.