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cullar institution and its system ofrace relations were more dynamic than is often assumed, and in doing so, they raise vital questions that other researchers will surely want to pursue. The Times Were Strange and Stirring Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation By Reginald F. Hildebrand Duke University Press, 1 99 5 xxiv, 189 pp. Cloth, $45.95; paper, $17.95 Reviewed by Joseph M. Flora, professor of English at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he regularly teaches courses in southern literature. He is the author of numerous articles and books on American and English Literature, including Contemporary Fiction Writers ofthe South (1993) and Contemporary Poets, Dramatists, Essayists, andNovelists ofthe South (1994). In God's Trombones (1927)James WeldonJohnson pays eloquent tribute to the sustaining presence ofblack ministers for their parishioners, both during slavery and following it. William Faulkner concludes The Sound and the Fury (1929) by reaffirming the spiritual presence of the black preacher, showing the black church as the last bastion ofChristianity in the modern South. After the years following the Civil War denied African Americans the full benefits oftheir emancipation, some African American writers questioned the role black ministers had played in the progress of their race, but few would contest that their role was major. Black identification with the biblical story ofMoses and the exodus from Egypt has always been strong: black ministers were called to lead their people from the injustices of Pharaoh into a promised land. No more telling manifestation ofthat identification can be found than in the legacy ofMartin Luther King. In his most famous speech, a century after emancipation, he reflected that he "might not get to the promised land." To the most casual observer, the centrality of the black church in the fight for long-denied civil rights is obvious. The black church led. We have known that leadership role primarily at the emotional level. Although historians have recognized the importance of the black church's role, they have tended to pass over it quickly. Not until 1993 with publication of William E. Montgomery's Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree could readers find a sustained 84 Reviews consideration of the black church during emancipation and Reconstruction. In The Times Were Strange andStirring, Reginald Hildebrand now adds a new dimension to the discussion by studying the competingMediodisms eager for the minds and souls of the newly freed blacks of the South. In the largely Protestant South, the Baptists also competed for many of those same persons, but that study awaits Hildebrand or some other. The comparative possibilities are intriguing. (Hildebrand acknowledges that leaving out Baptists is a bit like writing ofAmerican politics without considering Democrats.) Focus on Methodism in the South was a natural choice for Hildebrand. His study is dedicated to his many kinsmen (a great grandfadier, a grandfather, a father as well as granduncles and uncles) who have labored as ministers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the first ofthese was a slave. Looking back to him, Hildebrand states, "When former slaves made a religious affiliation, they were not just choosing a church and a preacher; they were also engaged in the process ofredefining themselves as a free people." Hildebrand's text distances his readers from the personal, however. With a scholarly audience in mind, he underplays die emotional aspect of his history of Methodism from emancipation through Reconstruction, letting an epigraph from W E. B. Du Bois and quotations from the persons treated in his history recall the driving hungers and conflicts . Hildebrand divides his study into three parts in order to define distinctways in which freedom was understood: as a new paternalism, as an evangelical black nationalism, as an anticaste system. The histories are concurrent ones. We stay with no persons for extensive periods; patterns rather than personalities or chronology dominate Hildebrand's plan. The third section may be the most compelling because it gets us closer to twentieth-century struggles and goals—to that legacy of King—which is not to say that twentieth-century readers will not be tempted to reflect that attitudes of paternalism and black nationalism are still present in contemporary American culture. It is impossible for Hildebrand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 84-87
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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