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ch a pter four A Jeremiad Even before J. C. Price told South Carolinians that they had yet to see God’s harvest in the South, he sounded a similar note in a speech for the National Temperance Society. As he assured the crowd, “I am sanguine. I believe­ there is a ­ future, and a ­ great ­ future, ahead of the colored men.” That ­ great­ future, Price explained, had to do with the gifts, abilities, and intelligence that African Americans could use to further their pro­ gress. But the ­ future Price described was one greater than that of black Americans’ own making: it was a divine mission.1 Two years ­ later, in another temperance speech, Price sounded less sanguine. He told the African American audience that though “God set the Negro ­free,” their immoral appetites still threatened to enslave them.2 Taken together, the two dif­fer­ ent speeches, one of happy predictions and the other of doomsday warnings, represented well Price’s temperance message. According to him, African Americans held an impor­ tant place within God’s plan for ­ human history, and, to that end, God had decreed the pro­gress of the race. Precisely ­because they had a “­great mission to perform,” African Americans needed to hold themselves to a high moral standard and guard against what­ever stood in the way of racial pro­gress. Between Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era, African Americans again had cause to reconsider their eschatological destiny. ­ Were better days ­ really coming, as Price argued? Not only had land owner­ ship proved elusive for many, but racial vio­lence and po­liti­cal persecution did not give way to an era of racial harmony and black pro­gress. In ­these trying times, black Southerners often looked to the biblical prophets, who had harsh words for the Israelites . Their prophecies, much like Price’s temperance message, worked to confirm Israel’s favored relationship with God while warning of coming judgment if the ­people did not repent of immoral conduct. Late nineteenth-­ century black ministers concluded, almost unanimously, that intemperance was a serious obstacle for black communities. For them, the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol threatened to arrest the God-­ ordained pro­ gress of the race. Black Protestants across the state enlisted in what they saw as a fight between good and evil, a fight upon which depended, as one minister said, “the hope of our race.”3 So, it was with par­ tic­ u­ lar zeal that A Jeremiad 99 black temperance activists—­ ministers and their many male and female lay allies—­ campaigned for individual abstinence from alcohol and statewide prohibition, from Reconstruction well into the twentieth ­century. Historians have paid ­ little attention to black temperance activism, but when they have, they have placed it within the context of the black pursuit of respectability. By living a temperate lifestyle, black reformers believed they could rise above negative racial ste­ reo­ types and gain the re­ spect of their white neighbors. A number of scholars have explained the importance, complexities, and prob­ lems of this bid for respectability. In contrast, this chapter shifts focus away from the white gaze and places black temperance activism within the religious narratives that African Americans told about themselves and for themselves. To be sure, African American reformers coveted the re­ spect of leading whites, and temperance served ­ those ends. But focusing on their bid for respectability ­mistakes a small part of the temperance movement for the ­whole. Black temperance activists ­ were motivated more by a desire to assume the special role God had assigned African Americans than by their desire to secure the re­ spect of whites. When advocating temperance, they spoke principally of the moral and material development of the race, usually as an issue internal to black communities. Their message functioned as a jeremiad, a sermon in the style of the prophet Jeremiah, intended to warn, chastise, and rebuke a ­ people even as it affirms them as God’s chosen ­ people. Price Rev. Joseph C. Price, 1895. One colleague called Price the “greatest orator” he had ever heard. Price was a tireless advocate for temperance and prohibition in North Carolina and across the nation. Image: J. W. Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (New York: A.M.E. Zion Book Concern, 1895). North Carolina Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC–Chapel Hill. 100 A Jeremiad and other moral reformers warned African American communities of impending judgment—­ that intemperance could derail the...


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