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Two The Act of Prophesying Nineteenth-Century Black Women Preachers and Black Literary History “After this I shall pour out my spirit on all mankind: / your sons and your daughters will prophesy. . . . I shall pour out my spirit in those days even on slaves and slave-girls.” —Joel 2:28–29 The biblical passage above is used repeatedly in the narratives of Jarena Lee, Julia Foote, Maria Stewart, and Frances Joseph Gaudet. These women used this passage most frequently in the context of opposition from whites and men in order to insist that their religious activities were a part of God’s will and to refute nineteenth-century gender and racial ideologies that suggested that women should not and could not preach or work in a capacity outside of domestic church positions. During the nineteenth century, women in the black church were relegated to positions that posed no real threat to the power structure maintained by preachers, deacons, and other male leaders. Women were usually assigned roles of Sunday school teachers, exhorters, secretaries, cooks, and cleaners. Such positions paralleled those reserved for women within the domestic sphere of the home. Although Evelyn Higginbotham has demonstrated the political roles that women played within the Baptist institution, and although Jualyne Dodson has intimated that women’s financial contributions to the church gave them power in decision-making processes within the church, women were still expected to operate within gender guidelines that reflected the expectations for women in society at large. Those who dared to become preachers or even independent missionaries were often met with strong opposition by men and even 14 These women used this passage most frequently to convince skeptics and opposers that their religious activities were a part of God’s will and to refute nineteenth-century gender and racial ideologies that suggested that women should not and could not preach or work in a capacity outside of domestic church positions. During the nineteenth century, women in the black church were relegated to positions that posed no real threat to the power structure maintained by preachers, deacons, and other male leaders. Women were usually assigned roles of Sunday school teachers, exhorters, secretaries, cooks, and cleaners. Such positions paralleled those reserved for women within the domestic sphere of the home. Although Evelyn Higginbotham has demonstrated the political roles that women played within the Baptist institution, and although Jualyne Dodson has intimated that women’s financial contributions to the church gave them power in decision-making processes within the church, women were still expected to operate within gender guidelines that reflected the expectations for women in society at large. Those who dared to become preachers or even independent missionaries were often met with strong opposition by men and even The Act of Prophesying 15 some women. In response to this opposition, use of this passage declaring that God is “pouring out [His] spirit upon all flesh” offered justi- fication that the Bible had already mandated spiritual egalitarianism in terms of who could prophesy. The Bible clearly states that the “sons and the daughters” could prophesy, yet within the particular historical context of these black women preachers, only the sons were being privileged. As descendants of “slaves” or as former “slave girls” themselves, Jarena Lee, Julia Foote, Maria Stewart, and Frances Gaudet strongly believed that they were indeed these “prophesying daughters.” As such, they traveled all over the country, sometimes even abroad, to preach or do God’s work. Whenever possible, they rode on trains or in stagecoaches, but most of the time they were forced either to ride on the decks of boats and in mail coaches or to rely on other forms of transportation because of what Julia Foote calls “indignities on the account of color.” Many times they walked. When they reached their destinations in free and slave states, they preached to men, women, and children from various races, denominations, and classes, extending to them their own interpretations of the Bible. When they were denied the pulpit or podium because of prejudices against women, they preached in tents, bush clearings , meeting halls, private homes, and other marginal spaces. They left their children, husbands, and homes to preach the Word of God. Jarena Lee, Julia Foote, Maria Stewart, Frances Joseph Gaudet, and several other religious black women spread the Word of God to slaves in the South and to a very large number of diverse blacks in the North. Even within their own immediate black communities and institutions— in what...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826262998
Related ISBN
9780826214676
MARC Record
OCLC
1017609628
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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