Set thine house in order: Black feminism and the sermon as sonic art in the amen corner

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In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois discusses the historical and cultural beginnings of the black preacher as “the most unique personality developed on American soil.” He writes, “[the black preacher] found his functions as the healer of the sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong::: Thus as bard, physician, judge, and priest within the narrow limits allowed by the slave system rose the Negro preacher.” Far from being a monolith, the preacher figure embodies many complexities and variances on how the preached Word can be delivered. This begs the question, in what ways can we reimagine DuBois’s black preacher figure in his words, “the most unique personality developed on American soil,” as a black woman? What remains to be seen in scholarship of the mid-twentieth century is an articulation of the black woman preacher in African American literature. By reimagining and refiguring a response to DuBois’s assertion above, how is the role of the black woman preacher and impact of her sermons portrayed in African American literature? Using the art of the sermon, the intersection of music, and James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner as a central text, this article examines the black woman preacher in character and African American women’s spirituality in twentieth century literature. I argue that the way in which Margaret Alexander, as a black woman preacher in the text, creates sermonic spaces of healing and restoration (exegetically and eschatologically) for herself and others outside of the church becomes a new mode of social and cultural resistance. This article works to re-envision the black woman and reposition her in the center of religious discourse on our way to unearthing the modes of transfiguration black women preachers evoke in and out of the pulpit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number271
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


  • Art
  • Black feminism
  • Black preacher
  • James baldwin
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Religion
  • Sermon
  • Spirituality
  • The amen corner


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