African American ministers have written and delivered sermons which have inspired people far beyond their congregations. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., probably the world's most famous Baptist minister, was the product of a tradition of great preachers who made the teachings of the Bible directly relevant to people looking for ways to make the world a better place for all.
"De Sun Do Move"
Given by the Rev. John J. Jasper in 1878, "De Sun Do Move" was an example of primitivist evangelical preaching, using language understood by newly freed slaves. Jasper himself had been a slave in Virginia, and had begun preaching despite it being illegal in the state. His personality drew people to his ministry, and "De Sun Do Move" became extremely popular with black and white audiences, eager to hear Jasper's evocation of the power and mystery of God, described in biblical terms, where the sun does indeed move across the sky.
"Dry Bones in the Valley"
One of the most well-known sermons given by possibly the most imitated black preacher, "Dry Bones in the Valley" was written by the Rev. C.L. Franklin. Broadcast on radio and recorded on vinyl from the 1940s onwards, Franklin's sermons had a nationwide audience. "Dry Bones in the Valley," from the book of Ezekiel, is a parable whereby, as a dead individual can be reassembled by God, so can a nation. Franklin's emotional climax, where the listener is put back together, was a technique much used by other preachers, including his friend Martin Luther King.
"I've Been to the Mountaintop"
Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the day before he was assassinated, this sermon was not delivered to a church congregation, but to a rally in support of striking sanitation workers. Well aware of the danger his life was in, he urged the striking workers, and his followers everywhere, to carry on whatever happened and maintain solidarity. "I've been to the mountaintop", he said, "And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
"Confusing God and Government"
Possibly the most controversial sermon of recent years, "Confusing God and Government" was given by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2003, but became famous in the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, when it was highlighted by opponents of Barack Obama, who had been part of the Rev. Wright's congregation. The sermon became known as the "God Damn America" speech, as it referred to previous US administrations and their ungodly attitudes to slavery and the destruction of Native American populations. The unearthing of this sermon five years after it was given, however, did not prevent the election of President Obama.
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