Panel One: The Art of Black Preaching

The Center of African American Rhetoric and Public Address at the National Council of Black Studies

Day: Friday, March 13, 2020

Place: Place: Marriott Buckhead Hotel and Conference Center, Floor: Atrium Level, Heritage C

*To see the other panels, click here

Panel One: 3:30 to 4:45pm

Title: The Art of Black Preaching 

Abstract: In this panel, panelists examine the role of Black preaching and the rhetorical effects of the Black sermon/eulogy. Grounded in an Afrocentric understanding of communication, panelists seek to disrupt the Black Preaching Tradition.

Chair: Michelle E. Shaw

Michelle E. Shaw is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Rhetoric and Public Culture. She earned her BA in Mass Media Arts from Clark Atlanta University, and while working as a full-time journalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center. She later earned a Master of Theology degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Before returning to the classroom to pursue her graduate education, she wrote for several newspapers in the South and Southeast over the course of 15 years. She is currently interested in how rhetoric factors into the preaching moment, specifically when the orator is a woman, within predominately Black churches.

Earle J. Fisher, Memphis Theological Seminary/University of Memphis 

Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher is a native of Benton Harbor, Michigan. This preacher, professor, writer, and social advocate graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1996, earned an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts in 1999 from Lake Michigan College, a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Computer Science in 2003 from LeMoyne-Owen College and a Masters of Divinity Degree in 2008 from Memphis Theological Seminary. Rev. Fisher is a dually ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Missionary Baptist Church denominations.

Dr. Fisher received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Memphis in 2018. Professor Fisher serves as an Adjunct Instructor of Religion and Humanities at several local colleges and universities. Pastor Earle is also the Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, and founder of #UPTheVote901 – a nonpartisan initiative that gives more political power to more people and pushes to increase voter turnout in Memphis and Shelby County. Most of Dr. Fisher’s research focuses on the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion with an emphasis on prophetic rhetoric and the personality Albert Cleage, Jr. 

Title: The African American Jeremiad and the Marginalization of Black Rhetorical Militancy 

ABSTRACT: This essay seeks to disrupt the sacred conventions of the African American Jeremiad with hopes to reclaim a necessary appreciation of (and search for) a more militant (black) prophetic rhetoric. I aim to affirm the legitimacy of the traditional African American Jeremiad while simultaneously detailing its inability to validate the necessity and potency of radical, revolutionary, and militant prophetic rhetoric. In other words, I desire to decentralize the Jeremiad as the litmus test for prophetic rhetoric and demarginalize militant rhetoric within the context of the black prophetic tradition. I intend to achieve this by engaging two provocative works that are steeped within the Jeremiadic tradition: Robert E. Terrill’s Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgement, and an essay by Bernard Bell entitled, President Barack Obama, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, and the African American Jeremiadic Tradition. Each of these texts expresses the vast reach of the Jeremiadic tradition and exude the mesmerizing predilection rhetorical scholars have regarding the Jeremiad, especially when seeking to analyze and interpret black prophetic rhetoric. These texts also exemplify the tragedy of superimposing the Jeremiadic framework on texts, contexts, and figures that do not support it.

Matthew Farmer, University of Georgia

Matt Farmer is a M.A. student in Rhetorical Studies. Prior to enrolling at the University of Georgia, Matt earned a B.A. in both Economics and Communication Studies from the University of Memphis. His research interests include the rhetoric of social movements specifically relating to economic empowerment and criminal justice reform. He also studies critical race scholarship and hegemonic effects in public spaces.

Title: R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ability Rhetoric: Jasper Williams’ Eulogy for Aretha Franklin vs. Black Lives Matter’s Womanist Ethic

Abstract: On August 31, 2018, the nation celebrated the life of Aretha Franklin via a nationally televised broadcast of her homegoing service. The event featured a keynote eulogy from the pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, the Reverend Jasper Williams, who had been a longtime friend of the Franklin family even delivering the eulogy for Ms. Franklin's father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, 24 years earlier. In this paper, I compare and contrast the rhetoric of Rev. Jasper Williams’ eulogy with the rhetoric coming from the Black Lives Matter movement. Each suggests a certain way of enacting blackness. Williams posits a world that denies access and respect to certain lifestyles. He privileges those that align with his conservative respectability rhetoric. The leaders of Black Lives Matter are intentional in taking the opposite approach. They embrace and endorse all lifestyles. They find value in all lives and seek to empower their audience through very deliberate rhetorical choices. I rely on a number of sources to inform my perspective including the work of Amanda Nell Edgar and Andre E. Johnson, Geneva Smitherman, Vincent Lloyd, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Bryan McCann, Shirley Tate, Karma Chavez, Rev. William Barber, Kirt Wilson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Nicole McDonald, Christian Theological Seminary

Dr. Nicole McDonald is a native of Hampton, Virginia. She attended the University of Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. After working as an engineering consultant for several years, Nicole answered her calling to ministry. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Union University’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and a Master of Science in Patient Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Recently, Dr. McDonald completed a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. McDonald serves as an Associate Minister at New Calvary Baptist under the leadership of Rev. Dr. William Marcus Small and a Bereavement Coordinator for Sentara Hospice.

Currently, Dr. McDonald is a Ph.D. student in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary. Her research interests focus on the intersection of preaching, rhetoric, and pastoral care. Her recent projects have focused on Black preaching and cultural trauma in Benjamin E. Mays' eulogy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Title: The Prophetic Rhetoric and Preaching of Julia A.J. Foote

Abstract: In the African American church, the call narratives of African American women are prophetic voices that resist the patriarchy and sexism in church and society. Often, these prophetic voices challenge their own views on God and the ideology of the role of women in the church. In this essay, I examine the prophetic rhetoric of Julia A.J. Foote’s call narrative and discuss the ways in which that prophetic call embodies a womanist ethos in her life and ministry.

Kyle Brooks, Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Kyle Brooks is a Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. He is currently serving as the Visiting Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Black Church and African Diaspora Studies at Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

Title: “Divine Speech, Dubious Aesthetics: Contemporary Problems in the Black Preaching Traditions” 

Abstract: This paper interrogates the problems posed by an aesthetic fixation in the assessment of the contemporary efficacy and significance of Black preaching traditions. Drawing upon the work of Jacob Carruthers (Mdw Ntr – Divine Speech) and Molefi K. Asante (The Afrocentric Idea), I make a case for how ancient notions of word-force inform the construction of a discourse reality which both produces and is extended by Black preaching and its practitioners. Be that as it may, I argue that the contemporary discourse reality of Black preaching is overdetermined by aesthetic fixations. Namely, the discourse on Black preaching is beset by the problem of categorical distinction - that is, the desire to define its practices and participants through relationships to visual, sonic, and choreographic forms. As Ashon Crawley (Blackpentecostal Breath) writes, Blackness constitutes “a destabilizing force against the project of racial purity, of aesthetic distinction” (12). To subscribe to an imagined pure aesthetics imposes a limiting, normative script of performance that is antithetical to the improvisational multiplicity of Black expressive practices. I contend that Black preaching’s ongoing efficacy and significance lie not in the reproduction of aesthetic markers, but in how they extend a discourse reality that resists the (theo)logics of empire.