Roots of Black rhetoric : African Methodist Episcopal Zion's pioneering preacher-politicians

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Minifee, Paul André, 1973-

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In his seminal work The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B DuBois aptly states, "The Preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil." At once a spiritual leader, social-political activist, educator, idealist, and businessman, the antebellum black preacher was the idiosyncratic product of a soil contaminated with racism and sullied with hate. Despite this antagonistic environment, what enabled his ascension to the head of black culture was "a certain adroitness with deep-seated earnestness" and "tact with consummate ability." As shepherd and statesman, the black preacher embodied virtues and talents representative of the potential of his people and set the standards for community investment and civic action. He was the model of character for the race. My dissertation introduces scholars to an overlooked yet monumental institution in African American history, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, as well as two of its pioneering preacher-politicians, Bishop Jermain W. Loguen and Bishop James W. Hood. My study of these nineteenth-century AME Zion preacher-politicians exposes overlooked features of black rhetoric, challenges predominant perceptions of the black preaching tradition, and provides an alternative perspective on how to examine the persuasive appeals of black rhetoricians. Through rhetorical analyses of letters, speeches, and sermons--archival materials from the Schomburg Library and Union Theological Seminary in New York--I show that in addition to employing emotional appeals to draw the sympathies of whites and allay the lamentations of blacks, these black ministers also effectively wielded logical arguments to demonstrate their capabilities as reasoners in philosophical debates and intellectuals with original thoughts. However, most importantly, these black preachers' ethical appeals in written texts, public sermons and speeches, and actions as model citizens served multiple practical and salutary ends for the uplift of African Americans.