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The radio, incidentally, is still a great vehicle for the hearing of sermons from the black church, as every major metropolitan area in the United States has at least one radio station dedicated to the "Sunday Night Prayer Meetin'." My cassette, incidentally, contains fragments of sermons lying on the fringe of the classic black preaching style, such as those preached by the great tent and radio evangelist R. I would be remiss in not introducing them to the reader, for although they are not truly within the scope of this paper, they are nevertheless representations of speakers who are fighting to maintain the integrity within the art form.My personal feeling is that the black sermon today is at the historical height of its form.As settlers spread south and west, they became geographically separated from their church, and were located over such a wide geographical area that building a centralized church was not financially feasible.Since Presbyterian church philosophy was such that it was considered improper for a minister to preach outside of the church, conflict arose when several ministers elected to hold camp meetings at remote locations.Since Methodist and Baptist theology encouraged evangelism, early dissenting Presbyterians, such as James Mc Gready were joined by ministers from those denominations during these meetings.Baptist and Methodist ministers were generally not trained in the seminary, and spoke in the vernacular, preaching fire, brimstone, and damnation to the Presbyterian's more intellectual, reserved style.Black preaching is a "hot" art form, and explosively vibrant.It is, however, off the mainstream; my hope is that this paper will serve as an introduction interesting enough that the reader may want to turn on the Sunday night radio, buy a recorded sermon, or visit a black church in order to get closer to what I consider to be the most beautifully constructed and powerfully performed example of oration in the United States today.
This led to northern Methodists breaking away from southern Methodists, an action paralleled by the Baptists.
It seems to be a well-known fact that "field hollars" were an effective early way for slaves to communicate with each other, but my research has not been able to answer the chicken-and-egg dilemma of whether the old-fashioned black work song or the call-and-response hymn came first.
I have included a song sung by a prisoner at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and recorded by Alan Lomax in 1947 (cassette example #1) as a great example of a secular work song with all of the essential musical elements of a call-and-response hymn.
Reports of early nineteenth century camp meetings told of exhibitions of "acrobatic Christianity" among the saved, including "jerks, falling, dancing, and barking" (2,53).
As frontier Methodism gradually took hold of the camp meeting, the concept of "backsliding" became more of an issue, and the showing of some degree of religious frenzy was usually recognized as a sign that the believer was once again "right with God" (2,118).
These black exhorters were men already known for their preaching ability within the black community, and were the true forerunners of today's preachers.