Daughters of Thunder is a wonderful compilation of thirty-eight
first-time-published sermons of fourteen African American female
preachers, many of whom were the first African American females to
pastor churches, receive ordination, and be granted terminal degrees.
The author, Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas, is the founding executive
director of Washington, D.C.’s Bethune Museum Archives, Inc., the first
institution in the country to focus on preserving and documenting the
history of African American women. A historian and publisher of
numerous articles in the areas of African American and African American
women’s history, Collier-Thomas also is currently an associate
professor of history at Temple University, where she directs the Center
for African American History and Culture. She has received several
grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford
Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Collier-Thomas’s scholarly achievements are a testament to the
thorough attention that she gives in her analysis and discussion of the
sermons. Each is analyzed in light of the life experiences and
theological orientation of the speaker, as well as within the context
of the prevailing ideologies and social forces of the era in which each
Collier-Thomas’s choice to draw the book’s title from Shango, the
West African god of lightening and thunder, was most befitting of the
force and authority with which these women spoke to the social,
political, and economic issues of their time. The sermonic messages of
renowned and obscure figures such as Julia A.J. Foote, Harriet Baker,
Mary J. Small, Florence Spearing Randolph, Mary G. Evans, Ella Eugene
Whitfield, Ruth R. Dennis, Mrs. Raiff, Rosa Horn, Ida B. Robinson, Rosa
Edwards, Quinceila Whitlow, F.E. Redwine, and Pauli Murray are included
in the collection.
In her exploration of works by these ordained sisters,
Collier-Thomas found that despite the writers’ denominational
differences — African Methodist Episcopal (AME), AME Zion, Baptist,
Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME), Holiness, Pentecostal, and Spiritual
— gender issues, holiness doctrine, moral and social issues, and
theology were common themes addressed in many of the sermons.
Part one of Daughters of Thunder examines sermons that were
delivered by Foote, Baker, and Small between 1851 and 1898. These early
messages reflect the social forces — such as overt racism, sexism, and
economic disadvantages — against which the authors struggled. It also
highlights the family sacrifices that were often made to accommodate
the pursuit of each preacher’s calling.
The sermon writers also suggested that the advancement of the Black
race could result from individual and collective inner and outer
sanctification (holiness doctrine), and by attending to the development
of a healthy self-image and concept of the African American female, who
plays a primary role in the socialization of the family.
Part two of the book presents sermons that were delivered between
1900 and 1979 by Randolph, Evans, Whitfield, Dennis, Raiff, Horn,
Robinson, Edwards, Whitlow, Redwine, and Murray. The foci of these
sermons reflect many of the social and political changes that were
occurring in this country at the time and examine the impact these
changes had upon Black male preachers’ perceptions of and receptivity
to the callings of female preachers.
The author’s epilogue acknowledges the advancements that have been
made in the areas of female mobility within the clergical ranks and the
ultimate ordination of several women across denominational lines.
Citing U.S. Census and data from the Association of Theological Schools
she also posits that:
1) overall within the more accepted African American denominations,
change in the area of women’s roles within the ministry has been slow;
2) Black women are still more likely to occupy associate or
assistant ministerial positions with few opportunities for upward
mobility and, as in earlier times, are more likely to occupy positions
as missionaries, evangelists, and exhorters; and
3) the centuries-old racism, sexism, and negative attitudes to which this group has been subjected are still prevalent.
Daughters of Thunder is highly suitable as a course text or as a
resource for scholars. It is a must read for those concerned with
issues of empowerment among African American women, issues regarding
women’s mobility within the ministry, and for those who want a broader
understanding of the overall history and significant issues of African
Dr. Sharon E. Moore is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pa.
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