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The Early Black Atlantic Conversion Narrative  

Vincent Carretta

Prior to the last decade of the 20th century, literary critics generally, like Thomas Jefferson before them, dismissed the role religion played in the writings by and about the first generation of English-speaking authors of African descent. Christ’s injunction to his followers to bear witness to their faith, however, gave that first generation the sanction, means, motive, and opportunity to speak truth to power during the 18th-century period of the transatlantic Protestant Great Awakening and Evangelical Revival. The early Black evangelical authors, such as Phillis Wheatley in poetry and Olaudah Equiano in prose, used narratives of their religious conversions as both testaments to their own faith as well as models of spiritual belief and secular behavior for their primarily white readers to follow. The writings of Wheatley and Equiano also exemplify how early Black authors who adopted Christianity could appropriate its tenets to challenge the institution of slavery.