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date: 29 March 2023

Social Progressivism and Religion in Americafree

Social Progressivism and Religion in Americafree

  • Zoe TroddZoe TroddUniversity of Nottingham


American reformers have always put religion at the heart of their protest movements. They have invoked divine law and the word of God, ignored expediency and pragmatics, and acted on behalf of a transcendent truth. Nearly all major progressive reform movements have drawn on religious belief as they envisioned a new society. In particular, the American prophetic mode has been crucial to the reform tradition. American reformers in nearly all of the country’s reform movements of the past two hundred years have used the prophetic mode. But of the major reform movements, abolitionism and anti-lynching were the most thoroughly infused with religion. Abolitionists drew on the imagery of both Revelation and the Old Testament God of war, infusing their performative martyrdoms with apocalyptic imagery. They depicted Christ as the warrior of Revelation and Christ as the son of the Old Testament vengeful God, transforming the abolitionist martyr into the abolitionist messiah: a portent of divine judgment. Anti-lynching activists echoed and revised abolitionism’s Christ-like sacrifice for white America’s soul and created a series of black Christs that restaged the passion play for the Jim Crow South. This reform rhetoric, displaying the same righteous anger as abolitionists, met the religious imagery of racists head-on and turned anti-lynching’s calls for social change into a sacred text. At the heart of both major movements, which laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and for the Black Lives Matter movement of the 21st century, was a messianic martyrdom that countered the religious justifications for slavery, lynching, and white supremacy.


  • Christianity
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion in America

Abolitionism and the Prophetic Voice of the American Reform Tradition

Raging and reasoning, prophesying and provoking, reporting ills and proposing remedies, American reformers have always put religion at their heart of their protest movements. Presenting themselves as preacher-poets, martyrs, and prophets, they have fused the sacred and the social in an effort to close the gap between blueprint and reality—between what should be and what is. “Poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers, and this ability is the secret of their power and achievements,” wrote the abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1864; “they see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” Douglass and numerous other reformers have looked at “what is,” realized “what ought to be,” and imagined—as “prophets”—a removal of “the contradiction.”1

In fact, of all the major reform movements in American history, it is abolitionism—Douglass’s movement—and anti-lynching that were the most thoroughly infused with religion. Abolitionism’s prophetic voice took aim at the presence of slavery in a land of self-proclaimed equality and did so, in part, by depicting violence against slaves and abolitionists as sublime spectacles.

In their pamphlets and newspapers, abolitionists published graphic descriptions of violent acts, often accompanied by reflections on the effect of witnessing cruelty. As Karen Halttunen argues with respect to numerous reformers, this meant confronting the moral dilemma of re-performing cruel spectacles. On the one hand, abolitionists relied on eyewitness accounts of suffering for their own claims to moral authority, but on the other they were aware of the “moral dangers of watching cruelty,” in Halttunen’s words. Halttunen explains that reformers tried to solve this dilemma by emphasizing their emotional responses to spectacles of suffering (by insisting they have not become hardened or by attempting to guide readers toward a sense of horror that would inspire a desire to join the reform effort). Abolitionists, however, also solved the problem of re-witnessing spectacle another way: they turned violent spectacles into martyrdoms. No longer risking dehumanization, their representations of violence embraced the victim as more than human, a sanctified symbol.2

This creation of martyrs for the movement achieved a second purpose, too: t met slavery’s religious performance in its own arena. Abolitionists imagined slavery’s daily food as “human flesh, its daily drink human blood,” as the 1838 report of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society put it. They saw slavery feasting upon slaves and abolitionists as a “bloody Moloch,” as an article in The Emancipator phrased it in 1846. And they replaced the Moloch’s sacrificial scapegoats with Christ-like martyrs (both slaves and themselves). “To the Christ of the Cross, man is never so holy, / As when braving the proud in defense of the lowly,” affirmed the title-page for the 1843 Annual Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) almanac. Going one step further, an editorial in the Liberator imagined the abolitionist as a latter-day Christ: “He suffered martyrdom in the planting of the Truth. We are to suffer in the work of cultivating the Truth.” In suffering for the cause, abolitionists countered pro-slavery religion with Christ’s re-crucifixion.3

The trope of martyrdom was part of the abolitionists’ broader tradition of prophesy. Abolitionists themselves defined the contours of this tradition. Henry Ward Beecher explained in 1859 that the tradition had three parts: the prophet declares that the nation has fallen away from God, “threatens further afflictions,” and gives them “another opportunity and alternative.” A few years later, Garrison offered a similar three-part definition. The activist should “speak in thunder tones in the ear of the nation,” warn it “of the wrath to come,” and set forth “the duty of thorough repentance and restitution.” Within this defined tradition, the figure of the abolitionist martyr represented not only part three (God’s “opportunity” for redemption), but also part two (a warning of affliction). For example, Nat Turner was an early figure of warning. The Confessions of Nat Turner (1832) records his self-comparison to Christ (“Was not Christ crucified?”) but also his vision of the impending apocalypse. The “great day of judgment was at hand,” says Turner in Thomas Gray’s account, and describes spirits battling, a darkened sun, rolling thunder, and blood flowing in streams. Turner’s role in this apocalypse is to be a messianic martyr—crucified but wielding the sword of Revelation.4

Over the next three decades, abolitionists drew on both the imagery of Revelation and the imagery of the Old Testament God of war, infusing their performative martyrdoms with apocalyptic imagery. They depicted Christ the warrior of Revelation and Christ the son of the Old Testament vengeful God, transforming the abolitionist martyr into the abolitionist messiah: a portent of divine judgment. In these speeches and writings, the abolitionist martyr does not atone for society’s sins and temper God’s wrath. Rather, his death announces the rumblings of an apocalypse. Framed within the abolitionists’ millennialist belief that man must achieve the conditions for Christ’s return, the blood of the abolitionist martyr helps inaugurate Christ’s kingdom on earth.

For example, Douglass understood that slavery’s spectacles were religious rituals. He remembered, in 1845, that Thomas Auld became crueler after his conversion when he had “religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty.” Of all the slaveholders he has known, religious ones are the worst, Douglass adds. He describes Auld’s proclamation, while whipping a slave woman: “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Douglass also describes the whole institution of slavery as infused with “religious pomp and show”: “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together.” In response, abolitionists turned slavery’s violent and Biblically infused performances into their own sublime spectacles. Douglass witnesses the beating of Hester as a spectator to a “horrible exhibition.” He calls the “terrible spectacle” a “blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery” through which he passes. Descending into this hell, Douglass is resurrected through a second spectacle—the theatrical performance of his fight with Covey. The fight resurrects Douglass from slavery’s hell. He is Christ to Covey’s “snake,” is crucified in the fields (“covered in blood” from his “crown” to his feet, torn by “thorns” in “sundry places”), and in beating Covey experiences a “glorious resurrection from the tomb of slavery to the heaven of freedom.” Douglass ends the Narrative by pledging himself to the “sacred cause” and hoping that his book might hasten “the glad day of deliverance,” as though the book is the Word of the resurrected Christ. He has answered slavery’s violent spectacle with the sublime spectacle of death, resurrection and deliverance.5

Numerous other abolitionists transformed violent acts into sublime spectacles. Sarah Grimké’s testimony in American Slavery As It Is also includes the story of a slave master testing a slave’s obedience by demanding he deny Christ. The slave refused, was “terribly whipped,” and died a “blessed martyr.” Grimké solves the problem of volition (where martyrdom requires willing death) by emphasizing that the slave had a choice on this occasion: he could perform obedience to the slave-master or to God, and in choosing God he was martyred. Other descriptions and images explicitly transformed one spectacle into another. In an article that accompanied a sketch of a public hanging in front of a court-house, the journalist mentions that a slave woman was hung near “the block from which was monthly exhibited the slave chattels that were struck down by the auctioneer’s hammer to the highest bidder,” then terms the woman one of “the martyrs of the cause [of freedom].” Here, one spectacle of slavery is performed on the site of another (a lynching at an auction block), but the journalist configures the layered spectacle into a martyrdom.6

Abolitionists created these sublime spectacles as part of an even broader strategy that equated the slave and Christ. Several images of Henry Brown emerging from the crate were titled “The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown.” One Liberator article explained that Christ was “crucified that he might die like a slave,” and another described four million people “crucified on the national cross of American slavery, . . . crucified on the cross of American Republicanism and Christianity.” In the 1840s, William Lloyd Garrison displayed a cotton banner at Massachusetts anti-slavery fairs and festivals that proclaimed “This is the Lord’s Doing.” The central painted medallion depicts a black man throwing off his shackles, his outstretched arm suggesting both Jubilee and crucifixion. Hammatt Billings’s masthead for Garrison’s Liberator (displayed between 1850 and 1865) confirmed this pose as one of crucifixion as well as Jubilee. Its oval centerpiece showed a kneeling slave who looks up at Christ and the cross, Christ’s arm extended at the same angle as the slave in Garrison’s banner. That same year, the masthead to Douglass’s North Star (displayed January–September 1850) showed a black man walking into a bright light. This time both arms are outstretched, again suggesting crucifixion as well as Jubilee. And when abolitionist mastheads were not equating the slave and the crucified Christ, they returned to the Christmas story. The first Liberator masthead, designed by David Claypoole Johnson in 1831, and used until 1850, depicted a slave mother at an auction, her headscarf evoking the Madonna. The visual language casts her son as the Christ child.7

For abolitionists, the narrative value of the black body in pain was its echo of a Biblical narrative—Christ’s crucifixion. Yet abolitionists went further than this and transformed the slave martyr into a slave messiah. Not only a suffering Christ, the slave was a holy warrior in abolitionist literary and visual culture. For example, at the New England Anti-Slavery Society’s second annual meeting in 1834, Amos Phelps described 15 different kinds of whipping in detail. One kind of whipping, he said, involved tying the slave to a cross—and the printed version of his speech illustrated this fact with a cross shape (“lashed to a stick thus, [†]”). Then Phelps shifted from crucifixion imagery to apocalyptic imagery, concluding that the act of witnessing such violence would make “a tide of holy indignation . . . rise, and swell, and roll over this land, and . . . turn back from us the indignation and the judgments of a holy God.” The crucified slave is the catalyst for apocalyptic redemption. After Phelps’s speech, Gardner Perry expanded on this idea. For Perry, the apocalypse was more imminent—he saw its first rumblings in the form of slave rebellions. If America would avoid the “coming retribution,” escape the “dark cloud of God’s vengeance” that was gathering, it must emancipate the slaves. While Phelps imagined that the witnessing of suffering would force Americans to end slavery and thereby avoid divine vengeance, Perry saw rebellious slaves as “tokens of the curse which a holy God has written out against oppression” and “His call to immediate repentance.” The suffering martyr has become the militant messiah, bearing God’s promise of vengeance.8

In employing this millennialist rhetoric, white abolitionists built on the apocalyptic visions of black abolitionists. In his Appeal of 1829, David Walker had prophesied millennial violence if slavery was not abolished: “repent and reform, or you are ruined!!!” he told America; “unless you speedily alter your course, you and your Country are gone!!!!!! For God Almighty will tear up the very face of the earth!!!” Christ is a soldier in Walker’s pamphlet, the “God of justice and of armies.” And in addressing black people, he sounds a clear call to take up arms on Christ’s behalf: “you must go to work and prepare the way of the Lord.” The world would not change, the millennium would not come, without a black revolution. Walker “startled the land like a trump of coming judgment,” as Douglass later put it, and in response, one article in the Liberator used Walker’s pamphlet to promise that there would widespread carnage “unless something is speedily done to prevent it,” for there would be “more such prompters.” As for Douglass himself, he warned the country in 1848 that it would “not go unpunished” for slavery, though it “may yet be saved” from “a terrible retribution.” The following year he warned that slaveholders were “sleeping on slumbering volcanoes” and called them to repent if they would “escape the penalty of their crimes.” Most famously, his speech of 1852, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” warned of national calamity but ended on a note of hope: “I do not despair of this country.”9

Throughout the 1850s, black abolitionists continued to prophesy the coming millennium and call for immediate action in order to avoid destruction. James Whitfield’s poem “America” (1853) called upon God to strengthen every patriot who wanted to save the nation, or else “darker doom than Egypt felt, / May yet repay this nation’s guilt.” And in 1855, James P. Ball created a 600-yard panorama and wrote a pamphlet to accompany the exhibition. Image 13 shows a slave auction in New Orleans and the pamphlet text adds drama (the deep “wrath” of some slaves, the “wild heart-broken scream” of another). To confirm that the auction is a spectacle, Ball includes a lengthy description by an eyewitness who notes the festive atmosphere among the “spectators” who watch the “heart-rending scene.” But Ball ends by quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Warning” (1842), which warns that “blind Samson” may yet “shake the pillars of this Commonweal” until it lies in ruins. In the rhetoric of many black abolitionists, America had little time to spare.10

When they imagined the slave martyr as a slave messiah, white abolitionists fused this black abolitionist image of divinely sanctioned violence with the iconic image of a white, suffering Christ. But white abolitionists also created a second group of messianic martyrs. More frequent than black messianic martyrdom in their protest rhetoric was the messianic martyrdom of white abolitionists themselves. On some occasions, abolitionists used violence against slaves as a jumping-off point for describing attacks against themselves. In 1843, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society distributed some 20,000 copies of a letter by Stephen Foster as a pamphlet. Foster tells the story of Francis McIntosh, a free black steamboat cook from Pittsburgh lynched by a St. Louis mob on April 28, 1836. The pamphlet excerpts several graphic newspapers descriptions of other lynchings, where slaves or free blacks were burned publicly. Foster also describes the instruments of torture (whips, branding irons, chains) used to “lacerate the flesh” of slaves. But he swiftly moves from slavery’s violence to anti-abolitionist violence. In publicly condemning the use of such instruments by ministers, he has “cast upon the clergy the same dark shade which Jesus threw over the ministers of his day” and as a consequence he has faced the “frightful violence of a drunken and murderous mob.” Like Christ, his life has been “in danger” at the hands of a mob because he has spoken the truth. Foster continues this self-fashioning as a martyr by proclaiming that persecuted abolitionists will reap “the rewards of a martyr to the right.” Foster’s message is that he willingly suffers so that slaves might be free from their own unwilled suffering: he has drawn slavery’s violence (the whippings and burnings) onto himself.11

Similarly, Parker Pillsbury also remembered McIntosh’s lynching, calling it a “dreadful sacrament,” but shifts to a focus on anti-abolitionist violence. He refers to one justice who sentenced Foster as “Pilate,” compares Foster’s letter of 1843 to Paul’s epistles, and characterizes abolitionists as apostles and prophets. Again, violence against black people is transferred onto willing abolitionists. While it risked erasing slave suffering, this trope of martyrdom elevated the movement to the level of a holy crusade and allowed abolitionists to draw more fully on the martyrological tradition, because martyrdom presumed volition (which was almost always absent in the case of violence against slaves).12

By becoming martyrs, abolitionists might convert the nation, overthrow slavery, and roll that millennial car onward. Their messianic martyr arrives to lead, not to save, and so their texts refuse readers and listeners the redemptive promise of martyrdom without the galvanizing promise of retribution. With this message, abolitionists tried to solve the problem of audience inaction—what Douglass described as passive spectating. “The grim and bloody tragedies of outrage and cruelty are rehearsed day by day to the ears of the people, but they look on as coolly indifferent as spectators in a theatre,” he protested in 1860. “An able advocate of human rights gratifies their intellectual tastes, pleases their imaginations, titillates their sensibilities into a momentary sensation, but does not move them from the downy seat of inaction.” Abolitionists performed messianic martyrdom as a sublime spectacle within which the audience must take a role. By shifting from the “downy seat of inaction,” Americans could choose national redemption over national damnation as the performance’s ending.13

The Martyrs and Messiahs of Anti-Lynching

Just as the abolitionists sought a series of Christ figures for their movement, so too did the reformers in the anti-lynching movement make Christ a central figure. Uncovering racial violence that has its roots in slavery, and echoing and revising abolitionism’s Christ-like sacrifice for white America’s soul, anti-lynching activists created a series of black Christs that restaged the Passion Play for the Jim Crow South. This reform rhetoric, displaying the same righteous anger as abolitionists, met the religious imagery of racists head-on and turned anti-lynching’s calls for social change into a sacred text.

The Tuskegee Institute recorded 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Of these victims, it listed 3,446 as black men and women. Seeing lynching as a religiously justified attempt to reverse Emancipation—to redeem the South after its loss in the Civil War—anti-lynching reformers engaged the notion that lynching was a Christian ritual and put a black Christ at the ritual’s center. If the lynch victim was the South’s scapegoat, then anti-lynching activists would transform the scapegoat into a martyr. They turned racial redemption on its head and imagined lynching’s ritual violence as a crucifixion. In so doing, they drew upon abolitionist martyrdom. Echoing and revising the Christ-like sacrifices of figures like Nat Turner and John Brown, they harnessed a memory of the past to help achieve justice in the present. They acknowledged lynching as a legacy of slavery and claimed their own activism as a legacy of abolitionism. No longer sacrificed for white need, within a Lost Cause civil religion that attempted to redeem southerners as God’s chosen people, the black Christ dies for black need, within an anti-lynching movement that attempted to redeem the promises of Emancipation.

By turning the lynch victim into the crucified Christ, and the lynching spectacle into an anti-lynching counter-performance, activists demanded a shift from voyeurism to witnessing. In his lynching poem “Between the World and Me” (1935), Richard Wright depicts this as the difference between “frozen . . . pity” and scorching empathy. Ida B. Wells addressed such “frozen,” passive observers directly, asking: “are you proud of this record which the Anglo-Saxon race has made for itself? Your silence seems to say that you are.” Wells explained in another pamphlet that lynching persists because those who disapprove remain silent—becoming “accomplices,” and so “equally guilty with the actual lawbreakers.” Within anti-lynching counter-performances of the crucifixion, readers and viewers are no longer able to sit in silence at a safe remove: they are forced to remember that Christ died for all, that everyone was responsible for Christ’s death though Adam’s original sin. The black Christ icon therefore offered the spectators of anti-lynching performances a choice. They could be Pontius Pilates, acquiescing in the South’s ritualized performance, or they could take an active role in the anti-lynching counter-performance and stop lynchers from recrucifying Christ. They could be passive voyeurs who gave lynch mobs community sanction, like law enforcement and state officials who turned a blind eye, photographers who shot images of mob members posing with corpses, and coroners who returned verdicts of “death at hands of parties unknown.” Or they could bear witness to the cause for which—in anti-lynching—the black Christ had died.14

However, anti-lynching activists adapted a second idea from abolitionism: messianism. Often, the black Christ of anti-lynching offers no forgiveness. Not patient or long-suffering, he is the armed Christ of the book of Revelation, a militant Christ fighting a holy war. Fusing martyrdom and messianism, like the abolitionists, anti-lynching activists made the crucified Christ an avenging angel. As Wilson Jeremiah Moses explains, black Christianity has long “mingled elements of submissions and potential violence.” Moses points to Nat Turner as an example. Turner merged both elements, writes Moses. Reminiscent of the “wrathful, retributive messiah,” he identified with the “sacrificial, long-suffering Jesus” in his response to execution (“Was not Christ crucified?”) while also reminding his interviewer that Christ brought not peace, but a sword. Equally, while the black Christ of anti-lynching, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, bears witness to a cause through his public death, he also signals the impending apocalypse, like John Brown. He is a prophetic sign of God’s vengeful judgment, a messianic martyr whose testamentary body marks the nation for violent retribution.15

Anti-lynching activists frequently prophesied such judgment, warning of disaster unless the sin of lynching ceased. The black Christ was the centerpiece of their anti-lynching jeremiad. David Howard-Pitney explains that the African American jeremiad affirms the nation’s promise, expresses judgment on its present state, issues a warning, asks it to reform, and prophesies that it will redeem itself. The black jeremiad began during abolitionism, says Howard-Pitney, and remained central to black protest rhetoric during the 20th century. Sure enough, anti-lynching activists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used the black Christ trope to express judgment on white southern Christianity and warn of God’s wrath, but also to demand and prophesy a change of course. Positioning the lynch victim as Christ, they challenged white southern notions of redemption with a black messianic belief that African Americans would be a redeemer race.16

They called, however, for man to be an agent of this divine judgment and redemption. As part of a jeremiad, the black Christ hung as both a warning of retribution and a call to repentance. Within the prophetic tradition that framed the jeremiad, he bore witness, named danger and tried to incite action. Anti-lynching offered a scripture for interpretation—and Americans had to interpret and apply scripture correctly if they wanted the millennium, and not only the apocalypse. As audience members to the anti-lynching passion play, we must take a role in the redemptive process or face divine judgment. Not atoning for others’ sins, the black Christ calls his audiences to stop the sins of slavery or lynching if they would save their own country. He tells them that any resurrection will be on earth—a deliverance out of slavery and lynching—not in heaven.

In responding to the attempted reversal of Emancipation, activists summoned the abolitionists as allied martyrs for anti-lynching. Appropriative counter-performances replaced the lynching script and spectacle with the abolitionist script of messianic martyrdom and the abolitionist spectacle of Christ’s re-crucifixion. These alterations to the script and spectacle, so that they included both Christ and the abolitionists, attempted to destabilize the familiar lynch performance and shatter the audience’s response of indifference. As one article explained in 1906, the challenge was to stop the “average American citizen,” who feels a momentary “thrill of horror” at news of a lynching, from laying the newspaper aside and forgetting all about the “latest lynching tragedy.” If lynching was a re-crucifixion of Christ and a national crisis that demanded the resurrection of 19th-century freedom fighters, then its distant audience members might consider their own roles in this alternate drama: they could continue to wash their hands, Pilate-like, or they could help avert another period of apocalyptic violence.17

Of the numerous anti-lynching texts that use apocalyptic imagery, many also specify that God’s wrathful response to lynching will echo his judgment for slavery. Positioning the lynch victim within the narrative of slavery and the Civil War, activists declared that God would once again visit vengeance upon the South. They answered the Lost Cause with the promise of another southern downfall. Even more often, however, they positioned lynch-victims within the narrative of abolitionism. The Civil War was one usable past for the anti-lynching apocalypse, but the messianic martyrdoms of Nat Turner and John Brown were more usable still. They positioned lynchings as the latest in a long line of abolitionist martyrdoms and described the impending vengeance for lynching as the fulfillment of abolitionist prophecy.

This abolitionist jeremiad for anti-lynching began in the 1880s and 1890s, when black ministers pioneered the notion that the national sin of lynching would be punished by another national calamity. Taking up the abolitionists’ own theme of divine judgment, black ministers explicitly summoned their protest forebears and applied the theme to lynching. By the 1890s, it was rare for an anti-lynching sermon to forgo the overlapping themes of abolitionism and the Biblical apocalypse. For example, in 1893, an article in the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper explained that God’s plan to end lynching included black resistance. Christ had to shed His blood in order to achieve the millennium, men had to take action against slavery, and “heroes” must “fight” to stop “lynch law.” The following year, Samuel B. Wallace, pastor of a Methodist Episcopal church in Washington DC, added that these contemporary heroes should model themselves on abolitionists. His sermon insists that southern white people are “restoring slavery” in the forms of peonage, convict leasing, and lynching. In response to this “new system of slavery,” he looks for heroes of “human rights,” citing Garrison, Phillips, Whittier and Lovejoy as models. Wallace proclaims that although the abolitionist “cause of liberty is crippled,” its banner must fly again. Israel was delivered, slavery was ended, and “certain will the day come when Southern master shall howl for the miseries he has forced upon my people.” Wallace concludes his sermon with a demand for the same spirit that prompted the Civil War (when the North “fought for freedom” in response to the call of Lincoln and the abolitionists, as he claims) to end the “the monster crime of . . . Southern lynch law” and a prophecy that, after God has thundered judgment, black people will build an empire of “justice” upon the ruins of slavery and barbarism.18

By the 1890s and early 1900s, this abolitionist-inspired jeremiad was spreading beyond sermons and writings by ministers, to speeches, articles and pamphlets and novels. In 1903, Robert H. Terrell, a black Justice of the Peace in Washington DC, gave a speech on the anniversary of the Preliminary Proclamation. He summoned a general abolitionist spirit and listed a few representative abolitionists. The speech narrates a history of slavery and abolition, terming the abolitionists “sublime and holy” men “whom God had raised up.” He focuses on Garrison, Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Elijah Lovejoy, and John Brown, explaining that they set the country “aflame.” Then this flame engulfed the nation, Terrell explains. The Civil War was “punishment for our country’s greatest crime.” Now, however, the abolitionists’ struggle must continue. The Emancipation Proclamation did not fulfill their expectations, he observes, for black people suffer the “terrible outrages and unspeakable cruelties” of lynchings. Terrell ends by quoting lines from Byron: “For freedom’s battle once begun, / Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son, / Though baffled oft, is ever won.” In the context of Terrell’s speech, the “bleeding sire” is both Lincoln and the spirit of abolitionism. The holy abolitionist warriors pass on their swords to those would continue freedom’s battle and end lynching.19

One of these latter-day warriors was Ida B. Wells. Years before she helped found the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, Wells launched a one-woman campaign against lynching. In 1892, she published her anti-lynching pamphlet Southern Horrors, with a preface by Douglass. The pamphlet uses Biblical imagery (describing lynch victims as black Samsons betrayed by white Delilahs) and terms lynching a “relic” of slavery. The following year, in another protest pamphlet, Wells explained that lynching was performed by slaveholders, who resented Emancipation and wanted to render black freedom “a curse rather than a blessing.” Elsewhere she noted that white southerners used lynching to express “resentment” that black people were no longer their playthings and sources of income, also returning to Biblical imagery to observe the irony of American Christians believing in the reality of hell-fires while they kindle their own hellish fires for black lynch victims. Her 1895 pamphlet, A Red Record, also brings together these two themes of white southerners’ Christianity and slavery’s legacy. It describes one lynching where mob members howled in glee like “lost souls on judgment day” and theorizes that lynching is the result of “unbridled power exercised for two and a half centuries.” After mercilessly scourging black people for so long, white southerners could not break from their belief that “might makes right” and replaced whipping with lynching, Wells explains.20

Wells countered lynching’s religious context and its revival of slavery by summoning abolitionist martyrs. A Red Record ends by calling the anti-lynching “crusade” a movement by the political descendants of Garrison and other abolitionists. Wells quotes James Russell Lowell’s abolitionist poem “Stanzas on Freedom” (1843). And in her published speech “Lynch Law in All its Phases” (1893), she envisages abolitionist martyrs fighting lynching’s ritualized reversal of Emancipation. Explaining that lynchers’ ancestors did not see slavery as a “covenant with hell,” Wells notes that abolitionists declared it to be so and suffered martyrdom for the cause. She celebrates Garrison’s imprisonment, Nat Turner’s “signal lights” that “lit the dull skies,” Brown’s raid, and the “martyred” Lovejoy. Now, when slaveholder’s descendants are reviving slavery “under a new name and guise,” the nation needs to respond by reviving abolitionism. Wells concludes that she longs “with all the intensity of my soul” for the Garrison, Douglass, or Phillips who will rouse the nation to destroy lynching.21

Numerous other anti-lynching texts used the memory of John Brown’s messianic martyrdom to prophesy another American apocalypse. Like black ministers’ sermons of the 1890s, they fused abolitionist memory and apocalyptic warnings into an anti-lynching jeremiad. For example, journalist Robert L. Duffus, who wrote a series of anti-Klan articles, visited Brown’s grave in 1920 and imagined his response to lynching: he would remember the “oceans of blood” that he “helped to shed” and know that even this red sea was not punishment enough. By raising Brown from his grave, to walk the earth and “hear the shrieks of the tortured victims,” Duffus hints that a John Brown response to lynching might be on the horizon. A few years later, William H. Moses also used Brown to prophesy holy warfare. He used the imagery of Ezekiel, rather than Exodus. Responding to the notion that God ignored the Middle Passage, plantation slavery, and now lynching, he explained that Brown was a holy warrior, commanded by Jehovah, who did God’s work during slavery. More Browns would do His work today, Moses continued: the world still needed “its Browns,” its “prophets” and “martyrs,” and so from Brown’s “bones and ashes . . . will spring a multitude that will prevail.” Here, Brown’s execution is an altar sacrifice (that turned his body into ashes), but one from which he will be resurrected. Moses’s image of a multitude springing from Brown’s bones draws from Ezekiel 37:10, where God brings together dry bones into a great army. Brown’s soul and bones march with today’s activist army, to fight what Moses describes as contemporary “powers of hell.”22

A few other articles went even further and imagined the lynch victim as a messianic martyr in the John Brown tradition. In October 1919, Challenge Magazine described lynching as the nation shoving black people “down the hills towards Golgotha,” as well as part of the process of re-enslavement. But as America tries to crucify black people (at Golgotha) and re-enslave them (put them in “shackles”), they will respond with the apocalypse. Like Brown, who “cried out” on behalf of black people and was a white man “armed with the sword of righteousness,” as the article observes, black people must “stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord.” Rather than be crucified within the South’s biblical, Lost Cause drama, mob victims must enact Brown’s drama of Revelation.23

By the late 1920s, another messianic martyr was taking center stage next to Brown: Nat Turner. A 1927 circular acknowledges Douglass, Phillips, and Garrison, but focuses on the abolitionists who “suffered and died,” like the “Great Nazarene.” In this group, says the circular, are Turner and Brown. Turner laid down his life for his friends, as Christ instructed, and Brown was inspired by Turner’s example—closing out the Nat Turner “chapter” with another “martyrdom.” The same year, an article in the radical Messenger Magazine announced that the “New Negro” who wants to “strike for freedom” is not new; he dates back to Turner and the five black men who joined Brown at Harpers Ferry. Then, on the centennial of the Turner rebellion in 1931, the awakenings came thick and fast in the reform press. Some articles continued to set Turner alongside Brown, one pointing out that both men were the radicals of their day in order to call for an interracial, “radical” coalition against lynching. Others focused entirely on Turner. Writing for the leftist Liberator magazine, Cyril Briggs argued that the centennial of Turner’s rebellion was the time to revive his revolutionary tradition and fight “lynch terror.” Writing for the National Urban League’s Opportunity magazine, Rayford Logan called Turner an early lynch victim, observing that his execution set “a precedent for a later American outdoor sport.” Today, Logan warns, there may be another Nat Turner if white people do not update their “master minds.” Like Brown, Turner symbolizes violent justice. Logan’s article is also important because it compares Turner to Christ, noting that Turner died with the same courage as “the Man of Galilee.” The lynch victim is a black Christ figure, whose just violence might challenge oppressors and lynchers again today.24

Building on all the apocalyptic, abolitionist-inspired rhetoric of black sermons, speeches, and articles, from the 1890s onward, Logan inserts the black Christ into the millennial process. This neo-abolitionist messianic martyr also dominated anti-lynching visual art, poetry, and drama. Numerous other writers and activists transformed lynch scapegoats into Christ-like martyrs, while applying the apocalyptic imagery of abolitionism, from the 1890s to the 1940s. At the heart of the anti-lynching jeremiad, as it unfolded across a 50-year reform movement that laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement of the 21st century, was the sublime spectacle of a re-crucified and messianic black Christ.

Although abolitionism and anti-lynching were the most thoroughly infused with religion, American reformers in nearly all of the country’s reform movements of the past 200 years have used this prophetic mode: what James Darsey describes as “meaningful incivility . . . radical engagement . . . ‘fire and strength’ . . . mystery and transcendence.” In fact, nearly all major progressive reform movements have drawn on religious belief as they envisioned a new society. Recognizing the prophetic voice and arguing for the centrality of religion to any study of American reform, John Stauffer observes that “[p]rophecy—the belief that you are heeding God’s will—is a crucial component to American reform.” Appealing to God as the ultimate authority, a reformer makes his or her call for social change into a “sacred text.” Differentiating between revivals (which “alter the lives of individuals”) and awakenings (which “result in the restructuring of society, norms, and values”), Stauffer concludes that when a demand for reform occurs during an awakening, it “can lead to permanent social change.” From the earliest days of abolitionism, American reformers have invoked divine law and the word of God, ignored expediency and pragmatics, and acted on behalf of a transcendent truth—depicting both that great social change and the new world it would usher in.25

Review of the Literature

Several scholars have explored the religious dynamics at the heart of slavery. Sally Ann Ferguson explains that Christian slave-owners used concepts of spiritual atonement and blood sacrifice to justify slavery’s brutality, and violent spectacle to impose a god-like control—to “elevate themselves to position of deity” by finding a scapegoat to suffer in obedience to their will. Other scholars have commented on the abolitionist trope of martyrdom that met slavery on its own ground. One, Hazel Catherine Wolf, characterizes the abolitionists as possessing a “martyr complex.” Around 1837, she claims, abolitionists began “eagerly bidding for a martyr’s crown” and developed a “lust for martyrdom.” Jacqueline Goldsby goes further, arguing that the “iconography of the black slave in painful distress” helped to confer “narrative value on the wounded or otherwise defiled black body.” But Marcus Wood argues incorrectly that abolitionists rarely made the connection between Christ’s crucifixion and slavery’s violence, because the “demonising of the black within the iconography of Western culture” inhibited such a connection.26

Relative to abolitionism, there has been far less scholarship on the idea of religious imagery as a form of anti-lynching resistance. Wilson Jeremiah Moses argues that no group of Americans has a deeper messianic tradition than black Americans. He traces its origins to the antebellum period and identifies its presence in the desegregation struggle. But he ignores the messianic tradition of anti-lynching. Similarly, Derek Q. Reeves jumps from Douglass to Martin Luther King, Jr. in his discussion of the black prophetic tradition and several scholars who consider the black Christ skip the anti-lynching movement. JoAnne Marie Terrell locates the trope’s roots in slavery then shifts to the 1960s, as does Kelly Brown Douglas, who covers the century after Emancipation in three pages. Eyal Naveh’s Crown of Thorns (1992) argues that the martyrdom discourse almost disappeared between 1920 and 1960. His chapter on early 20th-century reformers looks at labor rather than anti-lynching. Others have ignored the trope altogether, and still others have dismissed the black Christ as a stereotypical figure who bleats “pitifully and helplessly on the sacrificial altar,” doomed to oblivion like “Sambo and Uncle Tom,” as Nancy Tischler puts it.27

Even scholars who do discuss religious imagery as a resistance strategy tend to focus on its power to condemn southern Christianity or redeem black suffering. For example, Anne Rice observes that representations of lynching as a crucifixion equated “the innocent victim with the martyred Christ” in order “to expose and critique white evangelical Protestantism’s heart of darkness.” Edward J. Blum argues that the idea of lynchings as crucifixions tried to “make religious sense of the racial brutality [black people] experienced in the United States.” Matthew V. Johnson states that African Americans’ extensive engagement with Christ’s Passion has “redeemed black suffering,” as does James Cone, who notes that identification with Christ’s crucifixion meant Jesus could “redeem black suffering” and transform lynched bodies into “transcendent windows” for seeing God’s love. Yet anti-lynching messianic martyrdoms did much more than this. They critiqued white southern Christianity, and they recalled abolitionism’s messianic martyrdom, warned of impending national disaster, and called readers to achieve their own redemption.28

Scholars also tend to ignore the protest memory of anti-lynching. Bruce Ronda does not mention anti-lynching in his discussion of black responses to John Brown. Naveh observes that the abolitionists’ martyr tradition had a “limited impact on later generations.” Though Brundage does argue of anti-lynching, that memories of earlier resistance “created the social and individual preconditions for future resistance,” he means the memories of earlier anti-lynching resistance, rather than abolitionism. Yet anti-lynching found its most usable past in abolitionism.29

Primary Sources

Abolitionists tried to give their readers and listeners a sense of direct access to slavery’s violence. For the most extensive collection of examples, collected by abolitionists themselves, see Theodore Dwight Weld’s 200-page volume American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. A good collection of black abolitionist writing, including numerous invocations of messianic martyrdom, is Richard Newman, Patrick Rael, and Philip Lapsansky, Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature, 1790–1860. Harriet Martineau’s The Martyr Age of the United States is an early account of abolitionist ideas about martyrdom. Yuval Taylor, I Was Born a Slave: An Anthology of Classic Slave Narratives includes numerous narratives that harness religious ideas for antislavery. Another key set of primary sources for the abolitionist use of religion is John Brown’s prison letters of 1859. These revived the trope of messianic martyrdom that abolitionists had forged in their responses to mob harassment, imprisonment, and death during the 1830s and 1840s. Offering the most extended expression of the trope yet, Brown fused suffering servant with avenging angel to create a martyr-liberator and made the abolitionist movement itself a sublime spectacle. Responding to his deeds and words both in the immediate aftermath of his execution and during later reform movements, activists turned the prison letters into a foundational text for modern American protest. His letters and a series of 19th-century responses appear in John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd, The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid.30

The two best collections of anti-lynching texts, including numerous examples of the black Christ trope, are Kathy A. Perkins and Judith L. Stephens, eds., Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women, and Anne P. Rice, ed., Witnessing Lynching: American Writers Respond. For collections of writings by W. E. B. Du Bois, who helped forge anti-lynching messianic martyrdom on behalf of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, see Phil Zuckerman, ed., Du Bois on Religion and Herbert Aptheker, ed., Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 18871961. A good collection of writings by other NAACP activists who infused their anti-lynching campaigns with religious rhetoric is Sondra Kathryn Wilson, ed., In Search of Democracy: The NAACP Writings of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins. Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching texts are collected in Patricia Hills Collins, ed., On Lynchings. For primary source accounts of lynchings themselves, including their stylization as religious rituals, see the collection of newspaper articles in Ralph Ginzburg, ed., 100 Years of Lynchings. A relevant collection that focuses on a later reform movement—civil rights rather than abolitionism or anti-lynching—is Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon, eds., Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 19541965.31

Further Reading

  • Abzug, Robert H. Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Bellah, Robert Neelly. The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
  • Bercovitch, Sacvan. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.
  • Chappell, David L. A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • Connor, Kimberly Rae. Imagining Grace: Liberating Theologies in the Slave Narrative Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
  • Darsey, James. The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • Harvey, Paul. Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
  • Howard-Pitney, David. The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
  • McLoughlin, William. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607–1977. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  • Perry, Lewis. Radical Abolitionism: Anarchism and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.
  • Rogers, William B.We Are All Together Now”: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Prophetic Tradition. New York: Garland, 1995.


  • 1. Frederick Douglass, “Pictures and Progress,” c. 1864, in John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (New York: W.W. Norton, 2015), 171.

  • 2. Karen Halttunen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” American Historical Review 100.2 (1995): 325.

  • 3. Sixth Annual Report of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, January 1838, in Annual Report and Proceedings, Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (Boston: Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, 1832–1838), 34; “Rev. Charles T. Torrey,” Cincinnati Herald, April 4, 1846, printed in The Emancipator, May 6, 1846, 1; and “Did Christ Meddle with Slavery,” The Liberator, January 19, 1855, 4.

  • 4. Henry Ward Beecher, “The Nation’s Duty to Slavery,” October 30, 1859, in Patriotic Addresses, ed. Henry Ward Beecher (New York: Fords, 1887), 203; William Lloyd Garrison, “Letter to Parker Pillsbury, 1875,” in Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles, ed. Parker Pillsbury (Boston: Cupples, Upham, 1884), 330; and Thomas R. Gray, The Confessions of Nat Turner (Richmond: Thomas R. Gray, 1832), 8, 9, 10.

  • 5. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845), 6, 54, 55, 61, 68, 73, 78, 119–120, 125.

  • 6. Sarah M. Grimké, “Narrative and Testimony of Sarah M. Grimké (1830),” in American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, ed. Theodore Dwight Weld (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839), 24; and “Amy Spain,” Harper’s Weekly (September 30, 1865): 613.

  • 7. “The Bible and Slavery,” The Liberator, April 28, 1854, 3; and A. S. F. Whilst, “The Present and Past: What Have the Abolitionists Done?” The Liberator (January 5, 1855): 2.

  • 8. Amos Phelps, in “Second Annual Report of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society” Annual Report and Proceedings (January 15, 1834), 4–5, 6; and Gardner B. Perry, in “Second Annual Report of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society,” Annual Report and Proceedings (January 15, 1834), 6–7.

  • 9. David Walker, Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles (Boston: The Author, 1830), 45,14, 35; Frederick Douglass, “The United States Cannot Remain Half-Slave and Half-Free, April 16, 1883,” in The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 4, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: International Publishers, 1950–1955), 362; “Walker’s Appeal, No. 2,” The Liberator (May 14, 1831), 1; Frederick Douglass, “The War With Mexico,” The North Star (January 21, 1848), 2; Frederick Douglass, speech at Anti-Colonization Meeting in New York (April 23, 1849); The North Slur (May 11, 1849), 2; and Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro (1852),” in The Life and Writings, Vol. 2, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: International, 1950–1955), 203.

  • 10. J. M. Whitfield, “America” (1853), in America and Other Poems, ed. J. M. Whitfield (Buffalo: James S. Leavitt, 1853), 15; J. P. Ball, “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States (1855),” in J. P. Ball: Daguerrean and Studio Photographer, ed. Deborah Willis (New York: Garland, 1993), 269, 271, 299.

  • 11. Stephen S. Foster, The Brotherhood of Thieves, or, A True Picture of the American Church and Clergy, A Letter to Nathaniel Barney, of Nantucket, July 1843 (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1844), 5, 6, 7.

  • 12. Pillsbury, Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostle, 65, 274, 282.

  • 13. Frederick Douglass, “The Prospect in the Future (1860),” in Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, eds. Philip S. Foner and Yuval Taylor (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1999), 398–399.

  • 14. Richard Wright, “Between the World and Me,” Partisan Review (July–August 1935): 18–19; Ida B. Wells, “Mob Rule in New Orleans (1900),” in On Lynchings, ed. Patricia Hills Collins (New York: Humanity Books, 2002), 201; Ida B. Wells, “Southern Horrors (1892),” in On Lynchings, ed. Patricia Hills Collins (New York: Humanity Books, 2002), 49.

  • 15. Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982), 55, 65.

  • 16. David Howard-Pitney, The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 15.

  • 17. Winthrop D. Sheldon, “Shall Lynching Be Suppressed, and How?” Arena (1906): 227.

  • 18. J. M. Lee, “Is There No Redress for the Negro in America?” The Christian Recorder (May 25, 1893): 6; S. B. Wallace, What the National Government Is Doing For Our Colored Boys: The New System of Slavery in the South (Washington, DC: Israel C. M. E. Church, August 19 and September 9, 1894), 35, 38, 39, 50, 51, 55, 56.

  • 19. Robert H. Terrell, A Glance at the Past and Present of the Negro (Washington, DC: Press of R. L. Pendleton, September 22, 1903), 8, 6, 4, 13, 16.

  • 20. Wells, “Southern Horrors,” 31, 54; Ida B. Wells, “Class Legislation (1893),” in The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago: Ida B. Wells, 1893), 17; Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ed. Alfreda M. Duster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 70, 154; and Ida B. Wells, “A Red Record (1895),” in On Lynchings, ed. Collins, 57, 58, 83.

  • 21. Wells, “A Red Record,” 150; and Ida B. Wells, “Lynch Law in All its Phases,” in Our Day (Boston: Our Day Publishing, 1893), 344, 347.

  • 22. Robert L. Duffus, “The Grave of Osawatomie,” The Nation (February 14, 1920): 199; and “Darrow and Moses in Big Debate on Negro Religion,” Pittsburgh Courier (January 24, 1931): A10.

  • 23. “Let Us Stand at Armageddon and Battle for the Lord,” Challenge Magazine, in The Voice of the Negro, ed. Robert T. Kerlin (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1920), 19.

  • 24. Circular distributed about Negro History Week by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, excerpted in C. G. Woodson, “The Celebration of Negro History Week, 1927,” Journal of Negro History 12.2 (1927): 104, 105; J. A. Rogers, “Who Is the New Negro, and Why?” Messenger, (March 1927): 68, 93–94; Joseph Sunday, “Declares the Negro Should be Radical,” Pittsburgh Courier (May 16, 1931): A2; Cyril Briggs, “The Scottsboro Case and the Nat Turner Centenary,” The Liberator, June 6, 1931: 2; and Rayford W. Logan, “Nat Turner: Fiend or Martyr?” Opportunity (November 1931): 338, 339.

  • 25. James Darsey, The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America (New York: New York University Press, 1997), x; and John Stauffer, “Foreword,” in American Protest Literature, ed. Zoe Trodd (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), xiv.

  • 26. Sally Ann Ferguson, “Christian Violence and the Slave Narrative,” American Literature 68.2 (1996): 298, 300; Hazel Catherine Wolf, On Freedom’s Altar: The Martyr Complex in the Abolition Movement (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1952), 4, 50; Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 186; and Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of Slavery in England and America, 1780–1865 (New York: Routledge, 2000), 217.

  • 27. Moses, Black Messiahs; Derek Q. Reeves, “Beyond the River Jordan: An Essay on the Continuity of the Black Prophetic Tradition,” Journal of Religious Thought 47.2 (1991): 42–54; JoAnne Marie Terrell, Power in the Blood: The Cross in the African American Experience (New York: Orbis, 1998); Eyal J. Naveh, Crown of Thorns: Political Martyrdom in America from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: New York University Press, 1992); Kelly Brown Douglas, The Black Christ (New York: Orbis, 1994); and Nancy M. Tischler, Black Masks: Negro Characters in Modern Southern Fiction (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1969), 117.

  • 28. Anne P. Rice, ed., Witnessing Lynching: American Writers Respond (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 17; Edward J. Blum, W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 132; Matthew V. Johnson, “Lord of the Crucified,” in The Passion of the Lord: African American Reflections, eds. James A. Noel and Johnson, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 1; James Cone, “Strange Fruit: The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Winter 2007): 54, 55.

  • 29. Bruce A. Ronda, Reading the Old Man: John Brown in American Culture (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008); Naveh, Crown of Thorns, 19; and W. Fitzhugh Brundage, “The Roar on the Other Side of Silence: Black Resistance and White Violence in the American South, 1880–1940,” in Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South, ed. Brundage, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 285.

  • 30. See Theodore Dwight Weld, American Slavery As It Is; Richard Newman, Patrick Rael, and Philip Lapsansky, eds., Pamphlets of Protest: An Anthology of Early African-American Protest Literature, 17901860 (New York: Routledge, 2000); Harriet Martineau, The Martyr Age of the United States (New York: John S. Taylor, 1839); Yuval Taylor, ed., I Was Born a Slave: An Anthology of Classic Slave Narratives (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1999); and John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd, eds., The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

  • 31. Kathy A. Perkins and Judith L. Stephens, ed., Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); Anne P. Rice, ed., Witnessing Lynching; Phil Zuckerman, ed., Du Bois on Religion (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2000); Herbert Aptheker, ed., Against Racism: Unpublished Essays, Papers, Addresses, 18871961 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988); Sondra Kathryn Wilson, ed., In Search of Democracy: The NAACP Writings of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Patricia Hills Collins, ed., On Lynchings; Ralph Ginzburg, ed., 100 Years of Lynchings (Baltimore: Black Classics Press, 1988); and Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon, eds., Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 19541965 (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006).