An enduring verbal tradition links African American leaders from Frederick Douglass to Malcolm X to Alan Keyes

The African American Jeremiad

Appeals for Justice in America

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Revised and Expanded Edition

David Howard-Pitney

Begun by Puritans, the American jeremiad, a rhetoric that expresses indignation and urges social change, has produced passionate and persuasive essays and speeches throughout the nation's history. Showing that black leaders have employed this verbal tradition of protest and social prophecy in a way that is specifically African American, David Howard-Pitney examines the jeremiads of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, as well as more contemporary figures such as Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes. This revised and expanded edition demonstrates that the African American jeremiad is still vibrant, serving as a barometer of faith in America's perfectibility and hope for social justice.

This new edition features:

  • A new chapter on Malcolm X

  • An updated discussion of Jesse Jackson

  • A new discussion of Alan Keyes



Read the Introduction (pdf).



Praise for the First Edition:

"...a superb work. Using speeches and writings of these prominent African Americans, and written in a style that is accessible to a wide readership, David Howard-Pitney has created a work that gives great insight into the African American prophetic vision and daring mission to make the nation right."
Journal of American Ethnic History

"An important and thought-provoking book."
Church History

"David Howard-Pitney contributes finely to understanding the cultural history of African American protest and accommodation in his African American Jeremiadů.Pitney's work as a cultural historian is supremely evident in this volume. Among the overarching arguments he persuasively demonstrates (in departure from Wilson Moses) is that the African American jeremiad has not undergone a declension toward extinction but has, rather, periodically experienced a waning and resurgence, the latter of which characterizes its present course. Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes, he explains, are key indicators of such. His discussion is detailed and analytically astute. In addition, he adds tremendous knowledge to the intellectual mapping of how the jeremiad has intersected with the social reality of race in American religious history. Readers from undergraduate students to advanced scholars will learn immensely from this work."



Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Civil Religion and the Anglo- and African American Jeremiads
1. Frederick Douglass's Antebellum Jeremiad against Slavery and Racism
2. The Brief Life of Douglass's "New Nation": From Emancipation-Reconstruction to Returning Declension, 1861-1895
3. The Jeremiad in the Age of Booker T.Washington: Washington versus Ida B.Wells, 1895-1915
4. Great Expectations:W. E. B. Du Bois's American Jeremiad in the Progressive Era
5. Mary McLeod Bethune andW. E. B. Du Bois: Rising andWaning Hopes for America at Midcentury
6. Martin Luther King, Jr., and America's Promise in the Second Reconstruction, 1955-1965
7. Malcolm X: Jeremiah to Blacks, Damner ofWhites—to the End?
8. King's Radical Jeremiad, 1965-1968: America as the "Sick Society"
Conclusion: The Enduring Black Jeremiad


About the Author(s)

David Howard-Pitney is Professor of History at De Anza College. He has worked at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University, and during 2000-2002 was a Commissioned Scholar for the Public Influences of African-American Churches Project of Morehouse College. His publications include Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and '60s.

Subject Categories

American Studies
African American Studies



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