1. The Way Out Is to Pray Out (A Sermon Fragment)
Delivered by the Reverend G. I. Townsel.
This is a fragment of a sermon recorded by the folklorist Alan Lomax on a visit to a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1959. With James Weldon Johnson's "The Creation" in mind, witness here the trombone-strong voice of the Reverend G. I. Townsel, with its musicality and impulse to build toward a crescendo (and then to drop down to a quiet conversational mode) as he improvises his sung/spoken message. The congregation surges along with the preacher in a dynamic call-recall pattern that involves anticipations, encouragements, and amens of approval—a richly collaborative creation.
2. I Have a Dream
Delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. (1963).
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous address, delivered in August 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as the culmination of the March on Washington, the civil rights leader's eloquence and oratorical power are unsurpassed. Quoting from the Bible, from "America the Beautiful," and from a Negro spiritual, King establishes a call-and-response rhythm with his audience (of more than 200,000 people on the Washington Mall) that makes his rolling words seem like part of a communitywidecreation. King's clarity of enunciation, his brilliant pacing, and his powerful, songful voice—which could be raised to operatic intensity—made his one of the movement's, and of the century's, most persuasive voices.
3. I Have Been to the Mountaintop
Delivered by Martin Luther King Jr.
4. The Ballot or the Bullet
Delivered by Malcolm X in Detroit (1964).
Delivered in Detroit in 1964, Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet" speech—which he repeated in several major American cities during that year—demonstrates the sources of his tremendous appeal. Presenting a message of black unity and uplift through self-help and black nationalist philosophy, Malcolm uses an acidly ironic, taunting, tell-it-like-it-is style of address to compel his audience's attention ("Anytime you have to rely upon your enemy for a job, you're in bad shape. . . . It's time to stop singing and start swinging"). Note his barbed critique of the goals and strategies of the civil rights movement and, indirectly, of Martin Luther King Jr.
5. Elder Eatmore's Sermon on Generosity
Performed by Bert Williams.
This mock sermon about the self-serving shepherd is delivered by Egbert Austin ("Bert") Williams (1874–1922), best known at first for his partnership with George Walker on the minstrel stage, where Williams wore blackface makeup and baggy clothes for comic effect. Upon Walker's retirement, Williams, working solo, became the first African American comedian to become a major star in vaudeville. Note the black artist's uses of black stereotypes—perhaps to defuse them by using them first on himself and then laughing them away. (It is important to note, too, that jokes on the preacher, so prevalent in the African American expressive tradition, reminded tellers and hearers alike that these influential community leaders were human, too, and subject to foolishness and error just like everyone else.)
6. From Atlanta Exposition Address
Delivered by Booker T. Washington.
This is a studio remake, by Booker T. Washington himself, of a key part of one of the most important speeches in the history of blacks in the New World: his 1895 address at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Washington's own voice infuses the printed text with a sense of the formality (note the clarity of diction, the rolled r's) as well as urgency and passion.
7. From A Recorded Autobiography
W. E. B. Du Bois.
Here W. E. B. Du Bois speaks extemporaneously about his work at Atlanta University, where for many years, beginning in 1897, he provided scholarly leadership for "the systematic study of the American Negro." While in Atlanta, he was forced to realize that scholarship alone was not enough to change American racism and its results. With this new awareness, he began an intensified movement that coordinated careful library research and writing with spirited, forthright political action on a wide range of fronts, from the college lecture hall to the halls of Congress.