Selling to the Souls of Black Folk: Atlanta, Reverend J.M. Gates, the Phonograph, and the Transformation of African American Protestantism and Culture, 1910-1945. Open Access

Martin, Lerone (2011)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/4j03cz808?locale=en
Published

Abstract


There is much work in the discipline of American religious history that chronicles
the significance of mass mediums such as print, radio, film, television, and the Internet in
the practice(s) of Protestant Christianity. However, the field has been slow to recognize
the phonograph as an equally vital tool within these traditions. Selling to the Souls of
Black Folk takes up this neglected task by historically tracing the phenomenon of African
American Protestant clergy utilizing the phonograph for the mass transmission of their
sermons during the first half of the Twentieth century. This unprecedented use of mass
communication and religious commodification enabled black clergy, who were largely
marginalized from radio, to become cultural celebrities, alongside popular music artists,
within African American communities. Leading record labels recorded these spiritual
commodities and advertised them in black newspapers, posters, handbills, department
stores, mail-order catalogues, record label shops, and furniture stores. As a result, the
placement of these sermons on the market shelf significantly altered the substance and
form of black religious practices. This story examines several of the approximately one
hundred African American phonograph sermon recorders prior to World War II.
However, Atlanta and the city's Reverend J.M. Gates, the most prolific phonograph
sermon recorder, are the anchors of this historical study. This conceptual lynchpin allows
for a concentrated analysis of how the emergence and popularity of phonograph sermons
both reflected and facilitated shifts within African American Protestantism. Selling to the
Souls of Black Folk, therefore, offers an important historical account that is essential to
understanding the major trends and practices that undergird contemporary American
Protestantism and religious broadcasting.

Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: WRITING AFRICAN AMERICANS INTO THE HISTORIES OF
AMERICAN MASS MEDIA RELIGION ..........................................................................1
Scope of the Project .................................................................................................9


PART ONE
CHAPTER ONE: AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY, MIGRATION,
SEGREGATION, AND CONGREGATION IN BLACK ATLANTA, 1890-1920 .........18
Black Migration to Atlanta ....................................................................................21

The Parallel City Behind the Veil..........................................................................26
CHAPTER TWO: "OH DEATH WHERE IS THY STING?:" AFRICAN AMERICAN
PROTESTANT RELIGION AND THE "PROBLEM OF AMUSEMENT" IN
ATLANTA.........................................................................................................................33
The Negro Young People's Christian and Educational Congress……………….40

Commercial Amusements, Religion, and Morality in Atlanta…………………..45

Chapter Conclusion……………………………………………………………...57
CHAPTER THREE: THE COLOR OF THE PHONOGRAPH: THE PHONOGRAPH
INDUSTRY, RACE RECORDS, AND AFRICAN AMERICAN
PROTESTANTISM……………………………………………………………………...60
The Phonograph in American Life……………………………………………….62
The Phonograph in Black: Race Records………………………………………...72
The Phonograph, African American Amusement, and Religion…………………85
Chapter Conclusion………………………………………………………………89
CHAPTER FOUR: SANCTIFYING THE PHONOGRAPH: THE EMERGENCE OF
RECORDED SERMONS………………………………………………………………..90
Recorded Sermons on the Phonograph ………………………………………….92
Recorded Sermons and Twentieth Century Protestantism……………………..104
Chapter Conclusion…………………………………………………………….107


PART TWO
CHAPTER FIVE: A MIGRANT'S STORY OF THE CITY: REVEREND JAMES M.
GATES AND THE EMERGENCE OF AN URBAN MINISTRY…………………….110
Reverend Gates and Mount Calvary Baptist Church……………………………..116
Rural Protestantism in the Modern City………………………………………….119
Chapter Conclusion………………………………………………………………136
CHAPTER SIX: AMERICAN IDOLS: REVEREND J.M. GATES, THE POPULARITY
OF RECORDED SERMONS, AND THE MASS MEDIA CELEBRITY OF AFRICAN
AMERICAN PREACHERS……………………………………………………………138
The Great Migration and Modern Black Religious Expression………………….139
Gates and the Creation of the Black Religious Commercial Celebrity…………..149
Money…………………………………………………………………………….163
Chapter Conclusion………………………………………………………………171
CHAPTER SEVEN: "IT'S TIGHT LIKE THAT:" ANALYZING THE RECORDED
SERMONS OF REVEREND GATES…………………………………………………173
Rev. Gates and Commercial Amusement………………………………………...174
Gender……………………………………………………………………………181
Current Events…………………………………………………………………....185
Chain Stores………………………………………………………………………193
Chapter Conclusion………………………………………………………………205
CONCLUSION: "OF THE WINGS OFATALANTA:" THE LEGACY OF REVEREND
J.M. GATES, ATLANTA, AND RECORDED SERMONS…………………………..208
POSTSCRIPT…………………………………………………………………………..216
BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………………………217


TABLE AND FIGURES
TABLE: African American Population in Atlanta, 1860-1940 ………………………...22
FIGURE 1: 1902 Gramophone advertisement, The Atlanta Constitution, Jan 15, 1902,
pg.7………………………………………...……………………………………………..62
FIGURE 2: 1910 Victrola advertisement, The Atlanta Constitution, Jan 20, 1910,
pg.5……………………………………………………………………………………….64
FIGURE 3: 1910 Victor Phonograph advertisement, The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 10,
1910, pg.7………………………………………………………………………………...66
FIGURE 4: 1918 Victor advertisement, The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 24, 1918,!
pg.7…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………...66
FIGURE 5: Okeh Records advertisement, The Chicago Defender, May 05, 1923, p.6,
col.1………………………………………………………………………………………83
FIGURE 6: Black Billy Sunday Sermon advertisement, The Chicago Defender, Mar 07,
1925, pg.2, col.1………………………………………………………………………….96
FIGURE 7: Black Billy Sunday Sermon advertisement, The Chicago Defender, January
30, 1926, Part 1, pg.7……………………………………………………….....................97
FIGURE 8: Reverend W.A. White Sermon advertisement, Chicago Defender, Sep 26,
1925, p.7, col.4…………………………………………………………………………...99
FIGURE 9: Reverend Mosley advertisement found in, The Chicago Defender Jan 01,
1927, p.6, col.3………………………………………………………………………….100
FIGURE 10: Reverend Leora Ross advertisement found in, Chicago Defender, Aug 27,
1927, p.3, col.6………………………………………………………………………….103
FIGURE 11: "Birth of a Nation," advertisement found in, The Atlanta Constitution,
Dec 5, 1915, pg. C12…………………………………………………………………...120
FIGURE 12: Pastoral Installation of Reverend Gates from "Being Installed," Atlanta
Daily World
, Mar 21,1937, pg. 3……………………………………………………….131
FIGURE 13: Reverend Gates "Death's Black Train is Coming," Sermon advertisement
The Chicago Defender, August 7,1926, Part 1, pg.7………….......................................153
FIGURE 14: Reverend Gates "Death's Black Train is Coming," Sermon advertisement,
found in, The Pittsburgh Courier, August 7,1926, pg.6………………………………..154

FIGURE 15: Reverend Gates "Death's Black Train is Coming," Sermon advertisement,
found in, Chicago Defender, August, 21,1926, pg.8 ……...…………………………...155
FIGURE 16: "Noah and the Flood," Sermon advertisement, Chicago Defender, May 14,
1927, pg.6……………………………………………………………………………….156
FIGURE 17: advertisement found in, The New York Amsterdam News, November 17,
1926, pg. 12……………………………………………………………………………. 157
FIGURE 18: Reverend Gates and Louis Armstrong advertisement found in The
Pittsburgh Courier
, Dec 24, 1927, pg.15……………………………………………… 158
FIGURE 19: "God in the St. Louis Cyclone," Sermon advertisement, Chicago Defender,
November 26, 1927, pg.3……………………………………………………………… 159
FIGURE 20: "Reverend Gates Returns to the City," found in Atlanta Daily World, Sep
25, 1932,4A…………………………………………………………………………… 162
FIGURE 21: "Death Might Be Your Santa Clause," Sermon advertisement found in, New
York Amsterdam News
, Dec 08, 1926, p.13, col.1……………………………………...164
FIGURE 22: "Dead Cat on a Line," Sermon advertisement found in, The Chicago
Defender
, Jul 13, 1929, pg.2…………………………………………………………... 179
FIGURE 23: "Manish Women" Sermon advertisement found in, The Chicago Defender,
May 10, 1930, pg.2…………………………………………………………………......184

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