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Word, Like Fire

Word, Like Fire: Maria Stewart, the Bible, and the Rights of African Americans

Valerie C. Cooper
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Word, Like Fire
    Book Description:

    Maria Stewart is believed by many to have been the first American woman of any race to give public political speeches. InWord, Like Fire,Valerie C. Cooper argues that the religious, political, and social threads of Maria Stewart's thought are tightly interwoven, such that focusing narrowly on any one aspect would be to misunderstand her rhetoric. Cooper demonstrates how a certain kind of biblical interpretation can be a Rosetta Stone for understanding various areas of African American life and thought that still resonate today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3207-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-38)

    What if you did the work of a theologian and no one noticed? Maria Stewart may have had one of the most unrecognized and underappreciated African American theological voices of the nineteenth century. She is believed by many to have been the first American woman of any race to have given a political speech before an audience of both men and women¹ and to have left copies of her remarks to posterity. Although these speeches are political in nature, they are also deeply theological and use the Bible extensively to buttress Stewart’s arguments on behalf of blacks’ and women’s rights...

  5. CHAPTER 1 “Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality”
    (pp. 39-90)

    To make the case that Maria Stewart’s use of biblical allusions in her speeches and essays is both plentiful and thoughtful, it is helpful to track such allusions in a representative sample of her work. Stewart’s essay “Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality” is printed here, along with a running commentary on her use of the Bible throughout that text. The commentary in my footnotes will take note of Stewart’s biblical allusions along with unusual phrases and ideas and important points in her theology and political ideology.

    At times, Stewart’s scriptural allusions seem almost utilitarian, as when she appears...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Maria Stewart’s Approach to Scripture
    (pp. 91-110)

    The period during which Maria Stewart gave her speeches, laden as they were with biblical references, was an important one for the battles of African Americans against slavery. (Although she was born free, Stewart regarded herself as having been enlisted in that battle.) Just as blacks were having their first encounters with the Bible on American shores, the slavocracy was using the Bible to construct defenses for slavery.¹ Nevertheless, African American exegetes were formulating from that same Bible refutations of the slavocracy and arguments for their own freedom.²

    The ability to read and understand the Bible was an undertaking of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Maria Stewart’s Defenses of Women
    (pp. 111-152)

    Nineteenth-century African American evangelical women like Maria Stewart shaped a convergence of theological and cultural forces in their efforts to redefine black womanhood in terms that were not constrained by those that circumscribed the lives of nineteenth-century white women. In a myriad of ways, they redesigned, or rejected, the “Cult of True Womanhood,” which had emerged as the Victorian-era ideal of femininity, but which stubbornly excluded them. Instead, African American women used the urgency of the struggle against slavery, the liminal nature of their own status as women, and evangelical arguments for human equality before God as means of crafting...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Maria Stewart’s Attitudes toward Race and Nation
    (pp. 153-174)

    Many have noted African Americans’ fondness for appropriations of the story of the Exodus. The biblical tale of God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt is one that has found expression in the spirituals, African American folklore, and innumerable sermons. Blacks identified not only with the role of Israel in the biblical narrative but also with the indictment of America as Israel’s historic foe, the slaveholding nation of Egypt. This interpretation differed from that of white Americans, who saw their republic as the biblical ideal of Israel rather than as the slavocracy of Egypt. As Albert J. Raboteau has...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-182)

    Joycelyn Moody wrestles with the angst she first experienced when a couple of young white men in her classes on nineteenth-century black women’s autobiography simply didn’t “get it” and as she later considered the incidents when they continued to haunt her.¹ The incidents highlight the linguistic and experiential divide that can separate black women’s texts from nonblack and/or nonfemale audiences. As Moody describes the mission of her classes, her intention to traverse the divide was an appropriate, forward-thinking, liberationist project: teaching ethnic texts in a multiethnic classroom as a means of decoding and demystifying the experiences of ethnic others.


  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-192)
  11. Index
    (pp. 193-209)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 210-210)