God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons In Verse by James Weldon Johnson

God’s Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (A Commentary)

God's Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (A Commentary)


God’s Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (A Commentary)

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

Thus begins the introduction to a Penguin Classics reissue of James Weldon Johnson’s 1929 masterpiece: God’s Trombones — Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.

Very few copies of this seminal piece of writing now exist in its original paperback format.

For those folks who still want to experience the tactile feel and the unmistakable “old book” aroma of a treasured tome, this book is a rare find.

Intro by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, speaking in the foreword, says that “in reading and re-reading (this book), I am convinced that the people survived brutish slavery and the brutality of segregation and racial injustices because they were able to write about their despair and even of their hope in their songs. They were able to preach of dismay and dreams in their sermons.”

In these pages, Johnson explores the lyrical rhythm put forth by these unique sermons, written as they were to convey the greatness of the Lord in verses that the poor, huddled black congregants — many of them hearing the Word in open fields — could easily understand.

Three Sermon Samples In Verse Form

Imagine, for example, a mesmerized slave hearing about The Creation for the first time:

“And God stepped out on space / And he looked around and said:

“I’m lonely — / I’ll make me a world.”

Or hearing about Noah’s lonely voyage:

“And the trees and the hills and the mountaintops / Slipped underneath the waters.

“And the old ark sailed that lonely sea — / For twelve long months she sailed that sea,

“A sea without a shore.”

The Judgement Day

And, in the final sermon entitled simply “The Judgement Day,” Johnson doesn’t spare the apocalyptic horses when describing what will happen to slaves who don’t repent their ways:

“In that great day, / People, in that great day,

“God’s a-going to rain down fire. / God’s a-going to sit in the middle of the air

“To judge the quick and the dead. / Too late, sinner! Too late!

“Good-bye, sinner! Good-bye! / In hell, sinner! In hell!

“Beyond the reach of the love of God.”

A Tribute to Preachers from That Era

This is, in the final analysis, a tribute to preachers long dead who delivered these poetic sermons almost a hundred years ago. He sums up this slim volume with a poignant paen to the black preachers who preceded him:

“The old-time Negro preacher is rapidly passing. I have here tried sincerely to fix something of him.”

You can find God’s Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse — as well as other vintage titles — at BestUsedChristianBooks.com

— Commentary by Don Sloan


Also mentioned in the New York Times and in Encyclopedia Britannica online.

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