Book review: God’s Trombones

by James Weldon Johnson


Excellent! This is a Penguin Classic, reprinted in 2008 from the original in 1927. It presents seven inspiring Negro sermons in verse.

A thought-provoking statement comes from the Forward: “African Americans are the only people in the whole world and history who really practice Christianity.” No one else has ever found in their hearts the gift of forgiveness, the Forward claims. African Americans forgave the slave owners who worked them without payment for 240 years. This ability to forgive made many former slave owners uneasy, so incomprehensible was their forgiveness.

These transplanted Africans accepted Jesus as their savior and laid all their worries on him. God’s trombones—the old time Negro preachers—were powerful, eloquent figures in their community. A community surviving on hope. When the lyricists wrote, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home,” neither the singer nor the audience had to tax their imagination to consider death a sweet chariot or to doubt that heaven was their destination. When the folk-sermon was in full swing, a rhythmic dance to the beat of powerful voice, an electric current passed through the congregation.

You don’t want to miss these seven poetic sermons.

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