Monday, September 07, 2009

African American Women of Faith

A Voice for the Voiceless: African American Women of Faith
Part 2: Octavia Rogers Albert: Throbbing with Sympathy

Note: Taken from Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith. For more information on this book, please visit:

Note: For part one of this blog mini-series, please visit:

An Ear to Hear; a Mouthpiece to Speak

According to historian John Blassingame, Octavia Albert was one of the few well-trained and one of the most interesting interviewers in the country during the Reconstruction era. She combined academic excellence with sympathetic brilliance. That combination, important to researchers today, was vitally meaningful to the ex-slaves who shared their stories with her.

As the educated “First Lady” (pastor’s wife) of an African American church, she represented to them a figure of compassion, accomplishment, and status. So it is no surprise that when she moved to Louisiana her home became a gathering place for former slaves.

“There she offered them food, read them scriptures, taught them to read and write, and encouraged them to talk about themselves and their slave experiences.”

None But Jesus!

Her decision to offer them a listening ear and to be their mouthpiece surprised even her interviewees. Among those Octavia ministered to, Charlotte Brooks was preeminent. Octavia tells Charlotte that she has greatly enjoyed their conversations, has listened to every word of her “past unhappy life” in the cane fields of Louisiana, and that “I desire to write it in your own words.”

Charlotte bluntly expresses her shock that any human would identify with her.

“La, me, child! I never thought any body would care enough for me to tell of my trials and sorrows in this world! None but Jesus knows what I have passed through.”

And not just anyone—but the “First Lady” valued “Aunt Charlotte” by dispensing the sustaining grace of listening to her story of suffering. As “Jesus with skin on her,” Octavia’s ministry was life changing.

Listening to Her Sad Story

Octavia records her own perceptions of her soul care of Charlotte.

“It was in the fall of 1879 that I met Charlotte Brooks. She was brought from the State of Virginia and sold in the State of Louisiana many years before the war. I have spent hours with her listening to her telling of her sad life of bondage in the cane-fields of Louisiana.”

If one picture is worth 1,000 words, then this one example is worth 1,000 pages of training in sustaining. Spend hours listening to people tell their sad story of suffering. Our quick-fix, solution-focused, speak-first culture desperately needs to develop the relational competency of sustained listening.

The Rest of the Story

For the rest of the story, please return to this blog for part three . . .

Note: Readers can enjoy the empowering narratives of over two-dozen African American women (and scores of African American men) narrated in Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering. For more information, please visit:

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