Monday, September 07, 2009

A Voice for the Voiceless

A Voice for the Voiceless: African American Women of Faith
Part 1: Octavia Rogers Albert:
Who Will Tell Our Story?

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

Octavia Rogers Albert: Who Will Tell Our Story?

She lived a mere thirty-seven years, yet in The House of Bondage Octavia Rogers Albert (1853-1890) chronicles two-hundred-fifty years of African American history. Like no one before her or since, male or female, she provides a voice for voiceless ex-enslaved African Americans.

Her writing offers the immediacy of first-person accounts mediated by her sensitive interviews and empathetic conversations. She recognizes the insufficiency of secondary sources.

“None but those who resided in the South during the time of slavery can realize the terrible punishments that were visited upon the slaves. . . . The half was never told concerning this race that was in bondage nearly two hundred and fifty years.”

Her Lifelong Mission

Octavia’s lifelong mission was to unpack the personal narratives of those whose “home” was the “house of bondage.” When Colonel Douglass Wilson derides himself for telling his experiences of enslavement and of military service in the Civil War, Octavia insists that he testify.

“I believe we should not only treasure these things, but should transmit them to our children’s children. That’s what the Lord commanded Israel to do in reference to their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and I verily believe that the same is his will concerning us and our bondage and deliverance in this country.”

Her resolve is steely. She writes to give God glory by giving African Americans a voice to answer the question, “Who shall return to tell Egypt the story?”

The hymn (Sound the Loud Timbrel O’er Egypt’s Dark Sea) that concludes her narrative of former slaves “summarizes her theme that abolition was the triumph of God’s will over evil and that those who have been delivered must return to tell the story.”

Firsthand Experience

Octavia does not write as an aloof observer. Born on December 24, 1853, in Oglethorpe, Georgia, of slave parentage, she faced firsthand the horrors and humiliation of enslavement. While still living in Oglethorpe she joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was led by the legendary Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, whose ministry grounded her in her lifelong Christian faith.

After Emancipation, she studied at Atlanta University. Her first teaching job was in Montezuma, Georgia, where, on October 21, 1874, at age twenty-one, she married another teacher at the school, the Rev. A. E. P. Albert, D.D., who later became an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Soon after their marriage, the Alberts moved to Houma, Louisiana, where Octavia began conducting her interviews with men and women once enslaved. She apparently suffered an untimely death, the circumstances of which are unknown. The preface to her book, authored by her husband and their only child, Laura, implies that she died in 1890.

The Rest of the Story

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

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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