Black Harry, One of the Greatest Preachers Ever Forgotten

Hoosier was the first African-American religious figure to gain national prestige.

Black Harry preached during the Second Great Awakening to both black and white congregations, bringing many to Christ. He was admired across racial lines for preaching the already-not-yet kingdom, but served within a church that treated him as almost-but-not-human.

 

Harry Hoosier, or Black Harry as he preferred, is one of the greatest preachers ever forgotten.

Hoosier was the first African-American religious figure to gain national prestige. One Declaration of Independence signatory called him “the greatest orator in America.” Likewise, after hearing Black Harry preach several times, John Wesley’s right-hand man, Thomas Coke (1747–1814), journaled: “I really believe he is one of the best preachers in the world. There is such an amazing power attends his preaching.”

Black Harry preached during the Second Great Awakening to both black and white congregations, bringing many to Christ. He was admired across racial lines for preaching the already-not-yet kingdom, but served within a church that treated him as almost-but-not-human.

Because of this treatment, his story is virtually unknown today.

We should honor this prolific revivalist who served faithfully even when he was not honored. Salvation and ministry success should always be credited to the Holy Spirit, but if George Whitefield and Dwight Moody are to be recognized for their contributions, we should know Harry Hoosier.

His Life

Hoosier was born in North Carolina around 1750. After being converted in the Methodist tradition, he discovered an immense preaching gift. Freed from slavery, he eventually became the “servant-preacher” of Bishop Francis Asbury, the “Father of American Methodism.” Asbury answered the call of John Wesley to advance the Methodist movement in America, and Hoosier was his traveling partner. Eventually Hoosier himself started preaching, often to groups of slaves.

The typical order of service featured Asbury preaching to the white congregations, and Hoosier speaking to fellow African Americans. Soon, however, requests for Hoosier to also preach to the white congregants became routine. It became clear that God’s Spirit was at work in Hoosier, as he saw many converted. Asbury wrote in his journal that to draw large crowds he would announce Hoosier as the headliner.

The Second Great Awakening was a time of rapid growth in Methodist and Baptist churches. Twenty percent of the Methodist movement’s early growth (1790–1803) was due to African-American membership, which overlapped with the height of Hoosier’s circuit preaching.

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