Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Celebration of African-American Prayer

Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Celebration of African-American Prayer

by Schomburg Ctr for Resrch in Black Cultur

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From the darkest days on slave ships to the defiant times of the Civil Rights Movement, prayer has embodied the most intense expression of African and African-American spirituality. As Mrs. Coretta Scott King writes in her foreword to Standing in the Need of Prayer, "It is said that every prayer is heard and every prayer is answered in some way [and] I still


From the darkest days on slave ships to the defiant times of the Civil Rights Movement, prayer has embodied the most intense expression of African and African-American spirituality. As Mrs. Coretta Scott King writes in her foreword to Standing in the Need of Prayer, "It is said that every prayer is heard and every prayer is answered in some way [and] I still believe that the millions of prayers spoken by African Americans from the Middle Passage on down to today have been heard by a righteous and loving God."
In this remarkable book, striking photographs and powerful prayers drawn from the unparalleled collections of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture span the broad spectrum of black religious traditions during the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. From the plaintive Yoruba prayer to "Look after us,/Look after our children" and the humble opening prayer of the Qur'ân to "Guide us on the right path" to W. E. B. Du Bois's prideful prayer to "Let [Thy children] grow in the capacity for worthy work...and may they in the end prove worthy of their great heritage," this extraordinary volume reflects the struggle, despair, determination, and triumph of the black experience through the ages. Drawing from faiths as diverse as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Vodou, the book also includes prayers from some of history's most powerful voices, among them Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
At once beautiful and evocative, Standing in the Need of Prayer captures the most varied, striking, and powerful photographic and poetic expressions of prayer in a joyous celebration of the rich spiritual roots of a courageous people whose incredible spiritual journey will inspire generations to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Honorable Charles B. Rangel Member of Congress, U.S. House of Representatives Standing in the Need of Prayer is a joyous celebration of the diversity of the black experience through the ages, and a divine inspiration to our community.

Iyanla Vanzant author of Every Day I Pray Prayer is the daily minimum requirement for the evolution of human consciousness. Standing in the Need of Prayer is more than a mere book about prayer. It is a dose of divinely inspired nutrition from which we can all benefit by simply ingesting one page, three times a day.

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Like God and air, prayer is universal and limitless, yet it takes the form of the individual believer. Within the African-American community, prayer has been the liberating force for a people who have been socially, economically, and politically oppressed. Standing in the Need of Prayer exalts the transformational power of prayer.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chair, Department of African and African-American Studies, Harvard University Standing in the Need of Prayer is tremendously powerful, a necessary contribution to the historical study of the black experience of adversity and triumph in this country.

Derrick Bell professor and author of Gospel Choirs: Psalms of Survival in an Alien Land Called Home and Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth The power of prayer has carried black people over troubled waters, through valleys of dry bones, through paths of blood and tears. Prayer has been our cry for freedom and deliverance — both a supplication and a celebration. Standing in the Need of Prayer is an eloquent and lovely book which captures the essence of the most sacred, humble, and glorious moments in the African-American religious experience.

Reverend Floyd H. Flake, D.Min. Pastor, The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, and U. S. Congressman, Retired Standing in the Need of Prayer is one of the most powerful prayer books that an individual can possess because each prayer speaks to the heart and gives words of empowerment, encouragement, enlightenment, efficacy, and endurance.

Canon Frederick B. Williams Rector, Church of the Intercession, Harlem, New York City Prayer has been defined as a "conversation with God." This collection of prayers and photographs assembled by the Schomburg Center is an important addition to the body of literature that details the dialogue with the Divine that has sustained black peoples over the ages. This is true soul food.

Library Journal
Striking photographs and powerful prayers mark this latest book from the library devoted exclusively to the preservation of materials on black life. Prayers from ministers, priests, and imams mingle with those from noteworthy African Americans like James Baldwin and Marian Wright Edelman. (LJ 10/1/03) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
7.90(w) x 8.28(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt


Coretta Scott King

Throughout the epic freedom struggle of African Americans, our great sustainer of hope has been the power of prayer. We prayed for deliverance in a dozen African languages, chained to the holds of slave ships, on the auction block, in the fields of oppression, and under the lash. We prayed when we "followed the drinking gourd" on the Underground Railroad. We prayed when our families were torn asunder by the slave traders. We prayed when our homes and churches were burned and bombed and when our people were lynched by racist mobs. So many times it seemed our prayers went unanswered, but we kept faith that one day our unearned suffering would prove to be redemptive.

This remarkable collection of prayers, accompanied by moving illustrations, includes many of the most poignant prayers uttered throughout the African diaspora and down through the centuries. It includes the spiritual "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," a favorite of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. The prayers in these pages come from gospel lyrics and popular song, literature and poetry, and sacred scriptures. There are prayers from myriad traditions, including Haitian Vodou, Buddhism, Yoruba, Coptic, and Islam, as well as Christian. And then there are the marvelous photographs of people praying in their homes; in churches, mosques, and temples; in prison and outdoor meetings. There is even a photo of my husband leading a Christian prayer at our dinner table, under a portrait of one of his mentors, Mohandas K. Gandhi, a Hindu.

As a young child growing up in Marion, Alabama, I remember my pastor at Mt. Tabor Church responding to the racial abuse of one of our congregation by saying, "God loves us all, and people will reap what they sow... . So just keep on praying. Don't worry. God will straighten things out." I believed he was right then, and I believe it still.

My parents made sure that prayer would be a regular part of my life, and it has been to this very day. Prayer is how we open our hearts to God, how we make that vital connection that empowers us to overcome overwhelming obstacles and become instruments of God's will. And despite the pain and suffering that I have experienced and that comes to all of our lives, I am more convinced than ever before that prayer gives us strength and hope, a sense of divine companionship, as we struggle for justice and righteousness.

Prayer was a wellspring of strength and inspiration during the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the movement, we prayed for greater human understanding. We prayed for the safety of our compatriots in the freedom struggle. We prayed for victory in our nonviolent protests, for brotherhood and sisterhood among people of all races, for reconciliation and the fulfillment of the Beloved Community.

For my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on in even the darkest hours of our struggle. I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the middle of that night, he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many we received throughout the movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.

After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God: "Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone."

Later he told me, "At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: 'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.'" When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.

I believe that this prayer was a critical turning point for the African-American freedom struggle, because from that point forward, we had a leader who was divinely inspired and could not be turned back by threats or any form of violence. This kind of courage and conviction is truly contagious, and I know his example inspired me to carry on through the difficult days of my journey.

A few nights after Martin's moment of truth, I had mine. I was sitting in my living room in Montgomery, chatting with a friend, while my new baby daughter, Yolanda, was asleep in the back room. Suddenly, we heard a loud thump on the front porch. Because of all the recent threats, I urged my friend to get up. "It sounds as if someone has hit the house. We'd better move to the back."

As we moved toward the back, we felt a thunderous blast, followed by shattering glass and billowing smoke. I hurried to Yolanda's room and thanked God that she was all right. I called the church where my husband was speaking, but he was addressing the audience at the time. He called me back shortly afterward as a large crowd gathered at our house, and then he rushed home.

The crowd was angry at what had happened, and there was a lot of tension between the police and those who had gathered, some of whom were armed with guns, rocks, and bottles. In the midst of all of the turmoil, I said a silent prayer for the protection of our family and the restoration of peace. Then Martin began to speak to the crowd from the front porch of our home. "My wife and baby are all right," he said. "I want you to go home and put down your weapons. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence."

As Martin continued to speak, I was enveloped by a growing calm. "God is with us," I thought. "God is truly with us." The fear and anger around me began to melt like the receding snows of spring. Almost at that moment, Martin concluded his remarks to the crowd: "Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with this movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance."

Martin's speech on that day was yet another crucial turning point for our freedom struggle because it set the tone of nonviolence that gave our movement its unique credibility and enabled all of the victories we achieved under his leadership.

From that day on, I was fully prepared for my role as Martin's wife and partner in the struggle. There would be many more days of difficulty and worry, and there would be many more prayers. But the unwavering belief that we were doing God's work became a daily source of faith and courage that undergirded our freedom movement.

It is said that every prayer is heard and every prayer is answered in some way, and I believe this is true for people of all faiths. I still believe that the millions of prayers spoken by African Americans from the Middle Passage on down to today have been heard by a righteous and loving God.

This wonderful book you hold in your hands is itself a blessing, because it reveals the power of prayer to transform our lives and help provide the spiritual depth that is needed to make us whole. Keep it near so you can reach out and be uplifted and inspired during the challenging passages of your journey. Know in your heart and soul that our faith and our prayers, so beautifully illustrated in the words and images in these pages, will surely be redeemed, and the Beloved Community will become a glowing reality.

Foreword © Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Permission granted by Intellectual Properties Management, Atlanta, Georgia, Manager of the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Meet the Author

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, is the most comprehensive public research library in the world devoted exclusively to the preservation of materials on the global black experience. Created in 1926, the Center now holds more than five million volumes, manuscripts, paintings, and other materials in its collections. A major hub of black cultural life, the Center is located in historic Harlem in New York City.

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