Publications & Media

"Redeeming Bondage: Captivity Narratives and Spiritual Autobiographies in Slave Narrative Tradition."


(Cambridge Companion to Slave Narrative, 2007)


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"…If the central message of Christianity is the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross, in which the sacrifice of one redeems the sins of all, it is no wonder that enslaved men and women take this message to heart both for their spiritual and earthly needs.  The rhetorical message of the Christian faith promises freedom, liberation and deliverance from bondage, particularly for those wrongly punished.  The signs, symbols and stories of this belief system reinforce the notion that the very least, the most humble, and the most abject are the ones who eventually inherit the kingdom.  What other message could provide such hope and offer so many scriptural parallels to the situation of the enslaved African population?"

“Restless Spirits: Syncretic Religion in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory.”


(Journal of Pan African Studies, Spring 2010)

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"….Over two hundred years removed from the physical operation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and her enslaved ancestors who composed these spirituals, Martine still finds comfort in the songs, hymns, and religious expressions of a people that first created a syncretic African religious tradition in the New World.  In these songs and in the storefront churches of Brooklyn and Harlem, Martine’s memories go beyond her personal trauma and connect her to her ancestors.  She finds a space in which the Christian religion and traditional African religions, as well as the various offspring faiths of these two religions, can survive and thrive.  It stirs memories in her that she is not even conscious of; memories which tie her to a collective syncretic religious community."

Hell Without Fires: Slavery, Christianity, and the Antebellium Spiritual Narrative examines the spiritual and earthly results of conversion to Christianity for African-American antebellum writers. Using autobiographical narratives, the book shows how black writers transformed the earthly hell of slavery into a "New Jerusalem," a place they could call home.


Yolanda Pierce insists that for African Americans, accounts of spiritual conversion revealed "personal transformations with far-reaching community effects. A personal experience of an individual's relationship with God is transformed into the possibility of liberating an entire community." The process of conversion could result in miraculous literacy, "callings" to preach, a renewed resistance to the slave condition, defiance of racist and sexist conventions, and communal uplift.


These stories by five of the earliest antebellum spiritual writers--George White, John Jea, David Smith, Solomon Bayley, and Zilpha Elaw--create a new religious language that merges Christian scripture with distinct retellings of biblical stories, with enslaved people of African descent at their center. Showing the ways their language exploits the levels of meaning of words like master, slavery, sin, and flesh, Pierce argues that the narratives address the needs of those who attempted to transform a foreign god and religion into a personal and collective system of beliefs. The earthly "hell without fires"--one of the writer's characterizations of everyday life for those living in slavery--could become a place where an individual could be both black and Christian, and religion could offer bodily and psychological healing.

"...My grandmother’s kitchen was a theological laboratory where she taught me how to love people just as naturally as she taught me to make peach cobbler and buttermilk biscuits. I watched and listened as she ministered to the sick and the lost, with a Bible in one hand and a freshly baked pound cake in the other, despite having no official ministry role.


I knew that if God was real, if God truly loved me as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.” Only years of dogma and doctrine force you to unlearn what you know to be true in your own heart, demanding “Father” as the only acceptable appellation and concept for God..."


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"Why God Is a ‘Mother,’ Too" 

2013 Article

"My tears started while I was sitting in a coffee shop, and they refused to stop. I gathered my laptop and purse, hurried back to the car, and sat quietly, expecting the flow to cease. And yet, tears were in my eyes on the way back home and tears stayed with me throughout the day. I have been grieving for a well over a year; grieving for Sanford, Fla;. for Ferguson, Mo.; for Charleston, S.C.; for Cleveland, Ohio; and for countless other cities. I am grieving for a world that I know, irrefutably, does not value black lives — a world that does not value my life..."


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"A Theology for a Grieving People"



2015 Article

"When Our Truths Are Ignored: Proslavery Theology's Legacy"  


2015 Article

"For an African American writer during slavery, there was an expectation that a “white envelope” framed the “black message.” For autobiographers like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, or for poets like Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley, this convention dictated that their written work feature a statement of authenticity from a white voice, proving that the black writer had indeed crafted the message. And so, white abolitionists, lawyers, prominent citizens, and sometimes even former slaveholders, wrote a letter or a preface or an addendum to the works of the black author, certifying that what was contained therein was truthful, authentic, and crafted by the author. In other words, whiteness was necessary to validate black veracity. 


There are a number of reasons for this need for whiteness to validate black truthfulness during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The horrors of slavery were so unbelievable, that someone like Harriet Jacobs needed this “white envelope” to confirm that she had hidden in crawl spaces and attics for seven years in order to escape her brutal owner."


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"Cracking the Code for Happiness" 

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing the Pursuit of Happiness and the Declaration of Independence.

"Abortion Access a Fading Reality for Rural Poor" 

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

"The First Lady's Food Fight" 

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing abortion access for those living in poverty in rural America. 

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing First Lady Michelle Obama’s aggressive new stand in the battle over school nutrition standards and the power of the food lobby.

"What #YesAllWomen Really Means" 

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing the hashtag #YesAllWomen used by women after the Isla Vista tragedy to express the common misogyny and violence they experience.

"How will US Respond to Kids at the Border" 

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing the border crisis in America. 

"Charleston Attack was 'An Act of Racial Terror'"

MSNBC "Melissa Harris-Perry Show"

Yolanda Pierce appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show discussing the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. 

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