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John Jasper, a Black preacher, philosopher, and orator, was born on this date in 1812.
Jasper was born in Fluvanna County, VA, the youngest of 24 children. He became a Christian on July 4, 1839, in Capital Square of Richmond. He taught himself to read and write, and although he delivered his sermons in the dialect of the southern slave, more educated ministers said that Jasper's vivid and dramatic sermons transcended "mere grammar." He was baptized in 1849, and on the same day, preached a funeral service, which brought him fame.
One of the great slave preachers, Jasper became a noted funeral preacher long before the American Civil War. Noted for his fervid zeal, gifted imagery, and colorful oratory, as a speaker Jasper was much in demand. He preached in many sections of Virginia and adjoining states. During his August vacation, he conducted all-day camp meetings in the country. Sunday after Sunday, he could be seen leading his flock to be baptized in the James River. He was known to have baptized as many as 300 people in four hours.
He reached the height of his aspiration in 1867 when he organized the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church. He gained national distinction in 1878 when he first preached his famed "DE SUN DO MOVE" sermon, which he later delivered by invitation more than 250 times, and once before the entire Virginia General Assembly. This sermon was his effort to prove through biblical references that the sun revolves around the earth.
Thousands of people of all races flocked to Sixth Mount Zion Church to hear John Jasper preach. He is considered the last of the old-styled Antebellum preachers who possessed great public speaking skills. A leader in the community and the city of Richmond, Jasper has been the subject of many books and related articles describing the Black religious experience. One book in particular, “John Jasper, The Unmatched Negro Philosopher and Preacher” by William Hatcher, has received wide acclaim. John Jasper died in 1901.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Chapel Hill, NC 27599