Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
My dissertation argues that African Americans in the 20th-century connected lynching and other acts of racial violence with Christ's crucifixion, which in turn fostered hope and even interracial amity by linking his resurrection with racial uplift. To illustrate this dynamic, I focus on musician, dramatist, and church leader Willa Saunders Jones (1901-79) and her Passion play, which she wrote in Chicago during the 1920s. Over the course of six decades, Jones produced her play annually in churches and later large civic theaters. Growing in size and splendor, the play remained intimately tied with the Black church. It also bore the impress of Jones's cultural training in Little Rock, Arkansas and Chicago, the city to which her family fled after a transforming brush with racial violence. The rise of her Passion play depended upon her musical success, most notably as a choral director. By focusing on a single cultural product over time and through several disciplinary lenses, my study contributes new insights into the role of sacred music and drama within the African American community.
Offering a brief overview of Jones and her play, my Introduction also articulates the dissertation's two central organizing concepts: the crucifixion trope and resurrection consciousness. Chapters One and Two explain why Americans, especially of African descent, made a link between the suffering of black men in America and the crucifixion of Christ (the crucifixion trope). Chapters Three and Four indicate why Jones considered sacred music and drama to be agents of racial uplift and interracial amity. The final chapter focuses on the theme of Christ's resurrection as a metaphor that animates certain responses to racial trauma (resurrection consciousness). In addition to a wide range of secondary sources, I draw upon personal interviews, court records, genealogical records, the Black press, visual images, song lyrics, correspondence, autobiographies, plays, playbills, school records, television footage, and church publications of the National Baptist Convention, USA. "Windy City, Holy Land" should be of special interest to scholars in African American Studies, American Studies, History, Religious Studies, Theatre Studies, and Women's Studies.
Copyright 2009 Brian James Hallstoos
Hallstoos, Brian James. "Windy city, holy land: Willa Saunders Jones and black sacred music and drama." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2009.