No Future in This Country
The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
A critical study of the career of the nineteenth-century bishop
Winner of the 2021 Book of the Year Award from the Religious Communication Association
Winner of the 2021 Top Book Award from the National Communication Association's African American Communication and Culture Division & Black Caucus
No Future in This Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner is a history of the career of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1834–1915), specifically focusing on his work from 1896 to 1915. Drawing on the copious amount of material from Turner’s speeches, editorial, and open and private letters, Andre E. Johnson tells a story of how Turner provided rhetorical leadership during a period in which America defaulted on many of the rights and privileges gained for African Americans during Reconstruction. Unlike many of his contemporaries during this period, Turner did not opt to proclaim an optimistic view of race relations. Instead, Johnson argues that Turner adopted a prophetic persona of a pessimistic prophet who not only spoke truth to power but, in so doing, also challenged and pushed African Americans to believe in themselves.
At this time in his life, Turner had no confidence in American institutions or that the American people would live up to the promises outlined in their sacred documents. While he argued that emigration was the only way for African Americans to retain their “personhood” status, he also would come to believe that African Americans would never emigrate to Africa. He argued that many African Americans were so oppressed and so stripped of agency because they were surrounded by continued negative assessments of their personhood that belief in emigration was not possible. Turner’s position limited his rhetorical options, but by adopting a pessimistic prophetic voice that bore witness to the atrocities African Americans faced, Turner found space for his oratory, which reflected itself within the lament tradition of prophecy.
"Andre E. Johnson’s No Future in This Country is a powerful reminder that Henry McNeal Turner was one of the titans of the Black freedom struggle between the Civil War and the dawn of American imperialism. Johnson’s meticulous recovery of Turner provides a thoughtful window into this still underresearched moment. As Johnson shows us, Turner was a central figure in almost all the major debates facilitated by Black folks in this crucial period. With this volume, Johnson points the way towards a significant reconfiguration of what we think we know about the historical and intellectual antecedents of a host of actions—emigration, self-defense, the perils and prospects of political engagement, the utility of protest, the role of education in the task of liberation, and more. No Future in This Country is a necessary and indispensable work."- Charles W. McKinney Jr., Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history, Rhodes College
"Scholars of the Civil War era will benefit from extended exposure to Turner, a voice that calls out the pretentions of the age of uplift as well as our own."- Samuel Graber, Journal of the Civil War Era
"The book is clearly written and its arguments are vividly supported. . . . Overall, Johnson’s combination of theological, rhetorical, and historical methods yields a study worthy of its subject."- Bjorn F. Stillion Southard, Quarterly Journal of Speech