A Second Helping of Thanksgiving Gratitude Courtesy Rev. Selsus E. Tull

Anyone can post an article about Thanksgiving the week of; what would happen if you got another chance to think about gratitude, thanksgiving and spirituality the week after? To find out, read this guest post by Professional Writing senior Will Overton on the theme of thanksgiving throughout the sermons of Rev. Selsus E. Tull.

A Selsus E. Tull Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has been observed in the United States ever since the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in 1621. However, it was not until Abraham Lincoln was president that it became an officially recognized national holiday. While we are familiar with the usual staples of the holiday, dinner with our families, the Macy’s parade, etc., we are also thankful for what God has provided for us. In a series of sermons, Selsus E. Tull delivers his thoughts on the importance of Thanksgiving and how we should not relegate giving thanks to just one day a year.

Selsus E. Tull was a prolific pastor in the Southern United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Tull preached on many topics over the course of his long and illustrious career, including the importance of giving thanks in our lives. While complete transcripts of Tull’s Thanksgiving sermons do not exist, we are offered a glimpse into his thoughts on the holiday. Even with pieces missing, these sermons are as meaningful today as they were when he first delivered them.

Page one of sermon “Thanksgiving Service 1926”

In his sermon titled “Thanksgiving 1926: A Contrast in Life’s Ideals”, Tull uses Luke 12:16-23 and Psalm 116 as a way to draw a contrast between two men who lived different lifestyles. The man in the Luke verse stores up treasures on Earth after he “yielded an abundant harvest” (Luke 16:16). While he plans to store the grain in his barns for his own use, God warns him that he will die before he can use it. Jesus summarizes the parable by saying “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 16:23). Tull is using this advice to warn his congregation to show thanks to God and store up treasures in heaven instead of earth. If they devote their lives to God and do not store up treasures for themselves on Earth then they will live a rich and fulfilling life.

Psalm 116 is a psalm of thanksgiving often attributed to David. Despite the hardships in his life, he continues to praise the Lord. In contrast to the man in Luke 16, the speaker in Psalm 116 is devoted to the Lord and gives what is owed to him. This is shown in verse 12 where he asks “what shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116). The tone of the Psalm is also more reverential than the parable of the man and his grain. The use of these two verses is meant to draw a comparison between the man who “looked at the harvest” and the man who looked “at the Lord of the harvest.” Tull hopes that the congregation behaves more like the man in Psalm 116 in their daily lives and not just at Thanksgiving.

The entirety of Tull’s notes for a sermon titled “Thanksgiving”

The Tull sermon titled “Thanksgiving” gives its message rather succinctly. Tull wants his audience to know “what to be thankful for”, “when to be thankful” and “how to be thankful.” Those three phrases make up the entirety of this sermon note. While no other information is available about the sermon Tull delivered, his talking points make it clear what he wanted his audience to take away from it.

In “Thanksgiving Service”, Tull talks about the third chapter of Colossians and what Thanksgiving means to Christians. One of the ways that Tull talks about Thanksgiving is by saying it is an obligation that comes out of a blessing. Whenever we feel blessed by something God does for us, we are obliged to give thanks for it. The concept of giving thanks and celebrating Thanksgiving is called “a unique and most commendable custom.” One of the harsher truths Tull brings up is the quality of someone who does not give thanks when they receive a blessing. According to him, ungrateful people are “a blight and a curse” on the world around them. But none of those people are at the service on the day Tull spoke because he feels assured that he is addressing “Christian hearts” who know how to “give thanks.”  This set of sermon notes ends with the beginning of a list that is now incomplete. Whether Tull wrote more or the remainder are lost is unknown. There is no incorporation of verses from Colossians 3, indicating that either the chapter was recited at the start of the sermon or that it was part of the sermon not included in Tull’s notes.

There is another Tull sermon titled “Thanksgiving Service” that finds Tull speaking about Thanksgiving as a “distinctly…American day.” Tull’s assuring his congregation that everything wrong with the world today, 1937 to be precise, is due to the actions of man not God. These words of assurance are true, even if there are some people who would argue against it. Tull delivering this sermon during the Great Depression is his way of reminding the congregation that they should still give thanks, even if they do not have an abundance of earthly goods. The idea that we should give thanks during hard times is especially important today, when it seems like there are more hard times than good. Tull’s words reiterate the notion that giving thanks is not just for when everything is going well in our lives. We should give thanks even when times are rough, if for no other reason to remember what good we do have in our lives.

In his “Thanksgiving 1927” sermon, Tull delivers a memorable quote: “We ought not to live in the past, but the future of no people is safe who forget the past.” Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of remembrance, which is reflected in this sermon. Tull talks about people’s reliance on the Psalms when the Psalms are only concerned with the relationship between God and his people. These sermon notes are interesting because they include both long hand and short hand writing. Tull knew the major points he wanted to touch on, but also jotted down brief examples of giving thanks to help illustrate them.

The “Contentment” sermon has Tull preaching on the subject of finding Contentment in giving thanks. This sermon is important to Tull and his congregation because it was delivered during the Great Depression, though it is never brought up in the sermon.  Instead, he talks about people clamoring for material needs, even when they cannot afford them. Tull makes a lot of strong points in this sermon, particularly about people needing most what the world cannot provide: “peace of mind and contentment of soul.” Tull’s sermon about finding Contentment at Thanksgiving, especially during a time as trying as the Great Depression, is certainly fitting and still applicable today.

Thanksgiving in the year 1942” follows a similar pattern to Tull’s previous sermons. He talks about the meaning of Thanksgiving and relates it to how we should be thankful for what we have. One difference with this sermon is Tull’s opening “sketch of the First Thanksgiving Day.”  Among the Tull sermon notes collected in the archives, this is the first to directly mention the Pilgrims. Tull draws upon the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving as a way of reminding his congregation that the principles and beliefs that America were founded on are tied to the holiday of Thanksgiving.

At the time this sermon was delivered, America was in the midst of fighting in World War Two. Tull directly mentions the war on page five of his notes as a way to tie the current conflict with the American fight for Independence. Men were fighting to protect everything America stood for in the 1940s, just as they did in the American Revolution. In fact, soldiers fighting for “the survival of our American Liberties” is one of the things Tull mentions that his congregation should be thankful for. Besides the obvious tie-in to Thanksgiving, this is a sermon that would only have been heard during wartime. Specifically, the parts about being thankful for men who are fighting to protect the principles of freedom that America was founded on. That’s not to downplay the sermon’s importance in any way, just to point out the type of sermon that major world events like World War Two gave us. Tull’s other sermon notes are not directly about Thanksgiving, but do mention it as a means of talking about the topic of the sermon.

Comparing Tull’s Thanksgiving sermons to the Thanksgiving sermons of George W. Truett reveals a few similar ideas and themes. Both Truett and Tull talk about gratitude and being thankful. Truett even starts his sermon titled “Ingratitude: The Commonest Sin” by talking about the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. Both pastors share the belief that people should be thankful every day of the year and not just on Thanksgiving. Truett goes on to say that no matter how much we thank God for everything he provides for us, we will never be able to “sufficiently” thank him. The idea that ingratitude and thanklessness is the most common sin amongst humans is interesting because of the implications. Ingratitude is the most common sin because we sometimes forget to appreciate what others do for us and what we have. Some may argue against his claim, but ingratitude can still be seen around the world.

Disc label for November 23, 1941 sermon by Dr. George W. Truett titled “Ingratitude: the Commonest Sin”

Where Tull discusses the act of giving thanks in relation to world events like the Great Depression, World War Two and the significance of the First Thanksgiving, Truett uses real-life stories as examples. Even though Tull and Truett approach the topic of giving thanks from similar points of view, the use of real-life examples in their sermons differs. Because of the way Tull wrote his sermon notes, it is sometimes difficult to see where he made use of the included Bible verses. But they should not be dismissed because of their brevity. We can learn a lot about Tull’s beliefs from his sermon notes and be thankful for what notes of his we do have in the digital collections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read All About It: Waco Historic Newspapers Digital Collection Launches

Masthead of the May 28, 1873 issue of the “Waco Daily Advance” newspaper.

Waco’s renaissance as a national name – due largely thanks to our resident “Fixer Uppers” Chip and Joanna Gaines – has done much to elevate the city’s name and reputation in the eyes of a national audience. But for the local audience of the late 1800s and early 1900s, if you wanted to read about the goings-on in “Six Shooter Junction,” (or “Athens on the Brazos” or the “Hub City,” take your choice) you could do so in any one of dozens of different local newspapers.

In today’s one-paper-per-market media climate, it can be hard to believe that there was a time when a city of Waco’s size could support not only multiple titles but multiple daily editions along with a smattering of weekly, monthly and irregularly published titles. The large number of media outlets at the turn of the last century was a significant indicator of Waco’s growing importance to the state and regional economy. For today’s researcher, they present an invaluable resource for daily news, commentary, rumor, social commentary and advertising.

The archival holdings of Baylor’s Texas Collection – a special library dedicated to state, local and Baylor history – include the largest known assemblage of historic Waco newspapers available today. Numbering approximately 21,000 total issues, the collection had previously been accessible to on-site researchers and spans dozens of titles and decades from roughly the Reconstruction Era (1870s) to the end of the “public domain” period (1923).

Now, the Digital Preservation Services team, in partnership with The Texas Collection, is proud to announce the availability of 5,375 issues of this important collection in the new Historic Waco Newspapers digital collection. Currently, there are eight titles available in their entirety:

  • The Artesia
  • The Waco Daily Advance
  • The Day
  • Waco Daily Day Globe
  • Waco Daily Examiner
  • Waco Daily News
  • Waco Evening News
  • Waco Evening Tribune

The digitization process for these materials involves a multi-step procedure starting with a careful organization and inventory of the physical issues; generation of cataloging metadata in a shared spreadsheet; digitization of the materials on one of two large-format friendly scanners (a Cruse CS-285ST large format scanner and a Zeutschel OS14000 A0 format scanner, if you’re curious); and, finally, ingestion of the images and metadata into our digital collections content management system (CONTENTdm).

The total amount of time needed to get all 21,000 issues online depends on a number of factors including availability of student and staff labor and the time-intensive nature of handling the fragile physical materials, but we hope to have every issue of The Texas Collection’s holdings from 1875-1923 online and publicly accessible within the next two years.

For now, we encourage you to head to the collection’s homepage and start your deep dive into this treasure trove of local Waco history. Here’s a fun one to get you started: try searching for the word “shiplap.” Yes, turns out JoJo’s favorite wall covering shows up at least six times in the collection, including this ad from the October 28, 1927 Waco Evening Tribune.

Turns out time is a flat piece of wood used as an interior or exterior cladding, not a circle, after all.

 

Sadly, the house at 916 Mary Avenue was demolished long ago, but fear not! You can visit the Magnolia Market, just a stone’s throw away, next time you’re in town. Be sure to pick up a t-shirt before you head home.


Special thanks to the staff at The Texas Collection for their care and maintenance of these archival treasures for more than 90  years.

Evangeline’s Windy City Pilgrimage

Sometimes a project comes together after a long, thought-out process. Sometimes it’s serendipity – something you couldn’t plan for just happens and the right things come together. Sometimes it spins organically out of an existing situation, a related set of materials nestled together under a broader umbrella.

And sometimes, it’s all of those things … plus, a trip to Chicago, a birthday celebration for an icon and a photo op with one of your heroes.

For our graduate assistant Evangeline Eilers, her recent trip to Chicago had its genesis more than a year ago when she began work on our to-be-released Black Gospel Preachers Project. The BGPP began as a spin-off from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, now in its tenth year of activity (and freshly installed as part of the National Museum of African American History & Culture).

As the BGMRP picked up steam, an opportunity came to us to digitize the videotaped sermons of the Rev. Clay Evans of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Evans, an influential African American pastor and gospel musician, has been active in the Chicago-area civil rights movement for more than half a century. For decades, Rev. Evans’ lively sermons – which feature passionate preaching, world-class gospel music and inspired testimonials on a weekly basis – have been preserved on video formats and archived at the Chicago Public Library. Through a series of fortuitous connections – and based largely on our reputation for handling the digitization of thousands of black gospel recordings – the Digital Projects Group was approached about the possibility of digitizing these tapes and making them available to the world.

As of this writing, the digitization of these sermons is complete, but what came next was the more time consuming part – and the part where Evangeline joins our story.

In order to make the videos more useful to our researchers, we knew we needed to do more than simply post them online with a date and a title as the sole metadata. And that meant someone had to sit down and add things like keywords, search terms, scriptural references, song titles and anything else that someone might need to locate in a catalog of hundreds of hours of digitized content.

Evangeline Eilers works in the Riley Digitization Center to add metadata to a sermon from the Rev. Clay Evans video project, July 17, 2017

Evangeline began working with us as an undergraduate student in 2015. She’s worked on a number of projects for us, but she immediately clicked with the Rev. Evans videos. And for the past several months she’s done the heavy lifting on the videotapes’ metadata enhancement process, adding the keywords and info that will eventually make the collection searchable, findable and much more useful to users.

An unexpected side benefit of working on the project came about earlier this summer, when Patty Nolan-Fitzgerald – who has known and worked with Rev. Evans for many years – invited members of the RDC staff associated with the project to come to Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party in Chicago. This being summer, and with staff being in and out of the office, it turned out our sole representative who was able to attend was (you guessed it) Evangeline! We were thrilled to be able to give her the opportunity to travel as our representative at the birthday celebration on behalf of the university.

Evangeline and her mother traveled to Chicago to attend the event. She said she spotted many people she recognized from the videos – a choir director, a worship leader, Rev. Evans’ sister Lou Della Evans-Reid and more. After the event that night, she wrote in an email to Darryl Stuhr, the DPG’s Associate Director,

Being in this space with people I have spent so much time watching on the tapes was a surreal experience but I felt that I was among friends.
We joke sometimes that the longer we spend with a project, the more we feel like we “know” the subject of the collection. For example, after I spent months transcribing the audio of the George W. Truett Sermons, my inner dialog spoke in Truett’s voice for a solid month. (I’m not kidding.) For Evangeline, being surrounded by the living embodiment of Christian service, civil rights and community partnership was a fulfilling – if a strangely unreal – experience.

Part of that dreamlike sense came from being in the presence of several civil rights luminaries in the audience that night. Evangeline’s email continued,

As a history major, being in a room with three notable civil rights leaders (Clay Evans, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan) was incredible. I am very thankful for this experience!

Photographed at Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party are (from left) Allyn Eilers, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Evangeline Eilers, June 25, 2017

Overall, it was a night of celebration not just for Rev. Evans but for the collaborative spirit that brought together a nonagenarian African-American preacher, two noted civil rights leaders, a university digitization center in Central Texas and a project to preserve and spread the Word to any who would hear it, from Chicago to the entire world.

This fall, Evangeline will begin her graduate work in the Department of Museum Studies, and we were thrilled when she accepted a graduate assistantship that will keep her in the RDC for another year. That means another year of connection with the Rev. Evans collection and – perhaps? – an invitation to a 93rd birthday event next summer, something we’re all eager to celebrate.

“Dreaming” In Stereo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference courtesy the Library of Congress

For many of our readers, the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project’s name likely conjures up images of Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe or the Mighty Wonders of Aquasco, Maryland. But on this MLK Day 2017, we wanted to draw your attention to a few items from the collection with direct ties to Dr. King, especially his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Dr. King’s speech that day has rightfully become one of the best-known speeches in American history, its words inspiring the lives of activists, preachers, scholars and the general public for the better part of six decades. For black gospel artists recording in the years after 1963, Dr. King’s speech was fertile ground for creative expression, and they responded by creating songs that sampled portions of the speech’s recorded audio, drew inspiration from its words, or otherwise supported the Civil Rights Movement in the wake of is delivery.


I Have A Dream, recorded audio of Dr. King’s speech, 1963 on Gordy Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

This disc embodies two of the ways black gospel artists responded to Dr. King’s message. The B-Side recording contains just under 4 minutes’ worth of Dr. King’s speech and ends with raucous applause after his immortal lines, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

 


Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King by Rev. Franklin Fondel, ca. 1969 on Cross & Crown Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

The Rev. Franklin Fondel recorded these tracks with his Fondel Gospel Singers in the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. Plaintively spoken over an accompanying organ track, Rev. Fondel spells out in rhyme both Dr. King’s life achievements and his impact on the work of the Civil Rights Movement, noting that King’s love “was the key that opened freedom’s door; no other man could have done more.”

 


I Believe Martin Luther King Made It Home by The All-Star Gospel Singers, ca. 1969 on EM-Jay Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

This bluesy tribute to Dr. King features layered vocals, upright bass and electric guitar and a simple vocal refrain: “I believe Martin Luther King made it home, yes I do.”

 


In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by Claude Jeter, 1968 on HOB Records 45 RPM disc (Click player below for audio)

 

Recorded in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s death, Jeter’s spoken-word tribute to King’s life and work is set over accompaniment by electric bass, piano and organ.

 


As we reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy on this January Monday, those of us at the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project hope these songs – and the thousands of others in the project – will help bring a new perspective to his message of love, equality and freedom for all.

Friday Extra: Why Scream When You Can Shout!

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-8-59-58-amIf this first full week of October has been stressful, tiring or just plain exhausting, take heart! A new series of 2-minute segments called Shout! Black Gospel Music Moments has begun airing on Waco’s local NPR affiliate, KWBU-FM. Hosted by Robert Darden, they will feature stories from the Golden Age of Gospel (1945-1975) and will rely on music from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project for their inspiration.

Shout! currently airs on KWBU Sundays at 8:35 AM and Mondays at 6:32 PM. The segments are being made available to other public radio stations around the country, so check your local listings.

Learn more about the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project from our homepage.