Professor Suzanne Smith was recently awarded a research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support work on her new book project, “The Happy Am I” Preacher: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux. In this project, Smith will analyze the career of Elder Michaux, who was the most successful African American radio evangelist of the early twentieth century.
Elder Michaux, who was a Virginia native, began his Holiness ministry in Newport News in the mid-1920s. By the late 1930s, Michaux moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he founded his Radio Church of God on local radio station WJSV. By 1934, the CBS radio network picked up the show and Michaux gained a weekly audience of twenty-five million listeners. An exceptional showman, Michaux performed annual mass baptisms in Washington, D.C. that attracted thousands of followers who came to be blessed in the waters of the Potomac River. Michaux used his religious celebrity to develop political influence and became a frequent advisor to Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower on racial and religious issues. Smith’s new book will explore how Michaux’s career transforms traditional understandings of the relationship among race, religion, and radio in twentieth-century America.
Smith's is the latest in a series of NEH fellowships won by History/Art History faculty in recent years. Smith previously received a fellowship for the work that became her 2010 book, To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death. Professors Greet, Kierner, Ritterhouse, and Zagarri have also received these prestigious awards.
December 11, 2012