Black gospelwoman and pastor Shirley Ann Caesar Williams, better known as “Shirley Caesar” to her listeners over the last several decades, entered a professionalization phase of her ministry and career from 1958 to 1966 when she joined and performed with The Caravans. Being a Caravan member brought with it the possibility of being in compromising situations while on the road, which would expose Caesar—a Black woman—to the possibility of sexual (and racial) violence. Caesar’s first night as a Caravan in 1958 provided such a circumstance, a failed sexual advance that she describes in Chapter 5, “On the Road with the Caravans”, of her 1998 autobiography, The Lady, the Melody, and the Word. Caesar’s identities (Black, woman, Christian, chaste) intersecting with a potential sexual advance and her reaction to it is fodder for the reinforcement of Black male authority, power, privilege, and dominance in the Black Sanctified Church as well as the assertion of sexual agency. Today Caesar continues to shape her complex public identity born out of a set of negotiations embracing and challenging specific gendered, racial, sexual, and religious norms, the conditions of Black and white mobility, and patterns of religious authority. However, for her, religious authority remains paramount.
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Nelson, Angela, "Shirley Caesar and the Politics of Validating Sexual Agency" (2022). Popular Culture Faculty Publications. 11.