Excerpt (approximately 9 minutes) from the oral history with Tom Skinner, who was interviewed by Robert Shuster in 1990. This excerpt comes from audio tape T2 in Collection 430. Two undated photographs accompany the text; the second, in which he is talking to people, is probably from the mid-1980s. To find out more about Tom Skinner click here. Click to play the Tom Skinner excerpt on CN430T2

SKINNER: In 1962, when I was in my last year in college, a group of us got together and formed what was known as the Harlem Evangelistic Association. There was a man by the name of Walter Whittingham. Now that...that's an interesting story, which I probably need to come back to. But Walter Whittingham was a member of a soul-saving station in Harlem, which was founded by a man by the name of Billy Roberts in 1939, who was converted on a Mississippi gambling boat from drugs and came to Harlem in 1940 preaching about how God saved him from drugs. Heroin was relatively unknown at the street level in those days. There were some entertainers and middle class people who were into it a little bit, but it was not commonly on the street as it would be common in the 60s. And he formed this soul-saving station and...and so Walter Whittingham was part of that. Walter Whittingham had a sister by the name of Louise Whittingham who ran a kind of a [pauses]...a ministry on the Low...on the East Side on 125th Street, mostly with children. from PHOTO FILE: Skinner, Tom Built a whole church just raising children. But they had a...Walter had a vision of the Gospel of Christ being preached in Harlem and...and so a group was gotten together. There were twelve of us. Walter Whittingham, Louis Brathway [sp.?], Larry Thomas, Rupert Bingham, George Perry assembled together and worked for almost a year and began block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, to do evangelistic campaigns up and down Harlem. And we climaxed it in the summer of 1962 with the largest evangelistic campaign ever held in New York...I mean, ever held in Harlem, in the history of Harlem. It was held at the Apollo Theater, which was the number one entertainment spot in Harlem. Apollo was where Sammy Davis, Jr., Ray Charles and all of them got started. And the...the Gospel became front page news in Harlem. And it was the most extraordinary pouring forth of the Spirit of God that...that had been seen. I mean, it was...it...it was just...it was just unbelievable the response. And it was that crusade that launched the...my evangelistic ministry around the world over the next twenty-some odd years.

INTERVIEWER: Was that the first time you'd preached before a large group?

SKINNER: Uh-hm. Yup. The....

INTERVIEWER: What does...what does preaching feel like for you? I mean, what's it like to be up in front of a group preaching?

SKINNER: One of the things that growing up in the black church did was that you were used to talking to people, so that was not the...that was not the phenomenon. But the...the great struggle for me was always being aware of where the people were and what their needs were, what the striking issues of people were and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ would speak to that. And [pauses]...the...the fact of the matter is that [pauses] I have a.... It's interesting you should ask that. I have a...an absolute passion about preaching and at the same time it scares me to death. It...the old folks used to pray a prayer that went like this...when they were praying for the preacher on Sunday mornings the old folks would pray, "Lord, bless the man who is going to stand in John's shoes, the man who is going to stand between the living and the dead and break unto us the bread of life." So my formative years in preaching were shaped with the idea that every time you stood up to preach the word of God, you were standing between the living and the dead and that the issues of life and death were at stake, and that was the frightening part. The exhilarating part was that you could offer people life, you know. from PHOTO FILE: Skinner, Tom And so I'm...I'm enthralled with preaching. I don't mean the mechanics of preaching. I'm enthralled with the...with the...with the idea that God has chosen through the foolishness of preaching to change people's lives. I mean, it's just a...it's...you can get drunk off of that, you know what I mean? [chuckles] And...and yet at the same time....

INTERVIEWER: "Be drunk not with wine but with the Spirit." [Ephesians 5:18]

SKINNER: Yeah, yeah. And at the same time, frightened about the responsibility, you know? True preaching is...is a sacred trust to me. It's like I am a different person. And I don't mean in a schizophrenic sense like, you know, I take on another personality or, you know, I'm a sinner who suddenly becomes holier when I preach. But I mean, I...preaching is serious business to me. You see, I've never been able to understand, and I guess I have a different...different view. It was a...it was cultural shock when I discovered that...that...that white folks could after service have a session where they critiqued the pastor's sermon. I mean, that was...look for me, you don't critique a sermon! You critique a lecture. You critique a monologue of a play. You critique the opening act of a...of a...of a theater production. You...you critique a concert. You do not critique preaching! [laughs] You know what I mean? I mean, it's like...I mean...I mean...not that I don't believe that I [unclear phrase].... It's just that...that preaching, if it's...if...if it...if it...if it is...if it's legal and right, is the anointing of the Spirit of God on the Word of God through a vehicle that God chooses to use and you don't critique that. You listen to it, receive it, and obey it. [laughs] You know. It's a...and so the thought that people could sit around [laughs] and take it apart was just a whole different.... And...and...and...and in spite of the fact that I consider myself a...a very sophisticated, mature person today, I still find it difficult, because that's...for me, preaching is the preacher allows himself or herself to be...to become submissive to the Spirit of God and that it is through the Holy Spirit working through the preacher and the preaching of the Word of God that attracts people to Jesus Christ. And that to me is what the act is. That's what the whole thing is . . . you know, is about. And I...I guess the second part was that I view it as an evangelist, because the majority of my life, of my Christian ministry has been spent talking to nonbelievers. And so [pauses] my whole mindset is geared towards...towards the person who does not know Christ and how do you continue to find ways to communicate to people who don't know the... who don't know the Lord. And so I have to work hard at talking to Christians. Now, when you ask about what it's like to stand before lots of people. Now, where I really have trouble is when I have to stand up in front of a [slapping sound] lot of Christians. I mean I really have to work to be at ease. I am...I'm in total...I'm totally at ease and at home with pagans, totally at home with them.

To find out more about Tom Skinner or Collection 430 at the Archives click here. To read the transcripts of the Skinner interview, click here. To explore other Archives collections which document the contributions of African American Christians, click here.

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