Skip to main content

Charles Tindley EBook Cover

Charles Tindley should be more of a household name.

He helped invent a new American art form. The gospel songs he composed are still stirring souls a century after his death. He was a preacher for the ages, drawing more than 10,000 congregants into one of America’s first-ever megachurches.

He fed the hungry. He lifted up the poor. He fought racism and injustice. He endured trials and tribulations with dignity.

He did these things against incredible odds. Born dirt-poor in slavery times on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he never went to school as a child. How could a boy teach himself to read? He faced skeptics and doubts at every turn in life. How did he beat the odds? With “an indomitable resolution to become all that God had put me in this world to be.”

Faith, diligence, compassion, creativity: Every last one of us will be able to find some inspiration in the improbable story of his life and accomplishments.

‘I Will Overcome:’ The Soul-Stirring Life of Charles A. Tindley is a short read, available only in e-book format. It’ll take you a couple of hours to read, clocking in at 15,000 words. It costs just $2.99. Here’s how the book begins:

Setting the Scene: The Climb to Who Knows Where

Except for one weird thing, the cemetery along the countryside backroads outside of Pocomoke City, Md. is like countless others of the type. A swath of green, dotted with white markers. Grass trimmed and manicured, just so.

But what’s up with the red-brick stairway? It climbs one step, two steps, three steps, four. Then it goes … nowhere. No door up top, waiting to be opened. No gazebo to stroll across. The steps rise from that grass for no apparent reason, headed who knows where?

A sign nearby says this pile of bricks is what remains of an old church called Tindley’s Chapel. We’ll get to that soon enough, but here at the outset I want to share the scene that popped into my mind while standing before those steps to who knows where and thinking about the life of Charles A. Tindley.

Set your mind’s eye to the early 1860s. Zoom in on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, then find your way to the town of Berlin. Head southeast into a thinly-populated countryside on the way to Assateague Island and the Atlantic Ocean.

These are tumultuous times, Civil War raging. The slave-labor economy is hanging by a thread. But all that is unfolding on distant battlefields. It’s quiet in this countryside. Folks are tackling tasks and playing roles just as they have for many generations.

Now picture a field bathed in sunshine. A young black boy stands out there. Nearby is a clothesline, fabrics swaying. On that line is a “tow shirt,” longer than our modern t-shirts and with a drawstring around the neck. It’s the only shirt the boy owns. Every time he washes it, he has to stand outside bare-chested, waiting on the sun and wind to do their work.

The boy’s father is dirt poor. His mother is dead. The boy has never set foot in a classroom. He spends his days toiling long hours on farms owned by white strangers. Some of those strangers are mean as hell.

Question: What might such a boy daydream about while standing in that sun and waiting for his one and only shirt to dry? More questions: Do his thoughts turn to the future? Does he have high hopes for the life ahead of him?

And more: Is there any chance this boy daydreamed up something like the future he would actually make for himself? Could he have imagined that way off in the future 21st century, towns on his home turf would be busy erecting markers and painting murals and mounting museum exhibits in his honor?

  • Charles Tindley would teach himself to read—and find in that skill an insatiable passion for learning and self-improvement.
  • He would join in a big migration of rural blacks to big cities. There, his thirst for learning would lead him into the Methodist ministry.
  • He would transform a dying congregation in Philadelphia into one of America’s first-ever megachurches, with more than 10,000 members.
  • He would extend a helping hand to thousands of slum dwellers and fight the good fight against segregation and racism.”
  • And somehow he would also find time to become a composer and singer, playing a key role in the invention of a new American art form, gospel music.

C’mon. Be serious. There is no way that bare-chested boy dreamed anything like that future. That’s why the weird stairway to nowhere in this backroads cemetery is a perfect place to start thinking about the life of Charles Tindley. The only way that bare-chested boy could have accomplished what he did in life is by taking one step and then another, climbing his stairway of days, headed who knows where.

Let’s take some of those steps with him, shall we?

Here is where to buy ($2.99) the inspiring Amazon e-book that tracks Tindley’s journey through that life in 19 steps.

If Amazon doesn’t work for you, you can also get it by email in an epub format here.

Pictured up top: The author, Jim Duffy, in front of the mural in Berlin, Md. that celebrates the accomplishments of a homegrown hero. Duffy has written five other books about travel, history, and culture on Tindley’s home turf of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and neighboring Delaware. Photo by Jill Jasuta Photography.

Leave a Reply