Julia Foote

“I am glad that we are never too young to pray, or too ignorant or too sinful.”1 Julia A. J. Foote

Julia A. J. Foote (1823–1901) was born in Schenectady, New York, to former slaves.2 Her father bought his freedom and that of his wife and first child well before Julia was born.3 She was raised in a Christian home and, from a young age, she “took great delight in worship, and began to have a desire to learn to read the Bible.”4 She asked her father to teach her how to read, but because his reading skills were limited, he could not. She was sent to live with a family by the name of Prime so she could go to school.5

While living with the Prime’s, Julia was accused of stealing a few cakes from the cellar, even though she adamantly denied it. Mrs. Prime believed that Julia was guilty and whipped her. Julia blamed the injustice of this incident for causing her to turn away from the Lord.6 After leaving the Prime’s, Julia said, “The pomps and vanities of this world began to engross my attention as they never had before.”7 She began attending dances without her parents’ permission and at one such event she felt the power of the Lord so strongly that she later said, “Had I persisted dancing, I believe God would have smitten me dead on the spot.”8

At age fifteen she heard a sermon about the 144,000 who would sing the new song (Rev. 14:3). It was in the midst of hearing this sermon that she said, “I beheld my lost condition as I never had done before . . . No tongue can tell the agony I suffered. I fell to the floor, unconscious, and was carried home.”9 She was so tormented while she was unconscious that she said “I thought God was driving me on to hell. In great terror I cried: ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a poor sinner!’ . . . a ray of light flashed across my eyes, accompanied by a sound of distant singing . . . Thus was I wonderfully saved from eternal burning.”10

After her conversion she “studied the Bible at every spare moment, that [she] might be able to read it with a better understanding.”11 Her hunger for the Word caused her to be dissatisfied with the state of her internal condition—the more she saw the sin in her heart, the more desperate she was to know how to get rid of it. She confessed, “I went to God with my troubles, and felt relieved for a  while; but they returned again and again . . . I was weak and feeble, having neither might, wisdom nor ability to overcome my enemies or maintain my ground without many a foil.”12 Searching for the answer, Julia went to every spiritual leader she knew; they all told her the same thing: “all Christians had these inward troubles to contend with, and were never free from them until death.”13

Julia knew in her heart that there had to be more to Christianity. Hungry for the truth, she sought out a couple from her church whom she had been warned not to associate with because they taught the doctrine of sanctification. They prayed with her and taught her about sanctification, and on her second secret visit to their house she said, “my large desire was granted, through faith in my precious Saviour. The glory of God seemed almost to prostrate me to the floor. There was, indeed, a weight of glory resting upon me.”14

Julia became like a new person. She “continued day by day . . . to walk in the light as He is in the light, having fellowship with the Trinity.”15 Shortly after this experience, Julia married George Foote and moved to Boston where she became a member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church.16 Her husband was a sailor and was often away for many months at a time, so Julia devoted her time to God. Removed from everything she knew, Julia remained steadfast in Christ and began to understand sanctification at a deeper level. “God is holy, and if I would enjoy constant communion with him I must guard every avenue of my soul, and watch every thought of my heart and word of my tongue, that I may be blameless before him in love.”17

Julia said, “After I went to Boston I was much drawn in prayer for the sanctification of believers . . .18 Having no children, I had a good deal of leisure after my husband’s departure, so I visited many of the poor and forsaken ones, reading and talking to them of Jesus, the Saviour.”19 Julia visited many houses and meetings where she gave exhortations and prayed with people about sanctification, but when the Lord called her to preach she vehemently refused. She said “I thought it could not be that I was called to preach—I, so weak and ignorant.”20

Julia struggled with accepting her calling for months, but when she chose to yield herself to the will of the Lord, Julia experienced an encounter with the Trinity which gave her a new sense of boldness and determination to preach the gospel at any cost. Julia, once so adamantly opposed to women preaching, was now compelled to obey the call of God on her life.

The pastor of the AME Zion Church began to develop false reasons to accuse Julia of wrongdoing in an effort to have her expelled from the congregation. In 1844, he finally won.21 In the midst of persecution, Julia was so devoted to the Lord and the calling that He had placed on her life that she told anyone who opposed her, “my business [is] with the Lord, and wherever I found a door opened I intended to go in and work for my Master.”22

Julia walked through every door that opened. Later she reflected on this time by saying, “Though opposed, I went forth laboring for God, and he owned and blessed my labors, and has done so wherever I have been until this day. And while I walk obediently, I know he will, though hell may rage and vent its spite.”23 Julia experienced many hardships during her labors, including the loss of both her father and her husband.

As she continued to depend on the Holy Spirit, Julia became an influential preacher. A man once wrote of her preaching that “she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, [we] know well where is the hiding of her power.”24 Julia testified of some of the meetings she held by saying, “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all [those] meetings . . .25 The entire audience seemed moved to prayer and tears by the power of the Holy Ghost . . .26 The Lord met the people in great power, and I doubt not there are many souls in glory to-day praising God for that meeting . . .27 In each of these places, this ‘brand plucked from the burning’ was used of God to his glory in saving precious souls.”28

Julia traveled throughout the United States and Canada for more than fifty years, preaching at camp meetings, revivals, and churches. She was the first woman ordained as a deacon in the AME Zion Church in 1894 and the second to be ordained as an elder in 1899. Julia remained active in ministry until her death in 1901. She was a role model for black women aspiring to be ministers and an advocate for participatory equality and ordination of women in the church.

Julia’s life of prayer and unwavering love and devotion to God carried her through many trials. Her testimony was that “the blood of Jesus will not only purge your conscience from the guilt of sin, and from dead works, but it will destroy the very root of sin that is in your heart, by faith, so that you may serve the living God in the beauty of holiness.”29 She labored all her life to spread this truth to as many people as she could. In her autobiography she said, “My earnest desire is that many—especially of my own race—may be led to believe and enter into rest . . . sweet soul rest.”30

1. Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch (New York: George Hughes & Co., 1879), 16.
2. Bettye Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 57.
3. Foote, A Brand, 9–10.
4. Ibid., 15.
5. Ibid., 18.
6. Ibid., 26–27.
7. Ibid., 28.
8. Ibid., 30.
9. Ibid., 32.
10. Ibid., 33.
11. Ibid., 35.
12. Ibid., 36–37.
13. Ibid., 37.
14. Ibid., 43.
15. Ibid., 47.
16. Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder, 57.
17. Foote, A Brand, 53–54.
18. Ibid., 56.
19. Ibid., 62.
20. Ibid., 65.
21. Ibid., 75-76.
22. Ibid., 73.
23. Ibid., 80.
24. Ibid., 7.
25. Ibid., 103.
26. Ibid., 92.
27. Ibid., 84.
28. Ibid., 95-96.
29. Collier-Thomas, Daughters of Thunder, 59.
30. Foote, A Brand, 4.

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