Elder Clayhorn Martin ‘The Barefoot Prophet,’ In Harlem 1851-1937

Elder Clayborn Martin or Clayhorn Martin, “The Barefoot Prophet.” Martin had been born a slave in Virginia in 1851.

Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains, he lived most of his life in the south as an itinerant preacher.

“Every man is the dwelling place of the Almighty! He is not in the buildings we call the churches today!”

A mystical presence in New York for many years, Martin was a Harlem street preacher who had gone barefoot ever since the day in his youth when God told him to shed his shoes and walk on holy ground. Till the day he died, he walked the streets with his tambourine, shouting to the world that God dwells in every single person, not in church buildings or special dignitaries. On the streets of NYC, he told his audiences the truth of their inherent divinity: “Every man is the dwelling place of the Almighty! He is not in the buildings we call the churches today!”

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Martin was a neighborhood character. In this formal studio portrait, Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee focused not so much on his outward condition as on his internal seriousness and faith. In other words, the scene he set for his camera aimed to take Preacher Martin at his word, seeking to show the higher purpose within him.  Elder Martin accepted Father Divine as God incarnate.

Van Der Zee and other artists of the Harlem Renaissance raised money to give him a proper sendoff, a funeral attended by five hundred or more of his neighbors, his flock.

Thousands of New Yorkers attended his funeral in 1937.

Photo by 1) Broad Street Antique Mall. 2) James VanDerZee 1929.

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