The Role Of The Black Church In African American History: A Comprehensive Overview
The Black Church has been an integral part of African American history and continues to shape the community today.
The sections in this book document how this important institution evolved in the last four centuries and its tremendous impact on the social and political lives of African Americans.
In these sections, you’ll learn about how enslaved people adapted Christianity to their own beliefs as well as why speaking in tongues was seen as controversial.
You’ll also discover the role that gospel singers played during the civil rights movement.
Ultimately, this book will show you how deeply rooted the Black church is to African American history and how it continues to shape the community today.
The Message Of Christianity Was Used To Justify The Enslavement Of African Americans And Suppress Rebellious Thoughts
In the 17th century, when Protestant Anglican missionaries arrived on plantations in the New World colonies, they were faced with a challenge: how to disseminate Christianity to enslaved Black people without upsetting their masters.
To achieve this objective, missionaries taught a version of Christianity that justified the enslavement of Black people.
They focused on parts of the Bible that encouraged slavery and obedience, leaving out stories and teachings about social equality and rebellion.
As part of this effort, laws were put in place restricting how and when enslaved people could practice Christianity.
It was illegal for enslaved people to read or write so that they would not be able to read about or learn about any rebellious ideas from the bible.
Church services had to be kept hidden from plantation owners, as gatherings of Black people without white persons present were strictly prohibited.
Though these laws were put in place to stop religious expression amongst enslaved people, they still found ways to worship in secret – establishing what became known as the invisible institution.
In these secret gatherings, messages of emancipation were shared but these did not stop them from also incorporating elements of traditional religion brought over from Africa such as drumming and circular dance called ring shout.
This is how enslaved Black people made Christianity their own – by adding something personal and adapting it to suit their needs despite being oppressed by it at the same time.
The First And Second Great Awakenings Allowed For The Founding Of Black Denominations And Empowered Black Preachers
The First and Second Great Awakenings of the early 18th century brought major religious transformations to North America, democratizing religion and paving the way for the emergence of Black denominations.
These revivals were met with enthusiasm by African Americans who found spiritual parallels between their own faith practices and those promoted by the awakenings.
Free and enslaved Black people had a newfound freedom to publicly worship and share testimonies, and as a result many converted to Christianity.
The Second Great Awakening was particularly influential in this regard, bringing ideas of reform including women’s rights, abolitionism—and providing an impetus for the founding of numerous independent Black churches.
This included St.
George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, whose members were famously told to sit in “ pews” in 1792 before leaving to lead their own churches – namely African Episcopal Church of St Thomas and African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which became the first independently established Black denomination.
The Holiness Movement And Azusa Street Revival Led To The Rise Of The Pentecostal Church
The Holiness movement, which unveiled baptisms by the Holy Spirit during much of the late 1800s in southern states and beyond, has shaped the evolution of one of the most influential religious denominations — The Pentecostal church.
During such revivals, believers experienced miraculous healings, music that would later develop into gospel music and perhaps most notably — speaking in tongues.
Du Bois wrote about witnessing this at length and described it as “The Frenzy of ‘Shouting,’ when the Spirit of the Lord passed by, and, seizing the devotee, made him mad with supernatural joy.” People were drawn to events like these in droves, however not everyone viewed them positively or agreed with ideas like speaking in tongues – a practice famously documented in traditional scriptures.
In 1906 William Joseph Seymour was shut out from a church he preached at for speaking about tongues but despite his expulsion he gathered a large following who came together to celebrate under what was soon to become known as the Azusa Street Revival – a key factor for kick-starting the Pentecostal movement.
And today we are fortunate enough to have access to its prosperity through many spiritual churches dotted around towns everywhere!
Black Churches Played A Major Role In The Emancipation Of African Americans And Their Post-Emancipation Development
Black churches and the leaders that built them have been instrumental in combating injustice in America since the days of slavery.
From early, hidden gatherings to brick-and-mortar churches built by free Black people, these religious spaces served as political centers for Black liberation long before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
One example is when President Abraham Lincoln called a meeting with five Black religious leaders in August 1862 to discuss an emancipation plan that would see Black people deported from America.
The clergymen refused this proposal and worked with abolitionists and Black journalists to convince Lincoln to reconsider.
Their efforts paid off; on January 1st, 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In January of 1865, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman met with 20 Black ministers from Baptist and Methodist Churches to discuss a plan for how newly freed Black people in the south would adjust to their new freedom.
These ministers convinced Sherman that land should be redistributed among formerly enslaved people so they could support themselves.
This request resulted in Special Field Order No.
15, but it was later reversed by President Andrew Johnson after Lincoln’s assassination.
The legacy of these churches remains strong today because they were dedicated to more than worship; 95% of freed slaves were illiterate so schools were established within these churches for both adults and children alike.
These schools eventually grew into Historicaly Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs).
Black churches have been integral in fighting oppression through their advocacy and support of justice throughout American history, which began even before emancipation when they offered sanctuary during slavery and afterwards provided educational opportunities previously unavailable to black people thanks in part to voices lifted up by church leaders everywhere.
The Black Church Grew In Power As Fight Back Against Racial And Gender Oppression Intensified
When Black people started to venture into the political sphere, they faced vehement opposition and violent reactions.
After the Fifteenth Amendment was passed in 1870, giving Black men voting rights, churches hosted political debates and meetings and congregations were encouraged to exercise their right to vote.
This did not go unnoticed by those who sought to suppress them.
With very little warning or reprieve from these attacks, Southern states introduced Jim Crow laws that severely limited the power of African Americans.
These laws also prohibited them from voting and made it easier for their oppressors to target churches and leaders that had played an integral role in mobilizing Black Americans.
Consequently, church burnings, lynchings, and other forms of violence plagued many communities of color for decades with no real consequences.
Since a full guarantee of civil rights wasn’t secured until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, there was a growing sentiment among African Americans that they needed more support if they were going achieve equality.
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner championed a revolutionary idea: envisioning a God who looked like them.
And Nannie Helen Burroughs pushed for greater representation within the church amongst other humanitarian initiatives such as women’s suffrage.
Gospel Music – An Evolving Blend Of African And Christian Elements That Impacted Secular Music And Political Movements
Gospel music, one of the most popular genres in the Black music scene, owes its roots to spirituals.
Spirituals were improvisational songs that enslaved Black people created during their time as captives; they melded Christian hymns with elements of African practices to create a unique genre.
These spirituals then evolved into gospel music over time, and have been an integral part of Black culture ever since.
Gospel music has also heavily influenced secular music, with early pioneers such as Thomas A.
Dorsey – dubbed ‘the father of gospel music’ – utilizing elements from secular genres and incorporating them into traditional gospel style.
This blending of different sounds led to tight interconnections between the two music scenes and facilitated extensive cross-pollination taking place between gospel musicians and comparable figures within secular musical circles.
Beyond providing a powerful outlet for creativity, gospel also played a major role in political movements such as the Civil Rights Movement.
Many church choirs across America held performances to raise funds for activist causes throughout this era, while classic artists like Mahalia Jackson offered lasting legacies that endured long after these pivotal moments had closure.
Gospel provided solace during hard times, embodying messages of hope and freedom through drawing on the power of communal song-making within the Black Church; a space which continues to foster powerful cultural identities up until present day.
The Black Church Adapts To New Situations And Emergent Ideas After The Civil Rights Movement
With the end of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the Black Church had a number of difficult decisions to make.
New ideologies and internal tensions were bubbling up, and the church was forced to choose between losing its prominence or trying to integrate similar ideas.
One of those new ideologies was Black theology, a radical approach to Christianity that focused on affirming Black pride instead of reducing it.
This resonated with many clergy and scholars who could finally see themselves reflected in Christianity.
Additionally, womanist theology emerged as a way to highlight and explore the experiences and contributions of Black women in the church.
The AIDS crisis in the 1980s further complicated matters.
Though Black people were disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, some religious groups condemned it as a sin or disease only affecting white gay men.
Fortunately, other denominations like City of Refuge opened their doors to raise awareness and educate communities about understanding those suffering from AIDS-related illnesses.
The tumultuous times after civil rights meant that churches needed to confront these issues head on if they hoped to stay relevant.
The Black Church Takes A Stand To Provide Much-Needed Support And Evolve In The Face Of Social Change In 2020
In 2020 and beyond, the Black church continues to play an integral role in providing much-needed support to the Black community.
Though faced with the daunting challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Black churches stepped up and filled in the gaps that were created by a lack of adequate response from government institutions.
The Friendship-West Baptist Church in Texas set up COVID-19 testing centers in its parking lot, while other churches such as Indiana’s Light of the World and Central Baptist in Pennsylvania provided meals to families in need.
Unfortunately, these churches have also been affected by a decrease in donations due to the dire economic effects of the pandemic on their congregants.
More than ever before, 2020 highlighted an urgency for social justice inequalities primarily impacting communities of color throughout America.
The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd served as a catalyst for thousands of global BLM protests attended by 26 million people – demonstrating a deep disregard for African American lives that resonates even today.
While Black Lives Matter presents a fresh approach to organizing protests without relying on traditional patriarchal structures often found within the church culture – this doesn’t mean that religious institutions don’t have an important role to play.
The author calls on the revival of Black Church traditions so they can continue with their invaluable contribution towards creating more just societies where equality is attainable for all members of society.
The Black Church Book offers an in-depth look at the socio-political implications of spirituality and religion in African American life.
It recaps centuries of oppression and highlights how enslaved people were converted to Christianity for control, yet managed to acquire the true meaning of the gospel and create denominations of their own.
Despite hard times, Black churches have always been a platform for great achievements in social and political movements while providing a safe haven to celebrate their heritage.
While much progress has been made over time, there are still outstanding challenges faced within and outside The Black Church today.