African and Christian in the names of our denominations denote that we are always concerned for the well-being of economically and politically exploited persons, for gaining or regaining a sense of our own worth, and for determining our own future. We must never invest with institutions that perpetuate racism. Our churches work for the change of all processes which prevent our members who are victims of racism from participating fully in civic and governmental structures. ” (Satterwhite, 1999)
Race has been used by antebellum period social scientists to refer to distinctions drawn from physical appearance (skin color, eye shape, physiognomy), and ethnicity was used to refer to distinctions based on national origin, language, religion, food, and other cultural markers. “Race has a quasi-biological status and among psychologists, the use of race terminology is hotly debated In the United States, race is also a socially defined, politically oppressive categorization scheme that individuals must negotiate while creating their identities.
” (Frable, 1997) This suggests racial motivation impetus more of a political-cultural propensity rather than a religious motivated trait. All along, even during the slavery, Americans of African descent, have consistently had a high sense of religious significance. The Christian Movement probably had a dramatic effect on the personal identity more so than the reference group orientation of black people as whole.
African decedents as a whole, during this period in history, was observed as a singled reference group type orientation that determine behavior depended greatly on Black Christian leadership. The calls for religious framework forces one to consider the how the leaders was portrayed in current media of the period, i. e. newspapers, paintings photos, etc. What clearly points to the very success of black Christian leadership during the Civil War is indicated by the way unity was exhibited during this time black social and political culture.
Both free black leaders and the masses of Southern slaves who rebelled against their masters turned a white war into a battle over slavery and racial injustice with religion as the foundational argument for both sides of the issue. Slavery’s destruction, ironically, removed a common focus of protest, and more importantly, enticed certain “black elites” to accept the “liberal concept” of changing American political culture through religion by trying to join it and reform it from within.
The black Christian movements of the late 1800s was a significant single indicator of common social beliefs that may simply be related with other dimensions and intangibles not yet discovered or even recognized during this time. In brief, due to the impact of during this forty to fifty year span, Black Christian consciousness and awareness had become so pervasive throughout the black population that single item common-fate solidarity was adequate to capture a fully politicized sense of group consciousness.
The history of African American Christianity is bound up with the history of American slavery. African Americans encountered Christianity in the context of enslavement, and it was as captives that they began the long process of making the gospel their own. The process varied across time and space and defies generalization or easy description. Sometimes conversion came quickly, in explosive moments of “awakening”; more often, it unfolded over generations, as Christian belief and practices insinuated themselves into slaves’ daily rounds.
“In some settings, the new creed seems almost completely to have displaced older religions, which survived only in a handful of disembodied beliefs and rituals. In other places, Christian usages were grafted onto still vital African religious traditions, producing dynamic, richly religion philosophical creeds. Yet whatever the pace or pathway, slaves across the Americas were drawn into the dialectic of conversion, transforming the religion of their captors even as it transformed them. ” (Campbell, 1995) Preceding Any War
As the antebellum period began, America was approaching its golden anniversary as an independent political state, but it was not yet a nation. There was considerable disagreement among the residents of its many geographical sections concerning the exact limits of the relationship between the Federal government, the older states, and the individual citizen. In this regard, many factions invoked concepts of state sovereignty, centralized banking, nullification, popular sovereignty, secession, all-Americanism, or manifest destiny.
However, the majority deemed republicanism, social pluralism, and constitutionalism the primary characteristics of antebellum America. Slavery, abolition, and the possibility of future disunion were considered secondary issues. The history and sociopolitical influence of the African-American church documents an interminable struggle for liberation against the exploitative forces of European domination. Although Black religion is predominantly Judeo-Christian, its essence is not simply white religion with a cosmetic face lift.
Rather the quintessence of African-American spiritual mindedness is grounded in the social and political experience of Black people, and, although some over the years have acquiesced to the dominant order, many have voiced a passionate demand for “freedom now. ” The history of the African-American church demonstrates that the institution has contributed four indispensable elements to the Black struggle for ideological emancipation, which include a self-sustaining culture, a structured community, a prophetic tradition, and a persuasive leadership.
The church of slavery, which began in the mid-eighteenth century, started as an underground organization and developed to become a pulpit for radicals like Richard Allen, (discussed in detail) and the platform for revolutionaries like David Walker. For over one hundred ears, African slaves created their own unique and authentic religious culture that was parallel to, but not reflective of the slave-owner’s Christianity from which they borrowed. Meeting on the quiet as the “invisible church,” they created a self-preserving belief system by Africanizing European religion.
Commenting on this experience, Alice Sewell, a former slave of Montgomery, Alabama, states, “We used to slip off in de woods in de old slave days on Sunday evening way down in de swamps to sing and pray to our own liking” (Simms, 1970, p. 263). During the late 1700s, when slavery was being dismantled in the North, free Black Methodists courageously separated from the patronizing control of the white denomination and established their own independent assemblies. This marked the genesis of African-American resistance as a nationally structured, mass-based movement.
In 1787, Richard Allen, after suffering racist humiliation at Philadelphia’s St. George Methodist Episcopal Church, separated from the white congregation and led other Blacks, who had been similarly disgraced, to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A. M. E. ) in 1816. The new group flowered. By 1820 it numbered 4,000 in Philadelphia alone, while another 2,000 claimed membership in Baltimore. The church immediately spread as far west as Pittsburgh and as far south as Charleston as African-Americans organized to resist domination.
Through community groups, they contributed political consciousness, economic direction, and moral discipline to the struggle for freedom in their local districts. Moreover, Black Methodists sponsored aid societies that provided loans, business advice, insurance, and a host of social services to their fellow-believers and the community at large. In sum the A. M. E. Churches functioned in concert to organize African-Americans throughout the country to protect them selves from exploitation and to ready them for political emancipation. Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World
During this same period, David Walker exemplified the prophetic tradition of the Black church with his “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” published between 1829 and 1830. Walker employed biblical language and Christian morality in creating anti-ruling class ideology: slaveholders were “avaricious and unmerciful wretches” who were guilty of perpetrating “the most wretched, abject, and servile slavery” in the world against Africans. To conclude, the church of the slave era contributed substantially to African-American social and political resistance.
The “invisible institution” provided physical and psychological relief from the horrific conditions of servitude: within the confines of “hush arbors,” bonds people found unfamiliar dignity and a sense of self-esteem. Similarly, the A. M. E. congregations confronted white paternalism by organizing their people into units of resistance to fight collectively for social equality and political self-direction. And finally, the antebellum church did not only empower Blacks by structuring their communities; it also supplied them with individual political leaders.
David Walker made two stellar contributions to the Black struggle for freedom–he both created and popularized anti-ruling class philosophy. He intrepidly broadcasted the conditional necessity of violence in abolishing slavery demanding to be heard by his “suffering brethren” and the “American people and their children” in both the North and the South. As churches grew in size and importance, the Black pastor’s role as community leader became supremely influential and unquestionably essential in the fight against Jim Crow.
For instance, in 1906, when the city officials of Nashville, Tennessee, segregated the streetcars, R. H. Boyd, a prominent leader in the National Baptist Convention, organized a Black boycott against the system. He even went so far as to operate his own streetcar line at the height of the conflict. To Boyd and his constituents no setback was ever final, and the grace of God was irrefutability infinite. African Methodist Episcopal…Mark of Independence When Richard Allen was 17, he experienced a religious conversion that changed his life forever.
(PBS, Allen) Even though born into slavery in Philadelphia in 1760, he became not only free but influential, a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and its first bishop. Allen, recognize as one of the first African-Americans to be emancipated during the Revolutionary Era, had to forge an identity for his people as well as for himself. Richard Allen Allowed by his repentant owner to buy his freedom, Allen earned a living sawing cordwood and driving a wagon during the Revolutionary War. After the war he furthered the Methodist cause by becoming a “licensed exhorter,” preaching to blacks and whites from New York to South Carolina.
To reconcile his faith and his African-American identity, Allen decided to form his own congregation. He gathered a group of ten black Methodists and took over a blacksmith’s shop in the increasingly black southern section of the city, converting it to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church hence, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen was chosen as the first bishop of the church, the first fully independent black denomination in America. He had succeeded in charting a separate religious identity for African-Americans.
Although the Bethel Church opened in a ceremony led by Bishop Francis Asbury in July 1794, its tiny congregation worshiped “separate from our white brethren. ” In 1807 the Bethel Church added an “African Supplement” to its articles of incorporation; in 1816 it won legal recognition as an independent church. In the same year Allen and representatives from four other black Methodist congregations (in Baltimore; Wilmington, Delaware; Salem, New Jersey; and Attleboro, Pennsylvania) met at the Bethel Church to organize a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
To be noted, the white Methodists of the New York Conference resisted the move toward independence, but those of the Philadelphia Conference, in Richard Allen’s territory, gave a conditional blessing, an irony that must have galled the Bethelites (as Allen’s group was popularly known). Of the two black denominations, the Bethelites enjoyed greater growth and more stable leadership in the pre-Civil War decades. The Great Awakening The Great Awakening as a marker for a cultural and religious upheaval did not appear immediately, but in scholastic research on religion in the eighteenth century, the
time reflects the complexity of attitudes toward, and consequences of, religious activity in the African American communities. Taken in total, the landscape of Black Christian images presented a vast picture, still incompletely realized, from the earlier and persistent view of a monolithic vision accepted by many. Possibly only to save a few rationalists or extremists could see a different scenario. After his own religious conversion, Richard joined the Methodist Society, began attending classes, and evangelized his friends and neighbors. Richard and his brothers attended classes every week and meetings every other Thursday.
A. M. E. leaders began to use both written biographical materials and public commemorations of Allen’s life to instill a sense of history and tradition among the largely illiterate masses. Their complementary use of public commemorations and written accounts of Allen’s life during this period suggest a more general attempt among Black leaders to bridge the overlapping worlds of morality and literacy in order to establish a sense of tradition, an empowering historical memory, and a pantheon of Black heroes who might one day gain their rightful place in the national pantheon.
(Conyers, 1999) Notwithstanding its name, the AME Church was clearly the most respectable and “orthodox” of black American independent churches. While some recognizably African elements surfaced in services, AME leaders tended to disdain if not actively to suppress those beliefs and practices that scholars today celebrate as signs of Africa’s persistence in the New World. The whole point of “racial vindication” was to demonstrate blacks’ capacity to uphold “recognized standards” in their personal and collective lives and thereby to hasten abolition and full inclusion in American society.
Surely people interested in connections between black America and Africa should look elsewhere than the AME Church. Historically, the first separate denominations to be formed by African Americans in the United States were Methodist. The early black Methodist churches, conferences, and denominations were organized by free black people in the North in response to stultifying and demeaning conditions attending membership in the white-controlled Methodist Episcopal churches.
This independent church movement of black Christians was the first effective stride toward freedom by African Americans. Unlike most sectarian movements, the initial impetus for black spiritual and ecclesiastical independence was not grounded in religious doctrine or polity, but in the offensiveness of racial segregation in the churches and the alarming inconsistencies between the teachings and the expressions of the faith.
It was readily apparent that the white church had become a principal instrument of the political and social policies under girding slavery and the attendant degradation of the human spirit. In all fairness, without exception, Richard Allen embodied the assertive free-black culture that was maturing in the North by the 1830s. Despite criticisms of his domineering manner and personal ambition, Allen had attained by the time of his death in 1831, a position of respect among his people that was rivaled by very few of his contemporaries.
Mother Bethel Church Via Allen’s single minded influence, the denomination reached the Pacific Coast in the early 1850’s with churches in Mother Bethel Church Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, and other places in California. Moreover, Bishop Morris Brown established the Canada Annual Conference. Remarkably, the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, and, for a few years, South Carolina, became additional locations for AME congregations.