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Sojourner © 2009 The African-American Church Start
Sojourner © 2009 The African-American Church Long before the Civil War, the church had already become a central part of African-American life in the United States. African-American women and men— both slave and free--used their churches for social, economic, and political purposes. Particularly after the Nat Turner Revolt in 1831, state laws prohibited African Americans from gathering in groups anywhere other than churches. African-American churches also became central to education and the promotion of community values. End
Sojourner © 2009 Phillis Wheatley Before the American Revolution, African-American poet Phillis Wheatley earned international praise for her faith- inspired poetry. “On Being Brought from Africa to America” illustrates her thought of the Middle Passage as also a passage toward God: 'TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew, Some view our sable race with scornful eye, "Their colour is a diabolic die." Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train. End
Sojourner © 2009 Phillis Wheatley Phillis Wheatley’s 1770 poem about the death of evangelist George Whitefield made her famous. In 1773 a London press published her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, which is often cited as the first book published by an African American. Wheatley introduced many Americans and Englishmen to the idea that African Americans thought deeply about religious and spiritual issues. This opened the way for the church leaders who followed. End
Sojourner © 2009 Richard Allen and the AME Church Born into slavery in 1760, Richard Allen helped to found the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and served as the church’s first bishop. Allen became widely known in his home city of Philadelphia and later across the Northeast as a passionate preacher who expressed his social concerns in his sermons. AME churches throughout the country would become the center not only for African-American communities, but also for abolitionist groups. End
Sojourner © 2009 Faith and Abolitionism Prior to the Civil War, African- American abolitionists drew on their Christian beliefs to oppose slavery. John Russwurm and co-editor Samuel Cornish published the Freedom’s Journal, the first United States newspaper African Americans owned, published, and edited. Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet also published abolitionist newspapers, which used Christian themes to attack slavery. End
Sojourner © 2009 Religious Faith in Slavery While slave owners believed Christianity would make African Americans less resistant to their condition, slaves seized on religion and churches as a powerful organizing tool. African-American preachers, whether slave or free, often enjoyed special status and the ability to move more freely between towns and plantations. They passed messages that helped family members to remain in contact or passed on critical information for organizing escapes. End
Sojourner © 2009 African-American Churches In southern cities and towns, African Americans organized their churches with the approval of white authorities. Although a white minister was generally required to head these churches, the real leadership fell to African-American deacons and church elders. The First African Baptist Church was organized in Richmond, Virginia, in There were more than a dozen African -American churches in the city by Assistant Pastor James Holms lead First Baptist’s mixed – part slave/part free— congregation, which raised money for charity, taught children to read, and assisted slaves escaping to the North. End
Sojourner © 2009 Bishop Henry M. Turner Henry McNeal Turner ( ), a prominent bishop in the AME Church, played an major role in the development of African Methodism. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Turner chaplain of Company B, 1 st United States Colored Troops. President Andrew Johnson appointed Turner to the Freedmen's Bureau during Reconstruction, and Turner was later elected to the Georgia State Legislature. After leaving the Freedmen's Bureau, Turner went on to organize churches in Georgia and throughout the United States. In 1885, Turner became the first AME bishop to ordain a woman as a deacon, Sarah Ann Hughes. Turner spoke out against injustice to African Americans while simultaneously earning the respect and support of conservative, white businessmen for his plan to help some former slaves to migrate to Africa. End
Sojourner © 2009 Negro Spirituals Negro spiritual music appeared on plantations across the South prior to the Civil War. These spirituals were often used both as an expression of religious faith and as a form of rebellion. This pattern continued after the end of slavery, and the music served to bond communities during times of oppression. Scholars who study language now realize Negro spirituals used Christian themes to help preserve words, ideas, and melodies of a common African culture without whites understanding what was happening. This created a strong linkage among music, religion, culture, and political thought that has remained consistent in the African-American community for more than a century. These spirituals preserved cultural elements found in jazz, gospel, and even hip- hop music. End
Sojourner © 2009 Attacks on African-American Churches Participating in religious and spiritual life has not been without risk for African Americans. From Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Era, opponents of racial equality have recognized attacking these churches was an effective method to intimidate church members. On September 15, 1963, a Ku Klux Klan bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killed four young African-American girls inside the church. Like lynching, however, such tactics have brought the African-American community closer together. End
Sojourner © 2009 Churches and Civil Rights African-American churches also played a major organizing role in the Civil Rights Movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and other African-American pastors, organized most of the boycotts and protest marches to fight segregation in the 1950s-1960s. This legacy of political participation remains strong in African-American churches today. Many present-day members view their churches as the modern descendants of the original groups which bound communities to resist slavery. End
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